Voice of Vashon has been keeping islanders informed and entertained over the internet and airwaves for nearly 20 years, and now a transition is at hand, as a longtime volunteer and the nonprofit’s sole employee is stepping down.
Susan McCabe first started working with Voice of Vashon (VoV) in 2000 — shortly after it began — and has served in a variety of roles since then, including board president, community organizer and, for the last four years, station manager. She will leave that position at the end of the year, prompting a restructuring of the nonprofit and the hiring of a half-time executive director, who will oversee six teams and VoV’s approximately 60 volunteers.
But even though McCabe is retiring, she still intends to continue producing shows for VoV, including Real Talk, a weekly half hour program “that seeks to answer questions large and small.”
Earlier this month, McCabe reflected on her journey with the organization, which started when VoV was just a web radio station operating out of a small room where Maven Mercantile is now.
McCabe had had a short career in radio as a broadcast journalist in central Illinois, she said, and when people learned about her background, they would suggest she start a radio station — an idea she initially emphatically rejected.
“I know how much work that is. I want nothing to do with it,” she recalled saying at the time, laughing. “Then I found out about this gang, and I thought I just want to make radio. … I love radio. I love journalism.”
From its early days, Voice of Vashon has grown considerably and now includes FM and web radio stations, an emergency alert service and a public access cable TV station, all housed in two studios: VoV’s longtime home at Sunrise Ridge and, since 2015, its much more visible storefront studio downtown.
McCabe recalled some of the early programming, when Voice of Vashon operated solely over the internet: “The Jazz Guy” shows produced by Bill Wood, with hundreds of those shows now in the archives, and Morning Scramble, a mix of news, interviews, music and information. McCabe’s early shows included Venus Envy, in which she interviewed men about their feelings, and, with Karen Biondo, a night-time variety show called Ladies of the Evening.
“The web station flourished, and people were having fun,” she said, noting that they had no how idea how many people were listening in those early days, as more volunteers joined in.
She was the board president when King County gave Comcast channel 21 to VoV in 2008 or 2009, she said. Along with the station came antiquated equipment but there was no money to update it until just a few years ago, although $75,000 was supposed to have been provided early on.
At approximately the same time Voice of Vashon began operating the TV station, she said, the organization also began its 1650 AM radio alert service, providing recorded announcements regarding power, weather, roads, ferries and more for Vashon and Maury Islands. That service still exists, stewarded by fewer than 10 volunteers, and now includes email notices and social media notifications.
Several of those who have worked with McCabe over the years are quick to credit her contributions to the organization from its early days forward.
Jeff Hoyt, who has been involved with VoV as long as McCabe and is now serving as a volunteer program manager, said it is notable that the organization’s recent restructure has six different people tasked with doing the work that she alone was responsible for.
“She has been a stalwart force of nature from the get go,” he added.
One of the Voice of Vashon’s largest milestones was securing its FM radio license in 2014, which McCabe said took three tries to achieve. Islander Rick Wallace, a VoV volunteer for the last decade, credited McCabe with obtaining that license and ensuring there was programming to air once the license arrived.
“The FM station would not exist as a living, breathing part of the community without Susan,” he said.
In particular, he praised McCabe’s human relations skills, deftly managing people who might be arguing and community members who needed to be taken care of in some way.
“She is without a doubt one of the most graceful people: Calm, empathetic, unvaryingly friendly, bright and enthusiastic,” he said. “She was able to help us, all of us, work together in a collegial, organic way, with everyone having their voice heard. She managed to put us together as a team.”
Shortly after VoV received its FM license, another big development occurred: VoV had the opportunity to move into town in the front of the Recess Lab to a space now formally titled the “Jean Bosch Broadcast Studio,” in honor of Bosch, a former VoV president who strongly advocated for a move into town.
McCabe advocated for that move, too, Hoyt said, adding he believes the highly visible studio, in addition to the one tucked away at Sunrise Ridge, has been instrumental in VoV remaining on the air and flourishing.
“I think if the storefront studio had not come along, if that had not happened, we might have come to another kind of crossroads,” he said. “We would not have been present enough to survive.”
Hoyt noted that the storefront studio, with its big windows facing out onto the street, “fired people’s imaginations and got them thinking,” with islanders contributing programming ideas “left and right.”
“Susan sorted through it all and figured out how it all patches together,” he said.
McCabe will leave a void behind, he stated, but both he and Wallace say that the reorganization that VoV has undertaken in recent months is good. Wallace, in fact, called McCabe’s retirement “a boon” for the organization.
“The fact is we were forced by that to take a look at the organization, and now we are in the middle of a rebirth that she is helping us create,” he said.
Now, a search is underway for a new executive director, who will work just half-time, given the reorganization, and not the more-than-full-time hours McCabe put in. There are applicants for the position, but more are welcome if they apply soon, Wallace said.
McCabe is winding down, with her last day scheduled for Dec. 31. A “political and news junkie,” she says some the highlights from her long history with VoV were moderating political forums and debates, and some of the perks of being the face of the organization, such as emceeing the recent Patsy Cline show at Vashon Center for the Arts, and filling in for Hoyt once at a VCA auction. Remote broadcasts, such as those of public meetings also ranked high, as did GiveBig day, when she would invite the heads of many of the island’s nonprofits in to talk about their work.
“It is a community event for me that is very rewarding. I like to think of us as the nonprofit that supports all the other nonprofits,” she said.
And all along it has been a labor of love, she said.
“It is love for radio. It is love for my friends that I work with, and love for this fascinating community that is endlessly interesting to me,” she said. “I love getting the stories.”