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VoV raises funds for third radio tower

Thanks to a sock hop and a hefty donation from VashonBePrepared, Voice of Vashon has the $12,000 needed to purchase the third and final radio transmission tower for Voice of Vashon Standing By, the Island’s AM radio station that could save lives in the event of an emergency.

In uneventful times, the 10-watt “travelers’ information station” broadcasts a repeating loop of information useful to Island travelers — but as soon as something unusual occurs, such as a change in ferry schedule or a more severe event, an information bulletin is posted on the radio station.

Voice of Vashon’s May 31 sock hop, attended by 100 Islanders, raised $3,000. VashonBePrepared (VBP) has pledged $8,000 from its King County grant coffers to the Voice of Vashon radio efforts, which is in line with the organization’s mission of preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters and emergencies.

If the Island loses power, like it did during the catastrophic windstorm in December 2006, Voice of Vashon Standing By will still broadcast at 1650 AM.

“VBP believes that being able to communicate with our community in a time of disaster is one of the highest priorities we have,” said Rick Wallace, VashonBePrepared’s vice president for plans and operations. “We wanted to be able to do anything in our power to make sure this happens and that we have the tools to do that.”

With the money pooled from the sock hop and VashonBePrepared, Voice of Vashon — a nonprofit that also runs VoV-TV, Comcast Channel 21 in association with Vashon Park District — will purchase a third radio tower, as well as three signs with solar-powered lights that will flash when a bulletin is posted on the radio station, said Jeff Hoyt, Voice of Vashon’s emergency broadcasting coordinator.

The signs will be installed on telephone poles — as long as Puget Sound Energy approves the idea — along Vashon Highway entering town from both directions and leaving Maury Island somewhere near Engels Repair and Towing, he said. This way, people will know to tune in when there’s something important on Voice of Vashon Standing By.

The station already has one of the three towers up and running at the Voice of Vashon headquarters on Sunrise Ridge. The second tower was purchased with funds from a Michelle Shocked benefit concert last year and matching grants from the Vashon Island Rotary Club. The tower has a location almost secured at the north end near Cedarhurst Road. As soon as a lease is signed, designs and construction will commence.

After the group secures a location for its third tower and installs it, hopefully in the upper Dockton area, 98 percent of the Island will be able to hear the radio station, Hoyt said.

He put out a plea to Dockton residents with an open meadow who might not mind helping the Vashon community by putting a radio antenna there. He asked them to contact Voice of Vashon.

The community came together May 31 to support their homegrown radio station, donning poodle skirts, saddle shoes and varsity jackets and jiving to the music of yesteryear.

DJ Prince Voltaire (also known as Islander Walt Stempek) played Elvis, Buddy Holly and Frankie Valli, before whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a series of “fad dance tunes,” Hoyt said — the mashed potato, the stroll, the bunny hop.

“It was cool; they danced from the get-go,” he said. “When the first song hit the speakers, they danced — they were ready.”

The sock hop included a tower building contest, in which teams raced to build a seven-foot freestanding tower out of 40 sheets of construction paper and rolls of tape.

“They kind of looked Dr. Seussical, they were leaning and hanging over,” Hoyt said. “All along I was thinking, ‘No one’s going to be able to do it.’”

But in the end, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) team took first place. The tower-building contest was the whimsical idea of Joe Ulatoski, a board member of VashonBePrepared who is considered the father of the Island’s preparedness effort.

“We were able to have a good time without hitting up the local business people for money,” said Rex Stratton, Vashon Island Rotary Club’s past president. “The sock hop focused everybody’s attention on getting the third tower, and now we’ve achieved our goal. Some people are saying we oughta do this every year. The kids had fun — they even liked the music we old farts listen to.”

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