WOMR’s International Women’s Day celebration began in 1988, says Denya LeVine, one of its “founding mothers.” But only in the last 10 years has the station been doing it consistently, every year. On Monday, March 8, 16 female DJs will bring you 18 hours of music and thought-provoking interviews. The Independent visited five of them to talk about their experiences on radio.
“I had trouble making myself understood — that’s why I took to writing,” says Indira Ganesan, who was born in India and moved to the U.S. when she was five. She has since published three books. Ganesan first came to Provincetown as a fellow at the Fine Arts Works Center in the ’80s. She’s been living here full-time for eight years, with her two cats. “It’s a quiet life,” she says.
She has always been a “record nerd” and listened to the radio — “Music was this constant” in her life. South Indian and North Indian music are really different, she explains. As a child, she found the former “terribly boring,” but was introduced to the sitar, a North Indian instrument, by the Beatles. Her radio show, Namaste, includes all kinds of global and popular music.
She says that though there is no lack of female DJs at WOMR, there are too few elsewhere in the country. One of the earliest was Alison Steele, on WNEW-FM in New York City, known for her sultry voice. Part of the bias in broadcasting, Ganesan says, may be the stereotype that women are shrill. And so, it is assumed, “Do people really want to hear women and their voices?”
Felice Coral’s regular WOMR program on Wednesdays focuses on classical women composers of color, both historical and contemporary: Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Julia Perry, Tania León, and Valerie Coleman. It’s a tall order to pack all of it into one hour, Coral says.
“I had to admit my own deficiencies even as a long-established classical music lover,” she says. “We’re raised in the white Eurocentric framework.” Price, for instance, was a Juilliard-trained pianist and composer, but has fallen into near obscurity. “There’s the overall sexism, and then, superimposed on that, there are the racial issues,” she says.
Coral, who has lived in Eastham for the last six years, previously worked in health care. She played piano and listened to opera growing up, but let her musical interests drop because she was working all of the time. About 20 years ago, she started taking flute lessons.
“I enjoy doing my shows because I also learn a lot,” she says. “It has enriched me as an individual. Putting this program together has opened my eyes significantly to the successes of people I knew nothing about.”
A WOMR DJ for 35 years, Denya LeVine, along with Pandora Peoples and Dinah Mellin, are the organizers of the International Women’s Day marathon. LeVine started studying violin at the age of nine, and plays Celtic, folk, and klezmer music with several bands. She is also passionate about playing in assisted living homes.
Though she’s not Irish — “I’m Eastern European Jewish,” she says emphatically when asked — she’s spent a great deal of time in Ireland, a homeland of sorts. In the first two years of International Women’s Day broadcasts at WOMR, she organized a live feed from a women’s pirate radio station in Galway.
This year, she interviews Karan Casey, “one of the best-known Irish singers,” who started the organization Fair Plé to address gender equality, the pay gap, and sexual harassment in Irish music. LeVine says the scene was heavily male-dominated, but “the organization ended up changing the culture.”
“I was born in Venice, Calif., in a bungalow to hippie parents,” says Pandora Peoples. She came to Cape Cod 10 years ago. She’s a shamanic healer, herbalist, and belly dancer, and her weekly radio show focuses on healing arts and metaphysics.
In her programming, she looks to “matrilineal cultures, goddess cultures, and priestesses,” she says. “International Women’s Day is another opportunity to reclaim some kind of power. There are a lot of activists at WOMR. People’s rights, earth rights — it drew me in.”
For Peoples, International Women’s Day is “about telling local stories.” One example is Dinah Mellin’s interview with Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, executive director of Independence House in Hyannis. “We have really great infrastructure,” she says. “I appreciate that about this place.”
On her radio show and in live performances, Dinah Mellin plays Celtic and fiddle music. She used to run a program through Snow Library called “Allegretto,” which introduced children to different musical instruments. The goal was to tell them, “This is for everybody — this is a friend for life.”
She was brought up in “a house of music,” she says. “I grew up in Manhattan. My dad had a ministry downtown. That’s where I had my first lessons around age nine.” Her mother composed and played the piano.
She studied studio art, then commercial art and advertising. “I didn’t play for 13 years after graduating from college with an art degree,” she says. “I was walking around feeling like I was missing an arm or a leg.” Then she started fiddling again.
Mellin doesn’t consider herself “the biggest feminist in the world.” But, she says, “I am a feminist because I believe in women’s rights.”
Women on Air
WOMR, 92.3 FM, Monday, March 8
6–8 a.m.: Justine Alten, “Women of Red Right Return”
8–9 a.m.: Fran Sullivan, “Gospel and Blues”
9–10 a.m.: Ann McDermott, “Cool Voices of Jazz”
10–10:30 a.m.: Interview with Sheila Lyons
10:30–11:30 a.m.: Susan Blood, “Stories From the Sisterhood”
11:30 a.m.–noon: Mary Jane Byrne, “Sopranos, Mezzos, and Contraltos”
Noon–1 p.m.: Felice Coral, “Classical Composers: Women of Color”
1–2 p.m.: Ashley Stancil, “Women I’d Like to Lunch With”/Interview with Kathleen Walker
2–3 p.m.: Carol Courneen, “Rootsy Women”
3–4 p.m.: Janice Murphy, “Women on Broadway”
4–5 p.m.: Democracy Now, with Amy Goodman
5–6 p.m.: Denya LeVine, “Gender Equity in Celtic Music”/Interview with Karan Casey
6–7 p.m.: Pandora Peoples, “Music for Social Justice”
7–8 p.m.: Brenda Conlan, “Hopeful Tunes by Women”
8–9 p.m.: Indira Ganesan, “Namaste Celebrates Women”
9–10 p.m.: Nancy Edwards, “Soul Sisters”
10–11 p.m.: Sandra H-Mc, “Spotlight on the World”
11 p.m.–midnight: Dinah Mellin, “Celtic Music”/Interview with Lysetta Hurge-Putnam