Editor’s note: This story was originally published in two issues of the print paper in the summer of 2023.
By Patty Huston-Holm
One of the benefits of living on Ocracoke is that one has an opportunity to do things that are often not possible to do elsewhere.
Hosting a radio show is one of them.
Ocracoke’s community radio station, WOVV 90.1 FM, has a cadre of local and off-island broadcasters.
Except for What’s Happening on Ocracoke, a news/cultural program broadcast Friday morning at 11:30 a.m., these are primarily music shows comprising a variety of genres and themes.
Typical of most of the nonprofit community organizations, these DJs are unpaid volunteers. Before getting on the air, they build a playlist, create talking points about the songs they choose and sprinkle comments on the weather or island activities. Sometimes they will have guests. These shows run for one or two hours.
WOVV is on air 24/7. Even when bad weather causes power outages, the station continues to broadcast using a generator funded by the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board. When there are no shows, music comes from its library jukebox consisting of a variety of songs. “When listening to WOVV, you never know what will be next” is a compliment made by many of the station’s fans.
Since 2016, its studio has been located on the second floor of the former Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department firehouse on Back Road and is part of the Ocracoke School campus. Prior to that, its digs were a small kiosk on Silver Lake Harbor.
For years, the station has broadcast the school’s basketball games with Bill Cole being the Voice of the Dolphins, supplemented by play calling and commentary by Chad Macek and Peter Vankevich.
This spring the station began calling the school’s home baseball games at the Ocracoke Community Park featuring sixth grader Duncan McLain calling the balls and strikes.
Three part-time paid staff members supplement the volunteer operation by handling the technical, programing and financial duties.
WOVV founded the Scallywag 5K/10K/half-marathon foot race each April. Proceeds after expenses benefit the station, the Ocracoke School Athletic Boosters and Ocracoke Community Park.
Additional funding for the station comes from donations, membership and the occasional requests to the Occupancy Tax Board for equipment upgrades.
The Observer caught up with most of the DJs to learn about who they are and their music choices.
Starting with Vankevich, who on one spring night excitedly turned his regular show over to Haley Willis, a young woman visiting the island where she grew up and who did a show with him in 2015, their shows, air times and other information are summarized below.
Volunteer Length: 10 years
Show Name: Rockin’ Radio Show (shared with Larry Ihle), 4 p.m. Tuesdays
Genre: Rock ‘n’ roll blended with Cajun and jazz
Why and How: Tommy, the owner of the island’s Variety Store, has been playing drums since he got a Beatles kit at age five. His passion for music continued through high-school band in Virginia Beach up to today, which finds him serving as a DJ for destination weddings and other island events as well as at the radio station. He likes finding and playing “tracks that others haven’t heard” while spending time with his longtime friend, Larry Ihle.
Tommy also broadcasts the boys Dolphins basketball games
Added Thoughts: “I’ve played drums my entire life,” he said. “I’ve played with bands like the Ocracoke Rockers and the Ray McAllister Band, which is really the Ray Murray Band, but we started calling it McAllister and it stuck.” He laughingly shared that a writer-lecturer Ray McAllister wrote a blog joking that “I have my own band.”
Volunteer Length: Four years
Show Name: Rockin’ Radio Show (Shared with Tommy Hutcherson), 4 p.m. Tuesdays
Genre: Jazz and blues blended with Hutcherson’s love of rock ‘n’ roll
Why and How: “I like to share the B-side of albums,” he said. “And I use Shazam a lot to tell me what a song is about and then share that with listeners.” When Ihle moved to Ocracoke at age 20, he lived with Hutcherson and exposed him to jazz that he grew up with in Chicago. Unlike Hutcherson, Ihle had no musical talent but shared a passion and respect for music, especially the sounds of drums and a saxophone.
Added Thoughts: A general building contractor and pilot for island helicopter tours, Ihle recalls the days when he and Hutcherson paid the bills by “cutting grass” and “cleaning up after music events.” His favorite times at the radio studio is when friends and family members come along to bring their songs and talk on air with “sometimes 8 to 10 people crammed in there dancing.”
