Radio Heads: Tune into radio WHCP in Cambridge — you will like what you hear
Jim Brady, Doug Schuetz and Mike Starling gather in their WHCP radio station studio to go over the day’s programming.
Local FM StationWHCP has put Cambridge on the broadcasting map with lively programming led by a band of master-level volunteers
On the surface, WHCP in Cambridge seems like a mom and pop local radio station. There are three recording studios buzzing with local residents conducting interviews or hosting their own shows, while volunteers earnestly adjust equipment and casually eat their lunch at the mixing consoles scattered throughout the station.
But, behind this flurry of homespun activity is something seemingly unlikely — an impressive caliber of broadcast credentials hailing from places like NPR, Good Morning America, and The Oprah Show.
Mike Starling, who worked as an engineering manager for NPR for 25 years, helped found Cambridge Community Radio—the nonprofit organization that launched local community radio station WHCP 101.5 FM on July 4, 2015.
“In quick order, an incredibly talented and generous group of volunteers and board members emerged to build the station,” he said.
Starling and his wife picked Cambridge for retirement for all the reasons most do—its affordable waterfront housing, authentic charm, unique architecture, sense of history and approachable people. “We felt like it was a community where we could make a difference,” he added.
“We have more friends here than anywhere we ever lived. It’s a great place to be.”
The station hadn’t been running long when Starling met Doug Schuetz, a lead engineer at ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA), at a WHCP fundraiser. At the time, Schuetz was living as a weekender in Cambridge.
The station, originally located on Poplar Street, had a great deal of work to be done, and Schuetz brought a sense of further organization to the equipment. After he retired in 2017 from GMA, the two worked together to move the station to its new, more spacious location at the Cambridge Community Media Center on Race Street. They managed to keep the station on the air during the move — something they had both done before in their jobs at NPR and GMA. Starling reflected, “We started to stabilize the tech side of things and moved toward making the sound better.”
In 2018, both Starling and Schuetz met Jim Brady who had been executive producer of Oprah.com. “I got involved in the radio station in July 2018 after showing up at the station’s Boot Camp that offered community members the chance to produce and edit a radio show,” said Brady.
Jim Brady and Doug Schuetz discuss the next scheduled recording.
“I learned how to make and edit recordings and ship them out. On The Oprah Show, I never had my hand on equipment. Here, it’s hands-on the controls.”
The decentralized model means WHCP is truly a community-led undertaking and assures a hyperlocal character to the station that’s all its own. “With mom and pop radio, there is no one stopping you in the chain of command,” Starling said.
“It’s like old tagline for Outback Steakhouse: ‘No rules, just right.’ At Thanksgiving, we brought in different programming from many sources with no editorial selection committees to consult. We never could have done that in our previous jobs.”
While Starling and Schuetz got their starts in radio, Brady comes from a newspaper background. He worked for The Washington Post, as well as newspapers in North Carolina and in Texas before being recruited as an associate producer for The Oprah Show in Chicago.
“I like doing bigger stories and telling them locally,” he said. “We recently did a story with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy about sea-level rise here on the Shore. Each day we try and put out something that is high quality.”
Volunteers are at the heart of WHCP and the station is proud to have an intergenerational corps. Retired and pseudo-retired people work right alongside interns and young people. The station’s 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.
In the station’s Electronics Technical Assembly Program (ETAP), area students build Firefly Radios as a fundraiser for WHCP. The radios, which cost $35 each, are hand-crafted and housed in a mason jar. Though they are set to tune into WHCP, the radios can be tuned to other frequencies as well. Students earn stipends and learn valuable vocational skills through these programs. Starling knows the inherent value of the program.
“It’s like grandparents working with their grandchildren,” he said. “We enjoy the interactions with these high schoolers.”
Every volunteer who comes to the station becomes self-sufficient in a short time. “We have the time and ability to guide people through the recording process,” Scheutz explained. “Some of our program contributors have never even been to the studio. They record and edit their shows on a laptop at home with new software programs available today.”
Brady, who uses his on-air coaching techniques from The Oprah Show, likes to do interviews with “regular people” coming in for the first time.
Starling, Schuetz, and Brady show off the Firefly Radios, built by area students as a fundraiser for WHCP. Right: A closeup shot of this unique radio in a jar.
“It takes you a while to realize the stories we do are really people stories,” said Starling. “We are doing our best work when we get to the people side of the story in the studio. That is the most positive aspect of having a microphone.”
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 Radio Reading Service delivers a special audio subcarrier for the blind and print-disabled in Dorchester County and offers the only radio reading service on the Shore.
As the station grows, it’s exciting for listeners to wonder what’s next.
“We talk that we are going to go digital one day,” commented Starling. “Our current equipment is quality analog equipment, but it is used and can be challenging. We also would like bigger studios where we could bring small musical groups into the interview studios.”
Some regular listeners get the programming through the Sound Cloud, online via whcp.org or through the station’s WHCP app on mobile phones, but about 90 percent of its listeners come in from straight over the airwaves of Dorchester and south Talbot counties.
Starling quipped about his wish list, “And of course, we would like a bigger signal to cover the entire Shore.”
Nothing is impossible with this active group of volunteers. Starling and Schuetz joke that they have their sleeping bags at the station, while Brady actually gets his work done the same day and goes home at night. When asked what their wives say about their retirements and how they are spending their time, Starling sums it up.
“I met my wife Linda at another radio station 40 years ago, so she understands the commitment,” he said. “She was incredulous about me doing this and asked, ‘What about our retirement?’ But she understands I need to do this for myself, and she supports the positive impact on the community.”
The station’s slogan is “WHCP 101.5 FM Cambridge—a great place to be!” The call letters were chosen to stand for Historic Cambridge Paradise, which Starling said sums up the sentiment of those lucky enough to live in Cambridge.