Community

Voice of Vashon gets approval to start an FM radio station

By NATALIE MARTIN

Staff Writer

Voice of Vashon has been granted a permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to start an FM radio station on the island.

Last Friday Voice of Vashon (VoV) volunteers learned that the organization’s application for an FM station hadsbeen approved and it was granted a construction permit from the FCC to build a low-power FM station. The organization will now begin a fundraising campaign to help purchase the needed infrastructure and FM transmitter. It will also begin lining up radio content and complete the steps required before it can go live, which it hopes to do within a few months.

“Everybody is really excited,” said VoV president Jean Bosch, “and we’re all trying to keep ourselves focused on a linear process of doing it right.”

Those involved with Voice of Vashon say the announcement fulfills a longtime goal of the community media organization, which was founded 14 years ago in hopes of starting an FM station on the island. It has applied with the FCC at other times over the years and been unsuccessful, and one early attempt to broadcast an FM station was also shut down.

“It’s a testament to the creativity of this bunch of people,” said Susan McCabe, VoV’s station manager. “After we lost … each time rather than folding our tents and going away, we found other ways to continue broadcasting.”

Indeed, VoV has grown to include everything but an FM station. The nonprofit, powered by a large volunteer crew and a shoestring budget underwritten by island businesses, now offers a web radio station and a community access television station in addition to its robust emergency alert system. Recently, it revamped its website and has been broadcasting live commentary of Vashon High School sports games and posting video of public meetings on Vashon.

The organization, however, has held out hope that it would eventually get a place on the FM dial. A couple of years ago, its vision came within reach when federal regulations for low-power FM stations changed in favor of small-town stations and an application window for such stations was opened.

“I want to give full credit to the Obama administration for opening up the bandwidth and making it happen,” Bosch said.

John Midgley, a VoV board member who has been closely involved with the effort, said the group got its station approval sooner than it expected and is now working to quickly get its plans in order.

“We’re very happy that this happened so fast. … We’re actually ahead of schedule,” he said.

VoV plans to install an FM radio transmitter on top of the Water District 19 water tower near town. From there, it will broadcast on 101.9 FM to most of Vashon and Maury, though some reaches of the island could have spotty service, Midgley said.

“We do have plans to figure out ways to enhance the signal,” he said.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the station will be tested to meet FCC guidelines, but Midgley said they aren’t concerned about getting the final approval.

At a VoV retreat last weekend, volunteers discussed their vision for the FM station, which will have similar content as the web radio station, with additional programs, music and talk radio specific to Vashon.

McCabe said the group hopes to get more people involved in producing both live and pre-recorded programming and hopes to air call-in shows and possibly bring back the once-popular Morning Scramble. Music will be from Vashon or the Northwest.

The 1650AM alert station will be unchanged, though alerts may be included on the FM station as well.

“Our goal is to be a valuable asset to the community,” McCabe said. “Our format is likely to be fairly eclectic. We want it to reflect the character of Vashon.”

The nonprofit estimates it will need to raise as much as $50,000 to purchase new equipment for the station, which will utilize the existing studio at Sunrise Ridge. Bosch said it is still determining how it will move forward with fundraising, but noted at least one person has already volunteered to donate labor to help build the infrastructure.

“I think the community is going to step up in a lot of ways we can’t even imagine yet,” she said.

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