Volunteer Length: 10 years (also one of the two paid employees for his eight hours a week as program manager)
Show Name: Outdoor Shower Power Hour
Genre: 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s at 6 p.m. Mondays
Why and How: “I moved here in 2013 and got to know Pete who hooked me in,” Macek said. “I like to use the show name with some fun language like ‘lather you up with song tunes’ and ‘give you some music to clean up to.’ We think we have listeners as far away as England but with VPNs (virtual private network), we aren’t sure, but we know people are listening.”
Added Thoughts: “I have no musical background. I grew up as a sports kid. My full-time job is as a business analyst with United Health Care. My playlist is random, taking me three to four hours a week to do each show. I like to do word plays like tonight I have 22 songs and I’ll take the last word of a song and match it with the first word of the next song – like the Police So Lonely song followed by Billy Squier’s Lonely Is the Night and then Bob Seger’s Night Moves.
Matthew Tolson (on-air name “Catbird”)
Volunteer Length: Nine years
Show Name: Full Throttle, 11 p.m. Saturdays
Genre: Punk rock
Why and How: “There is no rhyme or reason about how I create my playlists, but I try to play some new releases each week,” Tolson said. “I do punk because I felt it was being shunned. Both as a WOVV DJ and board member, I receive the utmost, soul nourishing, endorphin-charging satisfaction from my participation.”
Added Thoughts: “There is something about random guests and random listeners on this isle of misfit toys. One thing I am proud of is the two-year campaign that resulted in an internationally known punk band, Authority Zero, coming and playing a live show here on Ocracoke.”
Volunteer length: 12 years
Show name: What’s Happening on Ocracoke interviews: 11:30 a.m. Fridays
Show name: Just Good Music from the Second Floor of the Old Fire House, 8 p.m. Mondays
Genre: 60s rock, blues, folk and Indie music. The shows often have a world tour four or more songs, especially Scandinavian, Canadian and Latin-flavored music.
Why and how: “Back in 2011, when I owned a house but had not yet moved to the island, I got into an online discussion with a couple of nonresident property owners trying to see how the island was doing as Hurricane Irene was heading straight to the island,” Vankevich said. “I had heard about WOVV and decided to log in. I heard who I later learned was Nathan Modlin say, ‘The water is now covering the dock outside the studio [back then the studio was in a kiosk on the harbor] and I’m not going to be able to continue broadcasting much longer.” He then played In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the 17-minute 60s song by Iron Butterfly. Both the news and the song impressed me. I sent a donation. Soon after, I received a nice thank you and an invite to volunteer when I moved here.”
What’s Happening on Ocracoke is a news/culture show, most Fridays at 11:30 a.m. It includes periodic updates from the county commissioner, the Health Center, and the National Park Service and interviews with artists and writers including two North Carolina Poet Laureates, a Pulitzer Prize reporter and even the state’s governor.
Volunteer Length: Nine years
Show Name: Beats with Beats, 9 a.m. Thursdays
Genre: Theme songs like duos, trios, songs with colors mentioned and songs that many people sing the wrong words to.
Why and How: With a bachelor’s degree in communications from Salisbury University, Salisbury, Md., and despite two or three other jobs she holds, when Haddad was asked to take over another DJ spot, she agreed. Sometimes, she puts her show together after a night of bartending at the Back Porch. Other times, she thinks about it for days prior. Customers and friends tell her she has a natural radio voice. “I wondered if I should do it because I leave here in the winter, but many others do, too,” she said.
Added Thoughts: “My given name is Ashleigh, but my brother started calling me ‘Beat’ and ‘Beatle’ at age two,” she said. She recalled her most memorable show was in 2018 when her sister called near the end of her shift and during her program on the theme of death to share that her father had had a stroke. She treasures a recording of that show.
Volunteer Length: 10 years
Show Name: Classic Cuts & Such, 6 p.m. Saturdays
Genre: 70s & 80s rock and roll plus Etta James and Frank Sinatra
Why and How: “I guess you could say I’m a native because I graduated high school here as one of seven in 1978,” Simpson said. “But my dad was in the military, so we lived different places. My great-grandfather was a lighthouse keeper. I worked with the postal service for years. Regarding music, I loved Wolfman Jack and his radio voice, and I saw Charlie Pride. To see real performers is better than listening to an album, but listening is better than no listening. When I play something, I hope I touch somebody. It could be something they haven’t heard in 20 years. When I was asked to do this, I got to work and had 15 shows planned out before my first one.”
