Each Tuesday at 7 a.m., DJ John Grupe, a senior at Hickman High School, starts his day by hosting a radio show. On Thursdays, he hosts another at 11:30 a.m. On a recent Thursday, he began his show with a theme. Grupe’s themes vary from weather to happiness to friendship. That particular day the theme was healing. “Today, songs are related to my sickly father, who has mono(nucleosis) at the moment,” Grupe said. During the show, he played songs such as “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Joy” and “Perfect Day,” wishing his father well and hoping that he would get better soon.
The Hickman radio station, KWPE/98.3 FM, returned to the airwaves in 2005 with 14 student DJs who signed up for regular radio show slots. The station first began in the early 1990s with a radio broadcasting class. It remained on the air until the late 1990s, when the class was replaced by one on television broadcasting. In 2004, as part of his campaign for student body president, Joe Fessehaye brought up the idea of bringing the station back to life. After he was elected, Fessehaye continued to be a driving force for KWPE, working with Phil Overeem, an English teacher, along with the Parent Teacher Student Association, to acquire a $2,200 grant to revive the station.
The high school radio station gives students a chance to have real job experience.
“It’s awesome,” said DJ John Stevenson, a junior. “We learn by doing this, and I like it a lot,” he said. “Anybody can sign up and DJ here. We are the gods of this radio station.” Grupe intends to apply what he has learned at the station to a career in broadcast journalism.
To prepare students for their work as DJs, teacher Brock Boland gives students hands-on training in how to use the equipment and read announcements.
Student DJs can sign up to host one of three show slots: morning, lunch or after-school. Each host brings his or her own CD collection or iPod to connect to the stereo system and play music. They also read announcements about school band concerts, upcoming football games and host guests from student governments.
For a high school to operate a radio station, the school must acquire FCC permission. Unlike commercial stations, educational stations do not pay license fees, but they are required to broadcast at a low frequency that can be heard only within a radius of about 1 mile.
Since the station’s reach is limited, not many people other than the Hickman students know about it. And some of them have only learned about it recently when the station placed a speaker in a common area for students and teachers to enjoy.
“I didn’t know they had a radio station, but it’s cool to listen to music when we have lunch,” said Kelvona Holmes, a sophomore. The station plans to add another mini-stereo near the guidance office.
“I think this is a good start, and we’re trying to expand our listenership in the future,” Boland said. “Now, more people know that we have a radio station down there. We have had good responses from teachers who play the station before and after school. They are hearing us and requesting music, so that is encouraging.”
The station’s studio, once the teachers’ smoking lounge, is in the basement. It has a small entrance and is hard to find.
“It’s a cool thing that the station is away from everything and has a club feel,” Overeem said. “They could say, ‘Hey, look, I’m DJing right now, you should come down and check it out.’” But the location isn’t ideal. Last year, one DJ brought his friends to the studio. He cranked up the volume, turned off the lights and used the station as his own private space. That DJ was reprimanded as a result. Subsequently, supervising faculty changed the policy to allow only registered guests to join DJs in the studio. “We’re going to make sure we know what they’re doing,” Boland said.
And as of August, student DJs are required to turn in playlists to supervisors a day before a show. They are also required to select songs and play messages that don’t include explicit references to sex and drugs.
“It’s of the utmost importance that what we broadcast on KWPE is proper for a school atmosphere. This year our policies reflect a more professional approach to radio and we want the DJs to take this work seriously,” Boland said.
Even though playlists are submitted beforehand, unexpected situations arise. During a live show last month, two DJs played a song that included the word “bitch.” Now DJs are checking out songs more thoroughly. They try to ensure that no profanities or obscenities are heard on the air. And they check to make sure song content is not too dark. “We need to make sure that song lists are one hundred percent clean,” said Stevenson, who started as a DJ last year.
School DJs accept the new policy.
“I’m absolutely fine with it,” Grupe said.
The students are committed to maintaining the standards and staying out of trouble. “If students make mistakes and the radio station gets shut down, everybody will be angry,” Grupe said. “If that (turning in playlists) is what we have to take to keep the station, I’m happy to take it.”
KWPE is important to Hickman students and faculty, and they are working together to ensure the station’s continued success. Overeem and Boland, among others, continue to work on improvements at the station such as modifying the sound system’s quality so live performances can be broadcast. And they are looking to the future when the station may have automated programing so songs can be played 24 hours a day. “If we can have a Web site with streaming media, that’ll be fascinating.” Overeem said. “Then, people anywhere in the world can listen to us.”