Friday, March 1, 2013
One minute you are listening to Madonna’s “Don’t Tell Me” and the next minute you are hearing which neighborhoods will be impacted by fire hydrant testing in the City of Georgetown.
Then you may hear the theme to Monday Night Football, some beach music, a couple of country tunes and a Motown classic.
Then Smoky Bear is reminding listeners “only you can prevent forest fires.”
Such is the programming on WGEO-LP, 105.7 FM, the low-powered radio station owned and operated by the City of Georgetown’s Fire Department.
The station, which can be heard in the city and some adjacent areas, was the brainchild of former Assistant Fire Chief Bill Johnson, who retired last year.
At first it was an AM station but in 2002 the switch was made to FM.
Fire Chief Joey Tanner said the city began trying to figure out how to better communicate with citizens after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. After the storm knocked out electricity, there was no way to disseminate information, so, Tanner said, pamphlets were made and workers went door to door distributing them.
“We quickly realized that would not really work,” Tanner said.
A meeting was held with Boyd Johnson — the city administrator at the time — who agreed something had to be done to help solve the information dissemination problem during emergency situations.
This, of course, was in the days before cell phones were popular and the Internet was still in the development stage.
So, after two close calls with tropical systems in 1996, the city applied for, and was granted, a radio license by the FCC.
From the time it signed on, the station played mainly classical and instrumental music between the information segments. That was something Bill Johnson was planning to update when he retired, Tanner said.
On a recent afternoon, the playlist included Jennifer Lopez, Doug Stone, The Drifters, Dionne Warwick and Tim McGraw. The unmanned station runs itself through a computer program.
The format of the station has changed, but the purpose remains the same.
“Right now we have more music and PSAs but one day I want there to be less music and more about what is going on in the city,” Tanner said.
In emergency situations, Tanner said information will still be disseminated the way it always has been — through newspapers and newspapers’ websites and social pages, on TV and on the fire department’s Facebook page. But, the radio station is also used knowing not everyone has access to the Internet or is in a place where they can connect.
Georgetown is not the first city to have its own station. North Myrtle Beach operated an FM station for several years, but earlier this month that city pulled the plug on its signal and returned the license to the FCC.
In a statement issued about that decision, North Myrtle Beach officials said “in recent years the City’s use of its websites, social media, e-mail and e-mail news groups and other forms of communication has evolved to the point where they serve as our primary means of communicating news and information to the public. The time and expense involved in managing and programming WNMI 98.7 is no longer necessary or effective.”
Tanner said he feels the city’s station is still a benefit to Georgetown’s residents and visitors.
“The benefit is we can talk about the city. We have PSAs and other information about Georgetown,” he said, adding that some of his employee and other volunteers have offered to help fill the void that was created with Bill Johnson’s retirement.
He said he hopes to add additional features such as routine city updates and weather reports to the programming.
About the expense, Tanner said it costs nearly nothing to operate and maintain. He said about $1,500 was spent recently upgrading the system and enhancing the signal.
A total of $575 was spent last year on fees to ASCAP and BMI for rights to broadcast music.
As for the music that is being played — most of those decisions are being made by Mayor Jack Scoville.
“I added about a hundred songs. A mixture of things,” Scoville said. “Duke Ellington said there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. I want to play only good music, but different types, so we catch the casual searcher’s ear.”
He said one of the things he added this week, speaking of variety, was the soundtrack from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Tanner said he hopes to one day add a live streaming feature which would allow anyone to hear the station anywhere over the Internet.
By Scott Harper