Six months ago, after eight years as a low-power station (71 watts) confined to a 10-mile radius around Cambridge and reaching 20,000 residents, WHCP-FM (formerly WHCP-LP) won a rare FCC license to upgrade to a more robust frequency. Currently airing at 91.7 ‘on the radio dial,’ the station’s signal has amplified to 14,000 watts, extending its reach to over 190,000 residents across the region from Talbot to Wicomico County, along the Bay and into Southern Maryland.
There’s more to WHCP’s recent developments. In addition to establishing a sister studio on N. Washington St. in Easton (alongside their Race Street, Cambridge location), WHCP is now also a member station of award-winning NPR, adding flagship programs such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
“Drivetime radio is still where the dominant listening is,” said President and General Manager Mike Starling. “We’ve gotten tons of favorable feedback about being able to listen without all the signal vagaries you would hear when trying to listen to the stations across the bay and much further down on the Eastern Shore.”
He would know. This significant partnership and expansion owe much to Starling himself, who, after 25 years as Vice President, Chief Technical Officer at NPR in Washington, started WHCP in Cambridge in 2015. Despite being primarily volunteer-run, the station (broadcasting 168 hours a week of programming) maintains a humble yet powerful goal – helping people and organizations to succeed. After all, their tagline is: ‘We Help Chesapeake Prosper’ (upgraded from their original We Help Cambridge Prosper).
To be more precise, according to Starling, “We are here to bolster all things going on in the mid-shore community. Our motto is music, discovery, and NPR.” He also promises listeners, “You’ll get the best journalism in the world and some of the most delicious ancillary stories, news, and public affairs that you’ll hear anywhere on the radio.” This aligns nicely with what the station is attempting to do. During their uber-popular daily Mid-Shore Midday, WHCP presents their version of ‘All Things Considered’ for Dorchester and Talbot counties, bringing in content about local and interesting people.
While not a unique model, the stations part of this hybrid approach are very few, numbering only 800. There’s a reason WHCP was chosen. Starling said Sally Kane, the CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, was able to provide that insight when she spoke to the WHCP’s radio advisory board when they expanded in July. “Sally told us we were doing exactly what the big stations wish they could. She said, ‘They wish they had your funkiness and authenticity. You’re threading the needle with NPR and your great grassroots local programming. That is really special. Keep it going.’ It was very validating.”
Sandy Brown, the new Director of Development, recognizes the significant steps all of this has been for the station. Formerly Executive Director of Mid-Shore Pro Bono, she is well versed in the world of non-profit, yet was nevertheless surprised at the profound influence of local community radio on the lives of its listeners. At a recent holiday get-together, Brown heard multiple stories from people crediting WHCP for giving them a platform to present their ideas and express their needs. “The room was in tears with their heartwarming stories,” she said.
Megan Cook, the Mayor of Easton, also added her thoughts on the station’s impact, saying, “Having WHCP in town is a valuable addition to our community. They offer a platform for diverse voices, informative programming and a place where our neighbors can stay connected and informed about local news and global issues. Their new location is perfect and will serve as a central hub which will enhance our vibrant downtown.”
But let’s also not forget the music.
Whether your taste leans toward big band, neo-soul, classic country, indie, or jazz and blues, you’re in luck because WHCP has you covered. The station takes pride in having hosts profoundly knowledgeable and passionate about the music they’re spinning. Said Brown, “We’re so proud to have volunteer DJs (including an English teacher from Easton Elementary) who, after their day jobs, take the time to craft these amazing playlists.”
“This is your community radio station,” Brown said, emphasizing its role as a hub for local happenings. Whether discovering details about bingo night or making a song request from DJ Rockin’ Randall, the station invites active participation. Brown encourages the community to step in, record their station ID to be heard on the radio, or submit ideas for stories to cover. As she appropriately says, “Everyone has a story, and we want to know about them.”
Starling agrees, describing the station’s appeal as similar to “lightning in a bottle.” He said, “Someone will hear something and tell somebody else, and then they call us asking: ‘When can I come down and see you guys? I got this great idea for a show or an interview.’ Or they’ll want to know if we could promote their club? If we had four stations and they were doing nothing but interviewing interesting people, we could keep busy around the clock.”
And the station is committed to nurturing this creative energy by empowering the storytellers to tell their stories. With just a few hours of instructions, you, too, can record, edit, and send your narrative to them. The presence of two studios helps, and so does the incredible professional talent associated with WHCP, including alums from NPR, PBS, ABC, etc.
But there is a wish shared by both the storytellers and the radio station- listeners. Starling emphasizes why you should tune in if you are not already doing so. “This isn’t your father’s public radio station. We’re a community radio grassroots station that has authenticity, clunkiness, and eclectic content that can appeal to you as an individual and pull you in. But at the same time, we’ve got the best of the best of nationally curated journalism and journalism from around the world that supplements it. It appeals to both the brain and emotions.”
There’s another noteworthy amenity offered by the station poised for even further expansion with the new studio — the “WHCP’s Radio Reading Service.” Started in 2018, it is one of only 80 similar services nationwide. Starling explains: “We read today’s books, newspapers, and magazines for those who cannot see, hold, or comprehend the written word. We read for those who don’t have the visual acuity to do that. We read for the wounded warrior who may not have use of their limbs. Or for those with such severe dyslexia that they just can’t make out reading. So we provide access to today’s books, newspapers, and magazines.” Volunteers are always needed to support this valuable service.
As for the future, Brown envisions an internship program with the high schools. After all, she says broadcasting is a phenomenal career path. Notably, a high school student already sits on their Advisory Board. Additionally, there is also talk about adding HD radio broadcasting to enrich the listener’s experience.
Of course, all future endeavors, including the ones mentioned, rely on and have been made possible through donations. Said Brown, “This is an investment in what you would like to continue to see and hear on the radio — in your community public radio station. This is not commercial radio. We are not selling advertising space. We need beautiful people to say, “This is something I want to be a part of and support.’”
So go ahead and be beautiful.
This is Val Cavalheri signing off. And as Charles Osgood used to say: See you on the radio.
How to listen to WHCP-FM:
- Stream through WHCP’s website
- On your phone’s app
- At 91.7 on your FM radio
- Smart Speaker (soon to be launched through Alexa Skills)
Download apps, check out the programming guide, stream, and donate: https://whcp.org/