Added Thoughts: “I like putting together my tracks. It would be random, like something from Bonnie Raitt with Huey Lewis and the News and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The other night, I decided to play all songs that started with an R like Refugee by Tom Petty and Rooms on Fire by Stevie Nicks.”
Volunteer Length: Since October 2022
Show Name: Ocracoke Music Sampler, 8 p.m. Tuesdays
Genre: Original music, 50s rock and roll, nautical music, “whatever strikes my fancy.”
Why and How: “I moved here in 1978, teaching shop at the school,” Mitchell said. “My wife, Kitty, also was an art teacher and musician and now has an art gallery. For 30 years, I’ve recorded music. Our band, Molasses Creek, has about a dozen albums – folk and bluegrass. I volunteered at the station because I thought it would be a fun way to share the music I like. For the station, I often play whatever strikes my fancy… Martin Garish, an Ocracoke native, is a very talented guitarist. I would like to see more younger people take to music here – like Dallas Mason, a wonderful drummer.”
Added Thoughts: “I have a personal connection to Ocracoke Island. The most important thing about my show is that all of the music was either recorded by me right here on Ocracoke at Soundside Studio, or a few recordings of Ocracoke musicians that were recorded at a studio off the island. So, it’s not just music I like, it’s local and regional musicians I love, respect and have personally recorded.”
Volunteer Length: Since October 2021
Show Name: Tunes with Teaster, 6 p.m. Wednesdays
Genre: Eclectic – a wide-ranging mix with themes
Why and How: “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and perhaps may not have had the chance in a bigger city,” she wrote via email from Ireland in mid-May 2023. “Pete Vankevich invited me to be a guest on his show, and I loved it. Then I filled in for him while he was away and then got my own time slot. I spent so much of my 20s following live music and got away from it as I finished two degrees and worked on my career in my 30s. No matter what’s going on in my life or in the world, for those two hours it’s just me and the music.”
Added Thoughts: Teaster, who also serves on the station board, mentors Ocracoke middle-school students in producing their own shows. The Afterschool Radio Club (5 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays), she says, is her favorite part of engagement at the station. She recalled a radio DJ from the 1990s TV show “Northern Exposure” and how he ended each program with an inspirational quote – something she tries to do at WOVV.
Volunteer Length: Since March 2023
Show Name: Anne Show, 7 p.m. Thursdays
Genre: Rock, New Age, Progressive
Why and How: Anne did a radio show in Gettysburg, Pa., when in college and grew up listening to community radio. “I like that music is not selected by a robot and that it’s played by somebody in your community,” she said. “Being a DJ is a wonderful way to get to know other people on the island and to share with them.”
Added Thoughts: Having worked as the assistant administrator at the Ocracoke Preservation Society, Anne knows a lot about island history. These facts and related events as well as international human rights information, which grew to a passion as a political science/international relations major at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Maryland — are woven into her program that could include Talking Heads and other progressive artists. “I have friends in England and Australia who listen,” she said. “One of the neatest things about the radio station is how they cover high school sports.”
Volunteer Length: Under one year
Show Name: Shoal Searching, 9 p.m. Tuesdays
Genre: Alternative and country
Why and How: “Peter Vankevich and his wife, Mary, are my backdoor neighbors,” Schettino said. “He’s also on the fire department, and I think he asked me to do this when we met at a call when someone lit a tree on fire with a cigarette. . . I only had to learn about three buttons and Peter reassured me that we all make mistakes. . . Chad (program manager) said no profanity…It takes me about five hours a week to put together my two-hour playlist.”
Added Thoughts: “I had a hard time finding a name, but the day before my first show, I was on the ferry and the word ‘shoal’ (sandbar) came up. I’m not so good with trivia but I’ve been coming to the island for 30 years so I can talk about balloons on the beach (not allowed) and that my golf cart can drive faster than the mosquitoes.”
Since publishing this feature, Tom Cain joined the prestigious ranks of WOVV Broadcasters Emeritus.
One of the station’s first local DJs, Cain was part of WOVV for 13 years and recently stepped down from doing his Down Creek Blues at9 p.m. on Saturdays. After moving to Ocracoke, having retired from a telecom career, he began selling cigars (Ocracoke Cigars) and did a radio show to share his passion for African American folk/blues artists, such as BB King and Dr. John of New Orleans. A selection of blues music plays in Cain’s former spot at 9 p.m. Saturdays.