WHCP Radio Reading Service Helps Visually Impaired

Starting in early 2018, a new service is being offered through WHCP Radio in Cambridge that is helping visually impaired residents of Dorchester County stay in touch with local events, shopping, and community issues. Mike Starling, Founder/President/General Manager of WHCP found, after doing some research, that several hundred people in Dorchester County have sight disabilities. Over the past three years, WHCP has been growing the station’s listening audience through an expanding cadre of on-air hosts, eclectic music programming, and special program offerings. The station’s addition of the Radio Reading Service is one more public service that the station is now offering to residents of Dorchester County and South Talbot County.

WHCP broadcasts reports of local government proceedings, local sports, and provides information about schools, churches, the arts, commercial endeavors and community events such as Cambridge Main Street activities and international events happening throughout Dorchester. The station also airs world news, local news, marine weather, and a number of talk shows from other sources. WHCP provides listeners with more than 160 hours of programs weekly – 60 of those weekly hours are produced locally by the creators and on-air hosts.

WHCP Radio Reading Service volunteer readers Mari Stanley (left) and Theresa Knight McFadden.

Mike comments, “We realized that we had the technical tools at WHCP and the community had the need for this new service.”

A grant from Cambridge Lions Club paid for the initial purchase of Radio Reading Service receivers, which cost $25 each. Additionally, the Phase Foundation of Silver Spring, donated $5,000 to construct the control room and announce booths at the station’s newly commissioned studios. The station began by providing the service with a feed from Metropolitan Washington Ear Reading Service, which reads best-selling fiction and non-fiction, the Washington Post, Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal among others, to blind, visually impaired, and physically-disabled people in the Washington metropolitan area. Today, there are approximately 80 reading services in the U.S. According to Mike, WHCP is one of the few new reading services to go on the air in recent years.

As a teenager, Mike had had a cornea transplant thanks to a Lions donor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, so the visually-impaired are near and dear to his heart. While working at NPR where he ran the engineering division, he was the liaison to Radio Reading Service Group. NPR Labs also collaborated to create the world’s first talking radio receiver (the Dice ITR100A). He recalls, “Our talking radio receiver caught the attention of the Consumer Electronics Show where Stevie Wonder gave NPR Labs the ‘Wonder Vision Award’ in 2007 for its role in helping create the talking radio receiver.”

At NPR, Mike also worked to develop how to better serve others with disabilities using HD radio, particularly closed captioning for radio. The Captioned Radio project used HD radio to deliver data into Display receivers for captions for those who are deaf and to Braille devices for those who are deaf-blind.

WHCP’s Radio Reading Service is the only radio reading service on the Shore. Currently, there are 14 Dorchester County residents who have received the free receivers and are using the service. According to Mike, after meeting with the Dorchester County Department of Social Services, 80 additional potential users have been identified who may soon benefit from the service. These residents are considered print disabled – unable to see, hold or comprehend the printed word. WHCP plans to offer the service through internet streaming in the future that will make the service more accessible to residents outside the range of WHCP’s low power transmitter.

Muffin Copper, of Cambridge, who has been using the Radio Reading Service for about a month after she lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa in 2007, comments, “I love it and am excited about this opportunity for people like me who can’t read. It’s about learning and listening so that I can interact with others like me.” She adds, “I am now gaining again in my life – I have gotten part of my life back.”

Currently there are 12 readers reading the Daily Banner, Dorchester Star, Attraction magazine, Tidewater Times and Shore Monthly to area residents. Readers read news stories, grocery store specials, obituaries, and features. This is all coordinated by Patty Kaczmarek who serves as Executive Director for the reading service, as well as volunteering to start a reading program for local children.

WHCP Radio Reading Service volunteer Susan Robinson, of Cambridge, comments, “I like to read and read to children in my job when I was an Elementary School Specialist in Dorchester County. As a retiree, it’s a fun thing to do to meet new and interesting people as a reader for the station.”

Among some of the other new offerings at WHCP, are its Internship and a novel Electronics Technical Assembly Program (ETAP) – both offered to area students. The WHCP Internship Program is offered to students attending Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, North Dorchester High School and Chesapeake College. Students work approximately nine hours a week editing interviews and doing some of their own programs.

Through the Electronic Assembly Program, students build Firefly Radios as a fundraiser for WHCP. The radios, which cost $35 each, are based on “Radio in a Jar.” The program is funded by the Department of Housing and Community Development through its Nonprofit Assistance Program. The radio is set up to tune into WHCP, but it can be tuned to other frequencies as well. Students earn a stipend and learn valuable vocational skills through these programs.

In the future, WHCP hopes to create a Musician Fund to be able to bring musicians to town to record interviews and performance chat on the radio.

For information about how to volunteer with WHCP, make a donation, or be a sponsor, contact Patty Kaczmarek at patty@whcp.org or 443-637-6000. WHCP is located at 516 Race Street in Cambridge.

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