Opinion

Voice of Vashon looks to create an FM radio station, seeks Island support

Could Vashon and Maury Islands get our own live FM radio station? A recent act of Congress has opened new possibilities. At Voice of Vashon, we’re exploring the options. We need the community’s help.

As you probably know, VoV is a local nonprofit. We provide radio and television resources to help our Island community create, produce and distribute locally oriented programming.

VoV is a nearly all-volunteer organization, but we have for years been operating a public access TV channel (Comcast channel 21), an Internet radio station at voiceofvashon.org and an emergency broadcasting system at 1650 AM. So, we have television, streaming audio on the web and an AM station — though it’s one with a license that restricts us to programming for emergencies and traveler information.

But we don’t have a live radio station with music and a rich variety of local programming.

That was the dream when Island residents started Voice of Vashon about 15 years ago. We’ve always thought that to be able to completely fulfill our mission to serve the community through media, it would be great to have live FM radio, locally produced and focused.

A live station would open endless possibilities for music, public affairs and civic programming made by and for Island residents. An FM station could provide a live radio experience for young and old — those involved in politics, church groups, clubs, you name it — to talk to and provide entertainment for the Island community.

It also would fill coverage gaps in our 1650 AM emergency broadcasting system, improving our ability to provide storm and earthquake disaster information in times of community need.

VoV tried a few years ago to get a Federal Communications Commission license for a “Low Power FM” (LPFM) radio frequency. LPFM stations are called “low power” because they are limited to no more than 100 watts broadcasting power, though that’s enough to cover our community pretty well. We didn’t get the license, mostly because there are so many established large, urban FM stations nearby, and the rules didn’t allow LPFM stations to be close on the dial to those big stations.

The new Local Community Radio Act allows LPFM stations to now be closer on the dial to larger stations. In theory, this opening of new potential “slots” on the dial will make it more feasible to get a license.

Around the end of this year, there likely will be an opportunity to try again for a license. Though there are technical and financial challenges ahead, VoV is moving forward now to see if we can fulfill the dream of live radio on the Islands.

We’ll need two kinds of help from you. One, we will need volunteers to help with the license exploration itself. We must figure out if we have a good opportunity for a license, and if we do, then put the application together. For this, we’re looking for both individual volunteers and any organizations that would consider partnering with us.

Two, if we decide to apply this time around, we will need broad community support to show the FCC that there is a great need and desire to have LPFM for our unique Island community.

If you are interested and can help in any way, or simply want to comment on the possibilities for LPFM, please send an e-mail to  lpfm@voiceofvashon.org.

We look forward to hearing from you, and we will continue to keep everyone informed about the prospects for local FM radio on Vashon and Maury.

— John Midgley is an Island resident and a member of the Voice of Vashon board of directors. He hosts a jazz program on VoV web radio and is director of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle.

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