Tonight I renewed my membership in WUMB-FM. WUMB is a public radio station out of UMass.-Boston. It specializes in acoustic and roots music, and in giving radio voice to the Boston area’s vibrant music scene.

I’ve been a member since not-quite-forever. I have two WUMB T-shirts, two mugs, and a sticker on my car. I discovered WUMB around 1997, as Wintertide Coffeehouse neared the end of its long, slow death. In my life it played part of the role that Wintertide had been playing for the previous dozen years: It introduced me to the wonderful troubadours who passed through New England, and in many cases were based here.

What it couldn’t do was introduce me to the music being made right here on Martha’s Vineyard. To be sure, it’s a thrill to hear on WUMB a song by young Willy Mason, or a blues recording by the late Maynard Silva, but Willy and Maynard I already know. I couldn’t volunteer and hang out at ‘UMB either, it being in Boston and me being here. And I try not to wonder why I never hear the likes of Libana and Sweet Honey in the Rock and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir on WUMB. Still, the station saved me from total withdrawal and total ignorance of the national and international roots music scene.

My membership renews in March, and every March for the last several, I’ve sworn that I wouldn’t renew. WUMB isn’t what it used to be. Year by year my favorite shows vanish from the schedule, like Afropop Worldwide, or are banished to time slots when I’m not awake, like Midnight Special. Once upon a time I started listening when I woke up on Saturday morning and didn’t stop till I fell sleep Sunday night.

Then Barbara Neely (yeah, that Barbara Neely — author of the Blanche mystery books and an altogether awesome interviewer) left as host of the Sunday night Commonwealth Journal public affairs show; her replacement was 90% affect and 10% substance, and it seemed she was only allowed to interview UMass. professors who had new books out.

Then Barnes Newberry was replaced as host of the wonderful Saturday morning Highway 61 Revisited show by a jerk who sounds as if his entire knowledge of the music comes off the liner notes. And the weekend schedule was further disrupted by moving Downeast Ceilidh from Saturday night, where it was a natural segue from Celtic Twilight, to Sunday night. And so on and on — Dick Pleasants and Dave Palmater are the only weekday deejays worth listening to, and Pleasants is ill with Parkinson’s and isn’t on the air much anymore.

So I’ve been listening to WUMB less and less as the years go by. I’m not, however, listening to other radio stations. I’m listening to my CDs. I’m listening to Pandora — last year I cut a big chunk out of my WUMB contribution and upgraded my Pandora to the ad-free version. More recently I started using iTunes in earnest. I learn about new performers from word of mouth or word of Facebook. Thanks to the Pit Stop, I’m getting reacquainted with what’s going on in my neck of the woods.

I was all set to let my membership lapse, but the semiannual fund drive is on and during Celtic Twilight this afternoon I slipped: my hand reached for the phone, I punched in the numbers, and I renewed. My reasoning, or rationalizing, went something like this: Yeah, the station seems to have lost its way. It doesn’t have its daggerboard in the water. I don’t listen very much anymore. But at least two-thirds of my CDs are by artists I heard for the first time on WUMB, and WUMB gives airplay to wonderful musicians who aren’t heard on many, or any, other stations. If I keep my membership up, I can keep going to the archives and listening to the live interviews and concerts with performers I like. And even on my limited budget $50 is not a huge amount of money.

If you’ve got a hunch that I’m not just talking about public radio here, you’re right.


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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11 Responses to Compromise

  1. blueridgebirdwoman says:

    WNCW does have web streaming. The “Listen Live” button is in the extreme upper left corner of its home page.

    RE: women’s music, my other favorite Pandora station is Patricia Barber. Oh my!


  2. notlobmusic says:

    Do you not realize one of the reasons WUMB format changed 3+ years ago is it became a NPR clone? Why its personnel leave so suddenly and unexpectedly is another matter altogether. The results of interviewing a few would make an interesting future blog entry.

    I must be frank, the article has a certain amount of speciousness to it, Why would anyone who dislikes current programming continue to give support? Its logic is akin to “I don’t like the two major party candidate, but as they are my only choices will vote for the lesser of two evils.”, then wonders why the “liberal” president is behaving much like his neocon predecessor.

    As there are more than two political choices, like supporting the Green, Libertarian, Constutution, Independence, Socialist or myriad other parties. there are many other radio choices. Consider listening to and supporting the two wonderful community radio stations that broadcast to MV, namely WOMR/WFMR, Provincetown and WVVY, Martha’s Vineyard. Both go out of their way to feature local artists; for Celtic, try “The Fiddle & the Harp” on WOMR Mondays 5-8pm).

