WHCP Reading Service Helps the Chesapeake Prosper

This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

WHCP Radio’s Mid-Shore Reading Service is near and dear to my heart. As a volunteer reader for the service for the past six years, I have been reading Attraction magazine, among other magazines, to sight-impaired and print-disabled residents across the Shore. In 2015 when WHCP Radio launched, the station realized there were several blind residents in Dorchester County, so the station started the Reading Service. The service typically serves those with macular degeneration or who have been blind since birth, people who have lost limbs perhaps and can’t hold a book, or people who have serious dyslexia and can’t read. The service continues today and is expanding in new directions.

WHCP Mid-Shore Readers Amy Steward (left) of Easton and Susan Robinson of Cambridge have become friends as readers for the program.

As a teenager, Mike Starling, who served 25 years at NPR in Washington, retiring as VP and CTO, founded WHCP, and who now is President and GM of WHCP-FM, had a cornea transplant thanks to a Lions donor at Johns Hopkins Hospital. This experience planted the seed for his desire to help others with similar sight issues. While working at NPR where he ran the engineering division, Mike was the liaison to the 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 their 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.

Debbie Yost of Church Creek receives her portable subcarrier radio from WHCP. She began listening to the Mid-Shore Reader many years ago.

Mike got the idea for bringing the Reading Service to Cambridge one day after he saw his neighbor sitting on the swing singing and looking off in the distance. Mike said it was clear that she was blind. So, he went around to see her one day and asked, “If you had a radio that would read you books, newspapers, and magazines, would it be useful?” She shared with him that it would be wonderful, and she became one of the first people to get a receiver from WHCP.

WHCP started having its readers read excerpts from the Dorchester Star and Daily Banner, eventually adding readers who read Attraction magazine, Tidewater Times, and Shore Monthly. Soon the station will add The Washington Post Sunday edition and The Bay Journal. There are plans to soon add the weather and other bestseller fiction and nonfiction.

Susan Robinson, who reads monthly with me, states, “I love the idea of the community radio station that WHCP is. I think it’s a great asset to our community. I’m proud to contribute in a small way to its mission by being a Mid-Shore Reader.”

“I spent part of my career reading aloud. This is a way to continue doing something I have always enjoyed. I have also met some interesting people and made new friends through my involvement.”

“We have six regular readers and are expanding the program as we add content. We would love anyone interested in volunteering to be a Mid-Shore Reader to contact the station. We can record you at home or in either our Cambridge or Easton locations,” Mike states.

Originally, participants in the Mid-Shore Reader Program were given subcarrier receivers (radio) that lock onto the substation for WHCP so they don’t have to tune it each time they listen. WHCP purchased 100 subcarrier receivers to give away to people who do not have access to the internet. For those with internet access, WHCP is working on providing Alexa Echo dots to play the Mid-Shore Reader.

Mike adds, “I think that’s the most efficient way to make it work. We can buy the Echo Dots in bulk for around $20 each, which is cheaper than the subcarrier radios and they work better.”

“Increasingly, the reading services around the country have gotten more mainstream. So, they’ll put it on an HD Radio subchannel, so you can use a regular HD radio receiver. There’s one over-the-air station in New Orleans that’s actually on AM channels that are completely open. Of the about 100 reading services associated with public radio stations originally, there are about 80 still around today, but many are changing their formats every day.”

“We need to become more innovative and start creating things like apps with personal libraries tailored to people’s interests.  Down the road, there will be captioning for radio on the receivers and the apps.”

Mike shares that an exception to the Copyright Act was codified in 1976 allowing for the reading of today’s books, magazines, and newspapers aimed at the blind or anyone who can’t see, hold, or comprehend the written word, like Wounded Warriors.

He adds, “The visually impaired audience is getting larger. Today, there are 11 million people in the country who have a loss of eyesight. We will all be temporarily disabled with something at some point.”

“WHCP is not only an exceptional community radio station, but it also has some sense of innovation as well. Our Mid-Shore Reading Service is a tribute to that and will continue to help the station make the Chesapeake region prosper.”

Mid-Shore Reader airs on WHCP receivers at the following times:

Monthly magazines and journals from 6 to 7 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m.

The Banner 10 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m.

Star Democrat 11 a.m. to Noon and 8 to 9 p.m.

Mid-Shore Reader also streams on whcp.org. For further information, to volunteer, or to donate to WHCP, visit whcp.org.

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