October 17, 2013

Community radio is coming to Hatteras Island


A community-run radio station on Hatteras Island that has been in the works for years is finally close to being launched.

Radio Hatteras has been granted approval by the Federal Communications Commission to have an existing commercial license transferred to a nonprofit license.

“It’s very exciting,” said Jean Taylor, past president of the Radio Hatteras board. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for Hatteras.”

The FCC approval of a nonprofit license for Radio Hatteras was posted online Oct. 1, right before the federal government shut down. But the official notification has not yet been received.

Taylor said that the genesis for the station goes back more than six years ago when Jim Kinghorn, then general manager of the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, saw the need to enable the community to get emergency information during and after storms. The idea quickly expanded into creating a unique resource to share news, stories, and general information about schools, politics, culture, and current events on the island. 

A Buxton property owner who lives in northern Virginia, David Wilson, sold the license to Radio Hatteras for a nominal fee, Taylor said.

Antennas will be located on towers owned by the cooperative in Buxton and Waves. In the near future, another antenna is expected to be installed somewhere in between the two villages.

As a non-commercial broadcaster, the station – with call letters WHDX-FM and WHDZ-FM -- will initially be operated entirely by volunteers, said Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy, the 8-member board’s acting president.
“That’s the way it’s going to be until we get our feet on the ground,” she said.

 Eventually, a station manager will be hired to maintain programming and equipment.

Board members have had numerous conversations with organizers of WOVV-FM in Ocracoke and have visited the studio on Silver Lake in the heart of the village.  Billed as Ocracoke Community Radio, the nonprofit station went on the air in June 2010 and streams live from its website.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners provided $20,000 for initial costs for Radio Hatteras, Goodloe-Murphy said. Additional funds will need to be raised for the staff manager, a small studio, and other needs, she said, although the costs – and funding sources -- are still to be determined.

Goodloe-Murphy said that, similar to the Ocracoke station, the board envisions having live and pre-recorded programming, everything from local news and weather, music, interviews with political and community leaders, shows that focus on school and civic projects, and up-to-the minute emergency information from Dare County Emergency Management.

“The sky’s the limit,” she said.

Mike Hennessey, an Avon resident with decades of television and radio broadcast production experience, has been coordinating with other technical wizards on the island in assisting Radio Hatteras with the equipment.

Hennessey said that the station would be initially operated as standard analog channel. But down the road, he said, it might be worth installing digital sub-stations, which can provide a sharper sound.

“Our plan is, first of all, to get on the air,” he said. “Then after that, we’ll work on boosting the signal.” 
Once the nonprofit license is in hand, the station will next be issued a construction permit. 

The tower in Waves is 80 feet and in Buxton, 182 feet. Buxton, however, has “line of sight” issues, in other words, the signal is partially blocked.  On the northern end of the island, Hennessey said, the signal could reach as far as Oregon Inlet, but probably not Manteo.

Listeners with an Internet connection, however, will be able to hear the station’s live stream from any location. Students in the technical department at Cape Hatteras Secondary School are currently designing the station’s website.

“We’re sort of hoping to get the online service even before we get the signal going,” Hennessey said. 

If all goes well, he said, Radio Hatteras could be on the air by early 2014.

Donations for Radio Hatteras can be mailed to P.O. Box 339, Frisco, NC 27936.

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