    But we live in the 21st century, broadcast is not the only means at our disposal! Listen to web streams and pod casts from other community and independent college stations, infinately more interesting than the same few AAA songs WUMB repeats over and over and over. For a list of New England stations, visit the relatively new “Northeast community and independent college radio stations” open group –

    Or consult NEFolk’s calendar – – where scores of Celtic, old-time, bluegrass and folk radio (broadcast, internet and podcast) programs are listed.

    As a community radio host (WCUW, Worcester) I assure you my brother and sister producer/hosts A. know more about the music than what’s printed in liner notes and B. have the absolute freedom to select music we like and what we think our audience likes. We are NOT restricted to a music director-created playlist!

    WUMB abandoned you, don’t feel bad about abandoning it. As you do not appear to be a satisfied customer, ask for your money back, you’ll feel much better.

    p.s. And remember to listen to Barnes on WMVY,


  3. Craig H says:

    I’m still hopeful WVVY lp 93.7, might “come out of the basement” and become an actual Community station On MV… ever hear of it??


    • Yah, and I like it — but for some reason my radio in West Tisbury doesn’t receive it audibly, so I have to listen online. But even though I tune in to Pandora regularly, I’m still not in the habit of listening to radio online. These media transformations take a while to take root.


  4. blueridgebirdwoman says:

    I started listening to WUMB in 2003 when I launched my freelance editing business and was handcuffed to my own home-office desk for hours on end.. It certainly helped the time pass… But I agree with you, Susanna, that something has changed of late. I can’t put my finger on it, but I switch to other music sources more often than I used to. We have a solid alternative down here, WNCW (public radio) out of North Carolina, which plays more world music than WUMB does. And I, too, have a non-ad Pandora account; I think the first station I set up on it was Tom Rush. Any other Cesaria Evora fans out there?


    • My first Pandora station was Keelo, for James Keelaghan, even though they’ve only got his first album in their database. My big annoyance with Pandora is that I can’t select for non-musical criteria, e.g., sex. I started a “Lezzies and Wild Girls” station that I wanted to have the whole range of “women’s music” I listened to in the late 1970s and 1980s, acoustic, Afro, Latin, blues, jazz, classical, Balkan, etc. Can’t do it. I can’t make it stray far from singer-songwriter, and Pandora keeps throwing James Taylor and Donovan in there. There’s great stuff coming out of North Carolina — thanks for the heads-up about WNCW. They don’t seem to do web streaming, but they do have podcasts and RSS feeds. 🙂


      • Hal Davis says:

        “I started a “Lezzies and Wild Girls” station that I wanted to have the whole range of “women’s music” I listened to in the late 1970s and 1980s, acoustic, Afro, Latin, blues, jazz, classical, Balkan, etc. Can’t do it.”

        Sounds like you want the Ladyslipper station.


  5. Dan Waters says:

    Any enterprise that takes risks and relies on public generosity is going to have its ups and downs. Also, enduring gratitude is a noble enough reason to be loyal. In the end, it’s worthwhile donating to an organization that puts good stuff into the world if only because it improves the minds you’re likely to meet out there. Nice post!


  6. Sara Piazza says:

    I’ve listened to WUMB for years, off and on, and have been a fan of Dick Pleasants since the early 70s when he lived on the island and was a DJ on the island’s original radio station. I have to take frequent breaks from UMB, however, because the steady stream of intentionally and intensely meaningful and thoughtful lyrics makes my head spin after a while.

    Sorry to hear that Dick is not well.

    Pandora is a treasure, for sure, but one of the best things to happen to my music lately is Google Music. My entire music library, from two locations and three computers, is now accessible from anywhere, including my phone.

    Bottom line, though: I’d still rather be playing than listening 🙂


  7. Hal Davis says:

    I heard blues singer Papa John Kolstad, accompanied by sizzling fiddler Gary Schulte, at the neighborhood Riverview Cafe on Saturday night. They are part of Minneapolis’s vibrant folk scene. Kolstad said that a host at KFAI-FM — “Radio Without Boundaries” — had compiled a CD of musicians who had performed on his show, available for pledges to KFAI. “Research has shown,” Papa John said, “that pledging to KFAI makes you happier. Just the act of pledging…”

    We’re blessed here with a few fine public radio stations. St. Paul is the home of the Fitzgerald Theatre, from which emanates “A Prairie Home Companion.” And the intimate jazz scene is beyond compare. Listening to this stuff makes me happier.


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