Story originally posted to news.wypr.org on Apr. 4, 2016.
It’s the middle of the morning rush hour. The MTA Transit Team of Marc Jones and Kurt Kroncke are giving mass transit updates to 20 radio stations throughout Central Maryland, including WYPR.
The team recently added a new affiliate not far from its studios in the William Donald Schaefer Building in downtown Baltimore; its own station, WTTZ.
WTTZ, dubbed the Maryland Transportation Channel, provides information on MTA services and traffic. It also carries everything else in the MDOT universe; delays at BWI-Marshall Airport, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and city tunnels.
In between the traffic and transit information, the station plays a mix of smooth jazz and vocals.
Jones, who is also MTA broadcast operations manager, says his station revived a music format in Baltimore that commercial stations no longer wanted but listeners did.
“It seemed to be a way to fill that void who wanted to listen to that kind of music,” he says. “It seemed to be a safe format.
When asked if the MTA is trying to put WYPR and other broadcasters out of business, MTA Administrator Paul Comfort laughed.
“I don’t,” he insisted. “This is augmenting what you guys do.”
Comfort says MTA will continue to feed information to stations in the area in addition to programming it on the administration’s new signal.
“This is a way we can directly reach our customers with real-time and fuller information than were able to give on commercial stations that have to pay for the air time,” he explained.
The difference between WTTZ and their “sister stations”
The transportation department has always owned radio stations, but they’ve been travelers’ information stations; the AM stations promoted on blue signs alongside I-95 or US 50 informing drivers where to tune to for tunnel, bridge or traffic information.
WTTZ is much different. It’s a low-powered FM Station with a transmitter on Television Hill. The location of the transmitter, one of Baltimore’s highest points, allows the station to be heard throughout the immediate metro area.
Marc Jones, who you hear on WYPR each morning with Nathan Sterner, led the planning for the station. He says the idea came to him in 2002, in part, out of necessity.
“We lost a station in Cecil County and this was an opportunity to fill that void,” he says.
The MTA launched WMVK, another low power FM signal, in Perryville, the northern most MARC train station in Maryland, just south of the Delaware line. At the time, the FCC did not allow low-powered FM stations in cities the size of Baltimore.
But several years later, the rules were relaxed to allow for little FM stations in big cities. Engineers working with Jones found an available frequency in Baltimore, 93.5FM.
On The Air
WTTZ officially launched in March.
Maryland is not the only state with a full-fledged radio station for traffic information.
Delaware launched WTMC in 2000 by taking over a Wilmington AM station. But WTMC operates more like the travelers’ stations.
MTA Administrator Comfort says there are no plans to add stations in other parts of the state. But he is looking for ways to air WTTZ on the systems buses and trains.