Banned Amplified Music Debated in Surf City

By GINA G. SCALA | Jul 16, 2019

Surf City — “When I hear music, it makes me dance. You got the music, here’s my chance,” wrote Debbie Deb, circa 1983.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in the 21st century. In a digital world heavily reliant on social media to share every thought, every pet peeve, simple things like background music at a store or restaurant become fodder for debates and complaints. For years, background music was just that, ambient white noise that no one really paid attention to unless to make fun of it. Now, it’s real music, sometimes with words and a beat.

And in Surf City, somewhat of a dilemma for officials.

“What’s music to you isn’t music to someone else,” Mayor Francis Hodgson said at a recent borough council meeting where several business owners questioned why what they consider nice, entertaining background music at their establishments, suddenly is no longer permitted to be played outdoors.

“We can’t turn the town over so people can do what (ever) they want,” the mayor remarked.

It all began with a complaint about amplified music, according to the mayor. That complaint turned into a few more. Then a letter reminding business owners of regulations was mailed out by the borough.

“This town should be for all of us,” said Joanne Dozor, owner of Firefly Gallery, noting she’s been in business here since 2004 and has occasionally had musicians perform inside. “I would understand if it was bothering them.”

Inside music is permitted, said Mary Madonna, the borough administrator/clerk. Amplified, outside music is not, she noted.

“If someone wants to play acoustic, that’s fine,” Councilwoman Jacqueline Siciliano said, adding the council isn’t trying to stop music from being played.

Still, there are longstanding police regulations that monitor noise in the borough. Under Chapter 4, Section 3.4, specific noise prohibitions include the use of loudspeakers or amplifiers for the purpose of advertising.

“The following acts are declared to be loud, disturbing and unnecessary noises,” the regulation reads in part. It goes on to explicitly outline the acts as the playing of amplified music “for advertising purposes, or for the purpose of attracting the attention of the passing public, of any radio receiving sets, musical instruments, phonographs, loudspeakers, sound amplifiers, or other machine or device for the producing or reproducing of sound on the streets or public places of the Borough,” it states, “or in any place where the sound from any such instrument is broadcast directly upon the public streets or public places, or which is placed and operated in such a manner that the sound can be heard to the annoyance or inconvenience of travelers upon any street or public place, or to persons on any neighboring premises.”

The discussion surrounding the use of amplified music has prompted the Surf City Volunteer Fire and EMS to forgo musicians from playing outdoors at its weekly Farmer’s Market, as has been the tradition since its inception two years ago.

“Music is life changing,” said Denise Moon, a Little Egg Harbor resident who attended the meeting in part because her youngest daughter, a musician, had her gig, along with other musicians, at the Farmer’s Market cut. “It brings color to this world.”

Moon said her daughter used a small amplified speaker, as many musicians do nowadays, to carry her voice.

“Are we not supposed to enforce (the regulations) until a speaker is so big?” asked Councilman William Hodgson.

For now, the only answer is to ignore the warning for playing amplified music, be issued a summons and appear before the judge to be heard, the mayor said.

Dozor, however, believes the issue needs to be settled in a way that addresses everyone’s concerns.

“No one wants to be blast music,” she said.

— Gina G. Scala

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