Ernie community event pic

Interview with Executive Producer & Founder Ernie Floyd

This article originally appeared on Worcester Magazine

Ernest “Ernie” Floyd loves nothing more than hearing happy people on the radio. As executive producer of Unity Radio and the host of his own evening listening program, Smooth Grooves, Floyd is motivated to create an avenue through which local residents can contribute to the community.

What is your history with the city of Worcester?

I was recruited to come to Worcester through basketball as a result of my high school years in Boston. I was born and raised in Roxbury and I attended Boston English High School. The basketball coach greeted me when I walked through the door on the first day. I was only an OK player at the time. I had the height, he had the interest, and I worked hard. By junior year, I made the team. At that time, they had scouting reports that regularly went around the city. Once my name was on there, the word was out. Holy Cross was one of 250 schools that recruited me. They sought me out more than anyone else. Villanova, Western Kentucky and Marshall were all final choices of mine, but I decided to go to Holy Cross because I wanted to stay close. My mom was alive at the time and I wanted to her to see me play.

Can you describe your career thus far?

I pursued a tryout with the Milwaukee Bucks and a position at ESPN before ending up in Europe. I eventually came back to Worcester from Dijon, France and got reacclimated. I wanted to go into communications. In 1987, Greater Media Cable was introducing cable advertising in the area and I went into sales. My third year in, I knew it was time to reach out and support the community. I had spoken to young people throughout my time in college, so I knew I wanted to get involved with You Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club. I had passion for empowering young people through media and I saw that the Worcester Youth Center was going through a lot of challenges within the community. Participants of the Worcester Youth Center were sometimes misunderstood. I wanted to project a positive image of who they really were. I formed Pride Productions and we launched the Youth Unity half-hour television show. I taught students at the Ionic Ave. Boys and Girls Club how to interview, operate a camera and edit. Our show was produced out of Shrewsbury Public Access at the time. They welcomed me when I wanted to pursue the idea. They ran with it for a good strong year. Greater Media Channel 3 turned into Charter and we ran it on Channel 3. In ’95, I received the Visions Community Award as a Young Leader. I remember a gentleman calling me on behalf of the Telegram and Gazette to tell me that I won and I hung up on him because I thought it was a joke. On my mission to support young people in the community, I had always felt backlash and I received opposition. I was constantly on the radio or in the paper speaking my mind. The word “teen” had a bad connotation in those days. That marked a rough period in reference to how the city was tackling youth issues. The city wasn’t ready for a youth revolution because of the negativity associated with Worcester’s youth at the time. When the Telegram called me about the award, it was one of the first positive turns for me. Sen. John Kerry was the honorary speaker. We springboarded into the community with open discussion after that.

How did you come to launch Unity radio?

In 2012, we took a look at the media landscape and realized we felt good about Pride Productions coming back through radio. We wanted to add to the growth of the city. A mutual friend of mine was operating an internet radio station out of his garage. I was interested and intrigued by it. I asked various questions. I had a little radio experience announcing games at Holy Cross. I said to myself, if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it yourself. I caught it just right, because the FCC at the time was in the moratorium for radio licenses and they were only going to open the window to apply for licenses for nonprofit institutions. I raised enough capital to hire an engineer and an attorney. Fortunately, we were able to receive approval. That was 2013. We operated through the internet from 2013-2017. As an internet radio station, we were graciously housed at Becker College. I became an adjunct professor, allowing me to create stronger ideas through connections with students. Jeannie Hebert from Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce believed in our vision going forward. At our golf tournament last October, we raised enough funds to get the antenna up. Hank Stolz came on and I told him that we were in the process of developing the station. I had a signal, he was podcasting. We combined our resources. Talk of the Commonwealth and Worcester Magazine came together for the election in November. We covered it from beginning to end. A week later, we were consistently on air with Hank Stolz, Tony Economou, Gary Rosen, Walter Bird Jr. and Dale LePage. Later on, Podcast 508 joined as well as the Chamber of Commerce. In March, we decided to move downtown as we developed a relationship with Cliff Rucker. Now, we’re adding additional programming with an AM station called Galaxia Boston as well as sports programming with Ike McBride and Joe Paskalis. The Mass Pirates and the Railers are supporting us. The station is growing.

What was the highlight of your athletic career at Holy Cross?

