Tuning the Radio to Youth Voices

October 5, 2015

Kasey Cheydleur

High school students using the soundboard at the WOBC DJ booth
Photo credit: Jeong Hyun Hwang

If you tune in to WOBC 91.5 FM Wednesday evening and your DJs sound too young to vote, it’s because they probably are. Each week, middle and high school students are taking over the airwaves as part of the Turn Up! The Radio program, sponsored by WOBC 91.5 FM Oberlin College Community Freeform Radio. The group meets twice a week. On Mondays the students have classes exploring different aspects of the radio. (Last semester, for example, longtime local radio host Meeko Israel spoke about how to use your voice on the radio.) On Wednesdays, the students have the chance to put what they are learning into practice live on the air.

The mission of the Turn Up! The Radio program is twofold, explains cofounder Kathleen Thornton ’15. The first goal is to provide a space for youth voices to be heard. While at Oberlin, Thornton served as program director for WOBC. Although she saw expanding opportunities for community voices on the radio, rarely were they youth voices, she says. “It is crucial all populations, young people included, tell their own stories,” she says. “We have an amazing and unique storytelling medium here in Oberlin. All the students needed was training on the equipment, which we could provide—and which we hoped would also serve as skills training they could put on resumes—and they had everything else to make an exciting and powerful program."

The second goal of the program is to foster college and community relationships by providing a sanctioned, meaningful way to welcome young Oberlin community members onto campus. Thornton says she drew inspiration from the Ninde Scholars program, which prioritizes reliable, accountable relationship building and welcomes high school students into college spaces.

Once she had the program up and running, Thornton says she was inspired by the confidence the students showed as they opened up on the radio. When students were asked to bring poems, written by themselves or another author, she was taken aback by the number of students who chose to share their own work. “Given my own insecurities with sharing personal work, I expected most students to bring in pieces by other authors. Instead, most students shared very personal, powerful, and beautifully written material. I was so impressed with the students’ bravery to share these stories, not just with each other and with us, but with all of the listeners across Lorain County. They were much braver than I was. I didn’t bring anything to share.”

As Turn Up! The Radio’s first semester ended, Thornton knew she had to avoid the fate so many great youth radio programs had suffered in the past. “I had been involved with WOBC since my first semester at Oberlin, and I had seen awesome youth programs come and go, but these programs hadn’t been able to lay the foundation with the youth, their families and guardians, the schools, local youth organizations, and the Oberlin administration necessary to allow a program to outlast the high turnover of WOBC and Oberlin College. I wanted to make sure this youth program could be accountable to its students by consistently being there and being reliable.”

So Thornton passed on the reigns to several current students, including fourth-year Wyatt Kroopf, who now serves as WOBC’s outreach coordinator as well as part of Turn Up! The Radio’s leadership team. Kroopf, who ran a poetry workshop with the Turn Up! The Radio students last semester, says he is committed to carrying on what Thornton started and allowing students to share their voices. “I think radio is a form of storytelling and a really important way for students to discover their own voices, what they care about, what they are interested in, and figure out how to form those into narratives they can then share.”

This semester Kroopf looks forward to working with students to learn how to conduct and edit interviews, learn to record and share their own music and rap, and discuss community issues they care about. Kroopf says he hopes that by opening up WOBC’s resources, students will have fun on the radio and “if any of them end up interested in various aspects of the radio, to offer up the space as something they can continue to work on.” Meanwhile, he says he will continue to work on opening WOBC as a more community-centered space.

Turn Up! The Radio airs from 5-6 p.m., Wednesdays on WOBC 91.5FM or you can tune in to the WOBC live stream.

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