Volunteers scrambled to save the blues after a water pipe burst in the studios of community radio station WMPG and soaked about 3,000 vinyl records.
“We have a lot of records that are irreplaceable,” station manager Jim Rand said. “We’re doing everything we can to save them.”
A half-dozen volunteers sorted records by Taj Mahal, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy and others Thursday afternoon, removing them from their wet paper sleeves and cardboard jackets. They placed the vinyl between sheets of newspaper in hopes of drying the records thoroughly enough so they don’t warp and can still be played.
Rooms in an adjacent building were stacked with records. Wastebaskets were filled with jackets too wet to be saved.
The half-inch pipe burst in the furnace room overnight Wednesday. The pipe runs along the basement ceiling, above the wooden bins where the records were stored.
The damage was discovered Thursday morning when the building lacked water pressure, Rand said. The leak was fixed right away. The work to save the record collection continued all afternoon.
“I was working in my shop when I heard this little ding,” said furniture maker and volunteer DJ Peter Turner of South Portland. The ding was an alert on his phone from Rand asking for emergency help.
Turner put his work aside and drove into Portland to pitch in.
“I’m here because it’s MPG,” Turner said. “The day I get to come in here and do my show is the best day of my week. WMPG gives me so much. It’s a snap to give something back.”
The community radio station is affiliated with the University of Southern Maine, with studios off Bedford Street on USM’s Portland campus. The station has been broadcasting since 1973, and is a community institution because of its local programming and roster of volunteer DJs.
The 3,000 damaged records represent 10 percent to 20 percent of the station’s vinyl library, Rand said. They also represent some of the records that would be hardest to replace: Out-of-print blues and soul records mostly, as well as global, spoken word and reggae and jazz records. The station’s blues show, from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, is among the most popular, Rand said.
As soon as the leak was discovered and after a plumber was summoned, Rand called Bob Wirtz at Enterprise Records to ask for advice. Wirtz, who owns Portland’s vinyl-only record store, told him to remove the vinyl from the wet sleeves as soon as possible, Rand said. The sleeves can be replaced, and the information from the liner notes is available online. But if the vinyl is damaged, most of the records could only be replaced by chance, he said.
Longtime blues-show DJ and volunteer Steve Sesto lamented what was lost. “The effort is to salvage as much of the music as we can, and the loss is the cover art and liner for a huge percentage of blues albums,” he said. “It’s just a shame.”
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: