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By Richard Taylor
More than a year after Hurricane Matthew’s high winds toppled WOVV’s transmitting tower, Ocracoke’s community radio station has resumed broadcasting at 650 watts thanks to a new 70-foot tower and antenna installation completed in November.
The station’s FCC-licensed 90.1 FM signal now reaches all the way to the Hatteras Inlet thanks to The Tower Guys Inc., from Mecklenburg County. For the past year, the station had broadcast at reduced power via a small, borrowed omni-directional antenna. That temporary signal reliably reached only as far as the NPS Pony Pasture.
The new installation involved weeks of excavation on Ocracoke School property, concrete work for a new foundation for the new tower topped by a custom-built directional antenna and a five-foot lightning rod.
Even during the month-long period when over-the-air broadcasting was lost following Matthew’s destruction on Oct. 9, 2016, WOVV never stopped streaming its eclectic music programming and emergency updates over the internet, thanks to the back-up generator.
Former station manager and engineer Clayton Gaskill remembers that Sunday morning well.
“When the winds woke me up around 4 a.m., we were still on the air, thanks to the generator,” he said.
But by 5:20 that morning, Matthew’s 84-mph peak gusts had toppled the tower, and the station’s transmitter shut down. Gaskill’s fears had come true.
“I had to wait until mid-morning for the water to recede enough to slog down to the station,” Gaskill recalled.
Station founder Robert Raborn helped complete the necessary FCC paperwork, round up volunteer labor and temporary gear and get WOVV back on the air within a month.
Over the next 13 months, Station Manager Manager Debbie Wells, Board President Tommy Hutcherson and
Former station manager Clayton Gaskill arranged all of the various administrative, technical, legal and financial details to pull off the complicated replacement project.
Wells and Hutcherson worked with Hyde County Schools to find insurance and FEMA resources to fund the tower replacement.
“Hyde County was incredible with their help,” Wells said.
Tower Guys foreman Earl Lake said his crew enjoyed both of their week-long visits here, explaining that his team usually erects, maintains and paints much taller radio and TV towers, some soaring 1,000 feet or higher. This little island job was almost like a vacation for them.
“We loved coming here,” Lake said. “Everyone was so nice and friendly. I liked the whole Ocracoke vibe. It’s nothing like Charlotte. I can see why people come here. We’d certainly like to come back again.”
“It was a long and grueling process,” Hutcherson said. “We’re just glad it’s over.”
WOVV streams online at www.wovv.org.