Being drafted in the fifth round by the Milwaukee Bucks was probably the highlight. But before that, I made a big splash as a freshman – to say the least. I hit a big shot against Providence. Providence versus Holy Cross was the NBC game of the week. I was playing against guys who I had competed with in high school, guys who used to eat me up. I was so focused. The final play was designed for our sharpshooter, Ron Perry. Everybody knew who would take the last shot; they double-teamed him and the ball came back to me. I looked up and shot it like I was in the final scene of a Walt Disney movie. I hit the shot and the crowd rushed the floor and picked me up.

Worcester Telegram Interview with
Unity Radio Founder, Ernest Floyd


WORCESTER — Ernest “Ernie” Floyd is looking for a tall building. More specifically, Mr. Floyd needs a building downtown to place the antenna that broadcasts Unity Radio (97.9 WUTY) throughout the city. Since founding WUTY in 2013, he has strengthened the nonprofit station’s link to the city through an ever-evolving slate of programing, from music to news to sports to cannabis. WUTY moved to Waldo Street last year and switched stations from 102.9 to 97.9; meanwhile, the station received approval to upgrade its license to 100 watts. In order to make use of WUTY’s new broadcasting power, though, Mr. Floyd has to find a building for its antenna. The stronger signal will allow more people to find 97.9 on their dials.

What does WUTY’s presence downtown mean for the station and its listeners?
We’re in the thick of things as the voice of the people. We can help translate what’s happening downtown — in businesses and city hall — to the community. We can also translate what’s happening in the community to the downtown. No matter how much development is happening, it doesn’t mean anything if residents don’t know about it and aren’t around to experience it. And you don’t just want the people outside of the city to appreciate Worcester: You want the people inside it to appreciate it, too.

Do you have a building in mind?
It would be ideal to get on top of the Mercantile Center. We’d be close to Waldo Street and in the center of the city. We will be able to enhance the quality of our signal and reach more people. It will go a long way toward helping us become more attractive to businesses interested in underwriting what we do. At the same time, it will position us to create programing geared around the morning drive and expand our coverage of news, weather and sports.

How has your new programming reflected the growth of the station?
We have a good mixture of content now. We have the mayor and city manager in for regular interviews. The Worcester Chamber of Commerce has a show. We have the Worcester Railers on, the Mass Pirates and a sports show called “Unsupervised Sports.” And the station will start broadcasting Holy Cross sports soon. We also have a cannabis show called “Cannabis 101″; it’s an educational show on the industry, Wednesdays from 1 to 2. And we have a wellness show called “Talking Wellness.” We’ve made the station more community based, more local. Our heart has always been with the community — to give a voice to people who don’t have one.

How do you gauge your listeners’ response to the programming?
Our success is based on social media. People react to ours shows, congratulate us, and give us feedback. We know that we’re getting a response out there, because we see it on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. For example, we covered the dedication of the Betty Price Playground. I knew her and knew her family. Not a lot of other outlets would cover an event like that, but we went out there and covered it and had a huge reaction on social media. The name of the playground has been corrected.

How did you get your start in radio?
I came across a computer in a garage playing music: It was internet radio. I was fascinated. I could only imagine what I could do in the community if I had my own signal; I come to find out, in 2012 when I started pursing a license, the FCC opened up a window for a couple days to allow nonprofits, churches and schools to apply for a low-power license. There was a moratorium on all other licenses. I raised the money, and by 2013, we applied for it and won.

Where were you broadcasting from?
I went to Becker Collage, and they showed me their media facility, Hawk Studio. It hadn’t been occupied for two years. They had a cable system in there, and they had a room with a whole bunch of garbage — old furniture, broken wood. I became an adjunct professor there and taught for a couple semester, creating a communications course. I also started building my nonprofit organization — Pride Productions — back up. We received a grant from the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce to renovate the media room; Becker gave us support, as well. We were supposed to be a vocal studio, but it ended up being a radio station.
We were broadcasting on the internet until 2017, then we had our first on-air broadcast for the elections that year through a partnership with Hank Stolz and Worcester Magazine.

You’ve been working with teens and young adults since the early 90s. How have you continued that work at WUTY?
We have a group called the Alliance Media Group, and we think it will be the heart and soul of the station. It’s made up of high school and college students who work at the station as part of a work-study program. It’s a win-win for everybody involved; we get the talent the eagerness and the excitement of the students, and the schools get the students off campus into a radio station where they can learn a skill.
We have these high school kids who’re articulate, and they’re able to reach their peers through their broadcasts. These kids can do it, trust me. They can be just as articulate and insightful as the adults. They can handle talking to the city manager and mayor. I take pride in that.