I was open to the possibility. That made all the difference. I was a new high school English teacher in 1997 and daily I observed student talents and strengths not honored by the curriculum or the classroom. So we started a student-operated radio station and built it all from scratch.
It was really just that simple of a decision.
Particularly during free time on campus, anyone could easily see that our diverse student body tended to self-select groups based on affinities. The nerds nerded. The rockers rocked. The rappers rapped. And not that we ended all division with the radio station, but the side-by-side existence dissolved there.
Radio became the thing the kids all had in common. We found a way to build a human talent ecosystem.
And everyone passed through our doors. Poets, singer-songwriters, freestylers, musicians, techies, storytellers, folk duos, journalists, beatmakers, comedians, experimentalists, turntablists — we always said yes and there was always somebody right behind signing up for something else. Students wanted to make high quality content and retain artistic control. They wanted to share their work and get feedback from audiences — audiences that they would find and also create. Other students wanted to join the recording crew. Others wanted to take photographs. The more that word spread about the project, the more jobs the students then invented — more recording time slots filled, which made more content to produce and air.
We started with an idea and made it a reality. We were scrappy. We found other people's trash and made it our furniture and our recording equipment and our decorations. We broke everything and fixed it right back up. We took every computer we could find and put it to use. If it was too old to handle recording software or web design work, we turned it into a slide viewer playing a continuous loop of pictures documenting our work.
Imagine a wall of these old Macintosh computers stacked on top of each other and each running a Hypercard slide show about the radio station.
We had established ourselves on campus and then also started writing grant proposals to local organizations and the school district. Teachers and administrators would walk through a small winding maze of artistically placed “former trash” and make their way to the recording booth. A neglected storage closet had become a cave of wonders.
A big moment came when our grant application was selected by Power 106 FM Radio in Los Angeles. We drove to the studio to receive a $5,000 check and have a short interview on the air with Big Boy himself. What a day! The funds allowed us to upgrade so many different pieces of the studio and add new components we had only dreamed of acquiring. Thank you, Big Boy!
As the every-spare-moment-not-in-class project grew from a corner of my English classroom to the storage closet and then a new classroom, I spoke with my principal, the incredible and transformative Dr. Sylvia Rousseau, about creating an official elective course that would count on students' actual transcripts and in their high school GPA. About six months later, and with all the official paperwork in place, students had five school hours each week to work in the radio station!
And the project organically grew and grew. With the proper time to learn and grow and work as a class, we were able to prepare for lunchtime live events and recording sessions. We could also more efficiently process, produce, and post original student content to the Internet and the low-power FM radio signal transmitting from a PC tower. It was a passionate pursuit from all the students and they were truly better together — a diverse group of students who wanted and needed a common goal.
I look back and clearly see the power of people who are open to possibilities, the possibilities for students — people who see the power of student potential. Those years taught me so much. It is true that an idea can become a thriving community.
Here is a very long sentence that I wrote many years ago. It helped us receive grant money, so it very well may be a good sentence. Feel free to use it and create your own student-run radio station!
The purpose of this student-run radio project is to provide creative opportunities for all students to actively participate with technology in ways that showcase their diverse talents, while sharing their unique perspectives and expressions with a global and real audience.
Teachers! Create boldly — with your students!