By SARAH SCHWARZ
For The Beahcomber
As Voice of Vashon volunteers and board members work toward creating Vashon’s first official FM station, they are getting closer to fulfilling a dream on which the organization was founded, according to board member Rick Wallace.
Voice of Vashon (VoV) first applied for an FM license in 2003, but due to FCC rules limiting the frequencies available to community stations, it was not granted a license. In 2010, Congress passed the Community Radio Act, which allows for more community nonprofit stations on the air. VoV will file their new application in October, and members feel there is a much higher chance that this one will be approved.
“We are going to have a strong application, because we have strong community support,” said VoV board member John Midgley, who is heading application efforts.
In order to receive an FM frequency, VoV must file an official application to the FCC that includes writing as well as engineering elements, Midgley said. They are working with Common Frequency, a non-profit in California that helps community stations through the application process.
VoV was founded in 2001 by a small group of islanders. It currently broadcasts online and operates an AM station primarily used for island alerts. They are launching a new website next month that will include opportunities for more community involvement, said VoV marketing and promotions manager Richard Rogers. The new FM station would broadcast from a low-frequency antenna on Vashon and would reach the majority of the island, but not the mainland.
Should the license be granted, the FM station will be for the community to direct, and organizers said it would be a live station, though there would not be live programming 24 hours a day. Community members will be encouraged to brainstorm ideas and come up with the basis for radio programs that could range from talk shows to music, as long as the topic or the individual putting the show together is from Vashon, Midgley said. If community members have ideas but don’t know how to execute them, VoV will teach them to produce the show themselves.
“The whole idea is to have community members do music, talk, etc. shows, and to have them available to the community,” Midgley said.
If and when the FM station is up and running, Midgley said they hope to work with Vashon High School students to produce shows as well. VoV is already training some community members to create shows for the online station.
VoV is already brainstorming possible ideas for programs. Midgley spoke of a morning show similar to those on larger news stations, but with a Vashon focus. Community members would discuss the day’s news, weather, traffic and ferry lines. VoV also hopes to bring community members together to have conversations about issues on Vashon that would then be heard by the larger community.
“A live FM station would allow us to do what we do now, but more efficiently and with more community interaction,” Rogers said.
The FCC only accepts applications for two-week periods once in a while, Midgley said, 2003 being the last opportunity. Although Midgley feels they have a good chance of having their application approved, he stressed that nothing is guaranteed.
Midgley said VoV has been receiving a great deal of community support from individuals as well as from Vashon Allied Arts and VHS. Volunteers collected about 1,500 signatures in support of the efforts at this year’s Strawberry Festival, which will be included in the application.
“We have a lot of support, and we will do the best we can,” he said. “But we can’t guarantee anything.”
It will be several months after all applications are submitted before the FCC announces any decisions. If VoV is granted a station though, Midgley said they can be up and running in a matter of days, since they already have an active online station.