MIPD launches AM radio station
The Marco Island Police Department is joining Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Rick Steves, Dave Elliott and a host of other hosts, broadcasting on AM radio.
Their lineup, coverage map and intent may be closer, though, to “traveler radio,” the traffic broadcasts you sometimes see a sign promoting as you enter an airport or a congested area such as the Magic Kingdom.
The MIPD station, broadcasting at a frequency of 1690 on the AM band, is designed to help island residents be aware of emergency situations or other safety concerns, especially in the wake of a major storm or a widespread power outage.
“It’s a low power station, but it covers the entire island,” said MIPD Capt. Dave Baer, who is managing the radio operation. “We have to test it to make sure it doesn’t go further than it’s allowed.” AM radio broadcasts, he noted, can experience interference from power lines, and can be blocked inside large concrete buildings – think the garages of high-rise condos.
The genesis of the system came about, said Baer, after the difficulties with communications experienced on the island after Hurricane Irma.
“In Irma, everyone lost power. Television went down, internet went down, cell phones were out – there was no way to communicate.” Baer urged everyone to purchase an inexpensive battery-operated transistor radio with the AM band, and noted people could also pick up the signal on their car radio.
“We don’t want to make people go out in a hurricane to listen on their car radio, though,” he said. “Go buy an AM radio.”
The programming is not likely to be up for any Peabody Awards soon. While the broadcasts are still in their infancy and will likely gain in sophistication and content as the department gains experience with the medium, for now it is very much “just the facts.”
The system went live on Sept. 10, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma striking the island. On a “blue sky” day, meaning one with no emergency to get the word out for, it will offer safety tips, notifications about traffic conditions such as lane closures or roadwork, and general crime- and fire-prevention advice. They can break into the prerecorded message live when necessary, and the system automatically airs safety messages such as “Amber Alerts” or severe weather warnings.
The island’s fired-rescue department is also participating in the broadcasts, and MIFD Deputy Chief David Batiato is one of those whose voices will be heard on the airwaves. Others include Baer, Officer Paul Keys, and MIPD records clerk Heather Comparini. The one policeman on the island with significant broadcast experience, auxiliary officer Tony DeLucia, aka Steve Reynolds, will likely join in as well, said Baer.
“We didn’t add any personnel. We’re doing this with existing forces,” said Baer. The equipment cost the city approximately $20,000, he said, and broadcasts from an antenna atop City Hall.
“Please tell your friends, family and coworkers to tune to 1690 AM, the City of Marco Island’s emergency information radio station,” said the inaugural message. The loop quickly repeated, although they did make a point of alternating voices to…keep it “must hear radio?”
The AM radio outreach is just one more foray into communications for the police department, which puts out a lot of messages on Twitter – the MIPD Twitter handle is @MarcoIslandPD – and recently has produced recruitment videos for prospective police officers, which were uploaded to YouTube. They also have electronic signs which call out traffic conditions ahead, and before July 4th, reminded everyone coming over the Jolley Bridge that fireworks are prohibited on Marco Island.