A Small Independently Owned Radio Station, Oyster Radio, is Standing the Test of Time
Oyster Radio, The Forgotten Coast’s homegrown pearl
There are businesses that stand the test of time simply because they offer something solid that is wanted and needed in the community. A small independent radio station on the coast of Northwest Florida, aptly named Oyster Radio, is just such a business.
Oyster Radio, 100.5 WOYS, is headquartered in an unassuming building in Eastpoint, the small town on the speck of land that is sandwiched in by East Bay and Apalachicola Bay, with the Gulf of Mexico just beyond St. George Island. A short, six-mile drive across the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge links this coastal town with Apalachicola.
Oyster Radio has been on air for 25 years. Touted as the “Voice of the Forgotten Coast” it doesn’t take long to learn why when listening to the station’s unique mix of classic rock and blues with a splattering of some timeless Jimmy Buffett tunes (“Son of a Son of a Sailor” and the like) and music with the distinctive beach-feel sound of steel drums.
New owner Michael Allen is a long-time employee turned entrepreneur. Oyster Radio opened in 1988, and Allen began working there in 1991.
“When it came up for sale I thought, I can take a chance and take the plunge or work for new owners — and who knows what they would’ve done with it,” Allen says.
A small operation at the moment, Allen is trying to get the business settled since his purchase of the station about one year ago.
“Right now, the only voice you hear live on the air is mine,” Allen said. “We have to make sure all the bills are paid.”
He plans to hire other employees once he has gotten the station all squared away. A Northwest Florida native, Allen grew up “right here in Eastpoint,” he said. “I went away to college but came back to this area.”
In an industry ripe with competition, Oyster Radio has stood the test of time.
Local news is a key component, and the station’s local connection is evident with announcements of all events, including numerous festivals that range from the Blast on the Bay Songwriters’ Festival to the local elementary school’s fall festival. Friday night football games played by the area’s high school team, the Seahawks, are broadcast live.
“Football is very important,” Allen says. “Covering sports is an absolute necessity. It’s important parents can listen to their kids play if they can’t be there. There are some pretty big name companies in radio out there, but they don’t tend to do sports.”
When asked how they have survived all these years in what can be a difficult industry, Allen is definitive.
“We cater to the community. We do everything we can to promote the area. We air public service announcements, any type of fundraiser, we play music that locals like and is interesting to tourists, which helps bring in advertising dollars,” Allen says.
“We used to play a lot of Jimmy Buffett, but the oystermen that are out working get tired of that sometimes. We want to make sure the locals are happy, but we have to reach out to the tourists because that is a main industry in this area. It is a fine line, and we have walked it relatively well.”
From 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oyster Radio plays a mix of classic rock and blues. From 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., listeners are treated to dedicated beach music, which Allen describes as “trop rock,” short for tropical rock. At 8 p.m. the station airs Oyster Rock After Dark — “true” classic rock and blues — until 5 a.m.
The station’s listening area stretches along the Gulf Coast.
“I like to say coverage reaches from Walmart to Walmart,” Allen jokes. “The Walmart in Crawfordville (in Wakulla County) to the Walmart in Callaway (in Bay County).”
It can be heard in all of Franklin County, much of Gulf, Liberty and Wakulla counties, online around the world at oysterradio.com and through the tunein radio app.
The online streaming numbers are “pretty good,” according to Allen. “We have big fans in Vienna. The previous owners started airing online, and it seemed like a kind of cool thing to do. We want an online presence so those who fall in love with the station can listen once their vacation is over.”
As far as the number of listeners, Allen concedes he has no idea. Most radio stations are rated by national services such as Arbitron, but there is no such service for Oyster Radio.
“We get second-hand information. People letting us know they are listening,” Allen said.
As far as the station’s future is concerned, Allen wants to create a bigger online presence. Long term, he wants to increase the online streaming as well as create an Oyster Radio app and online store to buy station T-shirts and other merchandise.
The station is very active in the community, which has numerous festivals throughout the year. The station provides sound equipment for and judges the annual Charity Chili Cook-Off on St. George Island, which is in its 32nd year, and raises money for the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department. Allen judges the Annual Apalachicola Oyster Cook-Off, the sole fundraiser for the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department.
“Trust me, it is amazing!” Allen says. “I have never had such good oyster dishes. These cooks are very talented.”
The long history of Northwest Florida (settlements date back to the 1500s and Apalachicola was named in 1831) is highlighted in Oyster Radio’s Glance at the Past segments. One such feature highlights Dog Island and the story behind the lighting of the beacon back in 1838.
“It is probably one of the most popular things we do,” Allen says. “A lady named Debe Beard, who used to work at the station and still lives in Apalachicola, recorded the segments years ago.”
Oyster Radio posts on its website information on all things tied to Apalachicola Bay and the surrounding waters, such as announcements from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on fishing season dates and a precautionary boil water notice for Gulf County residents. Water issues play a key role in the local community, so the station covers news items like the allocation of $2.5 million to improve water quality in Apalachicola Bay.
When the Deep Water Horizon oil spill happened, the coverage was “treated like a natural disaster,” Allen says. “There wasn’t a whole lot that we could do that was novel. All the information was coming from the same place. But we went to every local meeting and provided local information on where to go if fishermen wanted to sign up to become a ‘vessel of opportunity.’ We provided all the information we could get our hands on, and we did it all day long.”
No satellite radio station will notify listeners of the official opening of gray squirrel hunting season, current riptide warnings, news of the high school homecoming parade or information on the Franklin County Coastal Cleanup … but for Oyster Radio, it’s all part of its homegrown success.
When hurricanes threaten the area, the station is a lifeline of information. “Knock on wood when I say this: We have never left during a hurricane yet. We provide road closures, evacuation notices and every possible bit of information. We work very closely with the emergency management office. We do not plan to leave this station as long as the electricity is on. We have never had one that is a threat to our lives, so we stay,” Allen says.
“As far as I’m concerned that is what local radio stations are for. If you aren’t providing local information what are you there for?”