Ocean City To Offer FM Radio Station By Summer

OCEAN CITY – The resort is looking to launch its own FM radio station by summer to not only play tunes on the beach but to provide the public with emergency announcements from the Town of Ocean City.

During Communications, Electronics and Emergency Management’s budget hearing this week, Electronic Services Manager Bob Dimaio announced the city has made headway in achieving FM radio stations for the Town of Ocean City.

According to Dimaio, the town has been a license holder for an AM radio station for the past several years, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only provides the opportunity to gain low-powered FM radio stations that are available to college campuses, churches and government about once every decade.

The initial reasoning behind starting a Town of Ocean City FM radio station is to help get emergency announcements, such as hurricane evacuations, out to the public, but there are other benefits coming along with the initiative, such as airing interviews with city officials, off-site broadcasts at special events and providing another outlet for the public to listen in on Mayor and City Council legislative and work sessions.

The town has taken on two transmitter sites, Ocean City and Ocean Pines, but the studio will be located in Ocean City’s Public Safety Building. The two FM frequencies will be 99.5 and 100.3.

“We set precedence because normally you are not eligible out of your own jurisdiction but we were granted two licenses, and they are about 60 percent built already. It is a grant funded project and I hope to have it up and fully running by this season,” Dimaio said. “This is a real opportunity that I believe higher areas will be very envious of this tool that we have. We have talked about getting something out to people on the beach; well everyone has a FM radio so I believe this will be a very valuable tool that will be used.”

Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald added music will play on the stations to gain public interest.

“There will be public safety messages going across but the point is we have a tool now where we can reach a great number of people in and a distance from Ocean City without interference,” Theobald said. “This is what we were looking for all along. A clear crisp FM radio station that when they come into Ocean City they can put it on, listen to it on the beach, get information, get public safety announcements and learn about Ocean City. It is commercial-free because we are limited on what we can do per say, but I think you are going to be very excited and be the envy of many communities once this is up and running.”

Money for the station stems from the FEMA-sponsored Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Ocean City’s grant is $55,000, and the FCC has signed off on construction permits to build and operate the radio station out of the Public Safety Building. WPSB 99.5 FM will operate from the 65th Street radio tower, while WWOP 100.3 FM will be from the Ocean Pines radio tower.

While Emergency Management and Communications staff was before the council, Councilman Dennis Dare took the opportunity to touch on a long-time concern of Ocean City 911 calls first being dispatched to Snow Hill and then being transferred to Ocean City, and the possibility of implementing a 311 system in Ocean City.

The FCC has adopted other three-digit numbers, including 311. It was first implemented by Baltimore Police Department in 1996 to handle non-emergency police calls. Calls to 311 are routed either to a separate center and handled by non-public safety personnel or routed to the same center where 911 and other public safety calls are handled.

“We have talked about 911 and I know it is a priority that we have … but another thing we had talked about during strategic planning a little bit is 311,” Dare said. “As a resort area, where 95 percent of people in town being visitors, they don’t know a lot of things and it seems like 311 would be viable not just from an emergency standpoint but also tourism. My point is between all these things that are happening … it would certainly help us balance all these competing needs in this division in the future. As we move forward this year, we need to keep the big picture in mind and work to solve all those issues.”

Theobald responded the issue of Ocean City 911 calls being dispatched to Snow Hill remains a top priority in the town’s overall strategic plan. He said the Communications Department has started the process of evaluating a 311 system.

Theobald added the Town of Ocean City has recently initiated a Memorandum of Understanding process with the quasi-government’s 211 system.

The 211 system in Maryland is a partnership of four agencies working together to provide simple and easy access to health and human services information. The 211 database has information on nearly 5,000 agencies and programs across the state. Each week 211 handles thousands of calls from people in need, providing referrals to services and helping people problem-solve when the services they need are not available.