For just over a month, East Enders have spent weekday mornings under the audible spell of WPPB 88.3 FM radio’s newest voice, Gianna Volpe. The former WRIV 1390 AM host graduated to the local radio big leagues this winter after her seasoned predecessor, Bonnie Grice, announced her outré from Long Island’s only NPR station after two decades on the air. Since March 25, Volpe’s The Heart of the East End has robustly filled the 9 a.m.–12 p.m. slot once held by Grice’s The Eclectic Café. She’s also continuing Grice’s Friday morning Media Mavens show featuring various journalists from all the East End newspapers, from 9–10 a.m.
The job landed on Volpe’s lap after years riding a rollercoaster of local journalism for multiple publications, restaurant industry gigs, broadcasting and more than a few personal highs and lows—including a devastating car wreck that left her with a broken neck and shoulder, multiple broken ribs and a broken sternum. It also left her with a new voice that is made for radio. “They say there was no damage to my vocal chords, but it did change my voice,” Volpe says. “People would stop me on the street and say, ‘You should be on radio.’”
Her new show, a mix of music and talk, sits at the fulcrum of her combined experience and staunch conviction that this region deserves to be celebrated without the weight of a corporate thumb.
“If it’s an East End person, place or thing, it has a place on my show,” Volpe says, noting that ad-free public radio allows her to bolster and protect “the increasingly thin line between journalism and advertising.” Anyone of interest is welcome on The Heart of the East End.
It was the same on her successful radio show The Gianna Volpe Report, which aired Thursday mornings on Riverhead’s WRIV 1390 AM for five years before she got the call to interview with Peconic Public Broadcasting. “It was getting 1,000 views in one day,” she says of The Gianna Volpe Report. “I was getting four new sponsors in three weeks—the show was blowing up.” But when opportunity knocks, she’s learned to open the door.
Oddly, Volpe had just made the decision to leave her WRIV show in order to make money as a security guard at a private club in Southampton this summer when the WPPB job opened up. “I got the call that Bonnie had resigned legit five minutes later,” Volpe says. “I, quite thankfully, can’t seem to escape my destiny,” she adds later, repeating a Jean de La Fontaine quote, often wrongly credited to Carl Jung: “You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.”
“I did a five-hour interview and I got the job,” Volpe recalls, admitting that, despite her past success and confidence she could do it, she didn’t expect to be hired. “That was divine intervention.”
Of course, anyone who’s enjoyed a morning of Volpe’s raspy voice, good humor, accessible authenticity and interesting playlists would say God has little to do with it. She’s the real deal and, while still finding her stride, Volpe has the chops for a long career behind the mic. Likeability counts for a lot.
Volpe’s style is not always perfectly measured and a bit off the cuff at times, but her openness connects with listeners throughout the morning hours, speaking with guests, sharing area news and events, and playing a broad cross section of music, from The Rolling Stones to Van Halen, Naughty By Nature, Nirvana, The Nancy Atlas Project or Simple Minds, to even more unexpected turns, such as Chevy Chase, Steve Martin & Martin Short performing as The Three Amigos, or The Pink Panther Theme by Henri Mancini & His Orchestra. The wild panoply of tracks spans time and genre as Volpe weaves a colorful charm quilt from many disparate parts.
Each day’s playlist, which Volpe dedicates to a specific guest or person, and then carefully archives, follows a logical thread as songs connect, either by title or band name, lyrics or subject. Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” leads to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” which leads to Who Are Those Guys’ “Blue Skies,” Lukas Graham’s “Love Someone” and on and on. Her creativity runs deep.
“It’s a huge job,” Volpe says of her new position. “It’s a baptism by fire.” Beneath her freewheeling exterior, Volpe is an ambitious, hardworking woman who longs to best represent her truest self and the East End community. “I’m in the make-all-the-mistakes phase, which is very uncomfortable for a perfectionist,” she says, but adds gratefully, “People are responding to the show really well. People are responding to me as a professional and that’s really exciting for me.”
Going from her one-hour show once per week to the full-time pace at WPPB was a big change, but Volpe felt sure she could do it. “I knew that I would wield the power responsibly,” she explains, describing a feeling of “synergy” with Grice. “It felt right to me.”
Clearly it felt right to the WPPB management as well, and Volpe says she’s found nothing but support from her colleagues at the radio station. “WPPB is really like a family,” she says. “We really band together, especially because it’s so difficult to survive,” Volpe adds, pointing out that they’re a publicly funded operation. “I can’t say enough good things about the people I work with.”
Volpe is just getting started at WPPB and, with her boundless drive and energy, she’s poised for great things there. For now, she’s learning the mixing board, improving her timing and transitions, and getting her feet firmly planted in the world of public radio, including the much-needed fund-raising component.
Learn more, including how to donate to WPPB 88.3 FM at peconicpublicbroadcasting.org.