It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon in Ocean City, MD. Travelling north on Coastal Highway after a late lunch meeting, I hang a left on 60th Street to leave town and head back to my office in Berlin. Staring out at the shimmering water as I cross the Route 90 Bridge, a hypnotic calm comes over me brought on by the Assowaman Bay.
Mindlessly flipping through my radio presets as my thoughts wander, I eventually land on a song that instantly snaps my attention back to reality. The sound is a funky blend of guitar, drums, and brass horns that I’ve never heard before. I fumble for my phone and start the Shazam song identification app, but my first attempt says the song cannot be located. A second attempt fails as well. I reposition my phone closer to the speaker for a third try, but, before I get the chance, the song fades. I contemplate why I paid $6.99 for the upgraded version of the app as a voice begins discussing “Cheesesteak-Mania” in the background.
That voice belongs to the DJ known as BK and not only is he heading to Buxy’s for dinner after his shift, but he also happens to be one of the people responsible for airing music on Ocean 98.1 FM (WOCM) that is so new even Shazam hasn’t heard of it.
Introducing listeners to new music is just one of the many responsibilities for the Ocean98 Program Director, who works to make sure his station plays something for everyone, in addition to selling advertising contracts, running a mobile DJ operation and emceeing events around town. BK has excelled in his roles and helped grow the Ocean98 brand since joining the station in 2007, but how did a man raised in Silver Spring who attended over a decade of Catholic school end up being an on-air radio personality who embodies the beach bum lifestyle in Ocean City?
Inspired by listening to Jon Miller call Orioles games while growing up, BK took to radio at an early age. His interest in radio grew even more when his father bought a boat and the family began spending weekends on the water in Northern Virginia during his teenage years. BK not only learned it was much easier to get through when calling the VA stations for giveaways than the more widely listened to counterparts in DC- winning countless tickets, albums and prizes as a result- but also that life is better when by the water.
If BK’s enthusiasm for radio was outdone by anything during his adolescence, it was his love for baseball. BK excelled at the sport growing up, but a promising college baseball career was derailed when he suffered a broken hand during practice in his senior year of high school. Unable to attend St. Mary’s College to play ball as planned, BK opted instead to study communications at Salisbury University, although, at the time, the school offered a total of zero radio classes.
December of his senior year at SU proved to be a critical turning point in BK’s career. It was at that time that a friend started a job with 95.5 The Beach and shortly after got BK an interview of his own, which ultimately led to him being hired as an intern and part-time jock. BK parlayed his part-time gig into a full-time job, but, unfortunately, it didn’t pay as much as he hoped and he was forced to bus tables at BJ’s on the Water just to make ends meet.
Before too long, BK was presented the opportunity for another radio gig, which he opted to take even though it led to his termination at BJ’s. Pursuing radio proved to be the correct choice and throughout the late 90s BK had stints with Clear Channel and the now defunct 106.9 WRSX as he simultaneously grew his career as a mobile DJ. Unbeknownst to BK as he worked weddings, bars, and other events, in addition to his radio shows, during the early 2000s, an occurrence that would hugely impact his career was about to take place.
WOCM was originally broadcast out of Selbyville, DE. In 2002, however, in one of Leighton Moore’s many visionary business maneuvers, the station was purchased by Seacrets and relocated to Ocean City. Thus started the transition of Ocean98 from a small, local station to an industry leader that can be heard anywhere in the world.
Not only does Ocean98 pride itself on playing an eclectic mix of old and new rock, Reggae, and island themed music that appeals to a vast variety of listeners, but also on making a difference around Ocean City by connecting listeners to the community. This approach has helped Ocean98 forge its own identity and establish a brand that is no longer only recognized for its affiliation with Seacrets.
BK accredits WOCM’s growing success to several key factors. Being a privately owned station affords Ocean98 the opportunity to take chances that commercially owned stations do not have the luxury of. And while the station has worked hard to build its own brand, BK does not look past its relationship with Seacrets as another major advantage. Not only do over 1 million people walk past the Ocean98 tower each summer as they enter Ocean City’s most iconic bar, but the association with Seacrets gives the station resources and connections it otherwise may not have at its disposal.
One of those resources is the Ocean98 studio, which boasts some of the finest facilities in the entire industry. From the state-of-the-art equipment to the meticulous craftsmanship, no detail was overlooked in its construction- which is pivotal to attracting bands, including national recording acts, to perform live in-studio.
BK’s role as a manager has certainly been integral to the station’s recent success, but he is quick to point out that it takes the entire, extremely talented staff of less than 20 to make Ocean98’s mission a reality. The Ocean98 jocks have “more selectability than anyone in the market, and probably in the industry,” according to BK, which allows them to be creative in their approach to programming. Many of the jocks also DJ and emcee around town throughout the week, and Ocean98 hosts a number of innovative events, such as MayDay PlayDay in Berlin and a Bloody Mary competition, each year.
Being innovative is what BK and Ocean98 are all about. In an industry that is seemingly threatened by modern technology, the Ocean98 team works hard to match Leighton’s “visionary foresight.” Not only do BK and company introduce listeners to new, sometimes revolutionary, music, but Ocean98 also embraces emerging technology rather than run from it. From its presence on social media to its interactive website to the Ocean98 app, few stations are as tech-savvy as WOCM.
BK believes the station is building a model for success and expects that a few years from now the community and the radio industry as a whole will see Ocean98 as ahead of its time. Speaking of time, BK has none for the “radio is dying” mentality.
“Radio is doing just fine,” he says. “Ocean98 is proof.”