by Kathleen Cushman
Click here to watch our audio slideshow: "Youth Radio: A Study in Practice," the first in a series of "Case Studies in Practice" to accompany our new book, Practice: Students Investigate What It Takes to Get Really Good at Something. (forthcoming spring 2010).
OAKLAND, CA—You can hear the beats sounding loud from the open windows of passing cars on a spring afternoon in downtown Oakland, and you may catch snatches of a radio host interviewing the guest of the hour, or a commentary you wish you could hear more of.
But you might never have known, walking past the sleek four-story downtown Youth Radio building at 1701 Broadway, that just inside it young people from 15 to 21 are working at newsroom desks and in soundproof studios to send those voices and that music into their community and the larger world.
Since Youth Radio began in 1990, it has introduced some of the freshest voices in broadcast journalism to listeners who tune into local stations, National Public Radio, and, most recently, streaming Internet sites. It trains 1,300 youth each year to develop core competencies in audio, video, web and print and to produce the highest quality original media for the widest possible audience. An estimated 27 million people hear and read the often-overlooked perspectives of young people through Youth Radio’s work each year.
However, Youth Radio also provides a compelling example of collaborative learning through peer apprenticeships, whose effects reach far into the lives and futures of Bay Area youth.
From the moment they come in off the street to fill out an application, these young broadcasters start building and sharing their skills—not just in research, writing, speaking, and media production but in workplace interactions, personal relationships, and life management.
WKCD recently got a glimpse of how that happens, in conversation with Youth Radio participants Denise Tejada, 20, and Shaw Killip, 21.
Denise Tajada, Production Assistant, Youth Radio Newsroom
I am a staff member at Youth Radio, a production assistant in the newsroom. I help the interns write commentaries. I write and post radio and print stories for our website. And I conduct interviews and make sure I keep with the latest news, so I can contribute to it and bring my youth perspective.
When I started Youth Radio five years ago, I was a sophomore at Berkeley High School. My brother would come home and talk about it: “There’s radio, there’s all of this different stuff that you can play with.” I kind of like to talk, so I thought radio would be the best place for me. So I tried it out. And then, after I graduated from the Core and Bridge programs, I became a broadcasting intern. I wasn’t getting paid at that time, but I loved it.
An apprenticeship in radio
The beginning radio class, it’s a two-hour show that airs on Friday. The first week, the shows get done by the peer teachers—we’re their models that first week. We show them how to go on air. We show them how to write a commentary, how to read it. We show them how a critique is done.
When somebody critiques them, it’s not rude. It’s more like a friend telling you something. They’ve built that trust already.
Once they’re doing their own shows, the students get critique from their peers. The critiquers sit in the studio and listen to the DJ: the music, the content, the commentary, the PSAs. They write their critique out in their notebook. Then after the show’s done and they’re ready to go home, the critiquers get up and talk to the whole class and tell them: “DJ so-and-so, you had a song that skipped.” Or, “Your news, you read it too fast. You should do it like this. Make sure you take a breather when you go in there.”
Within that first week, it is hard to do. But it’s a practice thing—making sure that our students are comfortable enough with each other to share things with each other once a thing is accomplished. When somebody critiques them, it’s not rude. It’s not tension. The critique starts with a positive thing, and then they go into, “Here’s my advice for you to improve.” It’s more like a friend telling me something. They’ve built that trust already.
Learning by teaching
After about a year of my interning, Youth Radio decided to incorporate video into the curriculum. They asked me, “Hey, do you want to learn video and teach it at the same time?” So I was teaching students how to shoot their own scenes, how to edit video.
They were learning something that I was learning, so it was like the growth of both of us at the same time. They would ask, “Hey, do you know how to do this?” Luckily I had my mentor there the whole time, keeping an eye on the things that I could not answer. That was a way for me to go back and forth into what I needed to improve in order for the students to get the whole thing.
They were learning something that I was learning, so it was like the growth of both of us at the same time.
I would prep for an hour, writing out what I wanted the students to learn that day. What were the goals? How far in the project had they got, the day before or the week before, and how can I move the project faster? What are some of the areas that students would need to learn more? What were their downs and ups, where were they better? Do they understand it? I needed to prep all of that, making sure the students were all on the same level and I wasn’t leaving anyone behind.
If they had a commentary or something that they were passionate about, we would film it. Either they would do a stand-up or they would record people doing something, and then they would edit it to get across the message. We broadcasted it during their graduation to acknowledge their work. I would give them a copy of their video and they could do whatever they want with it later. Now, with these social media sites like YouTube, it makes it easier for them to broadcast their stuff.
Stepping into big shoes
Within a day, I’m putting out three to four stories. I’m constantly writing, I’m constantly reading. It’s definitely helped my grammar. And I’m improving each day, in professional ways as well.
It took about three years for me to go into the Youth Radio newsroom— I was very intimidated because my grammar wasn’t perfect. I came to the United States from El Salvador at the age of seven. I didn’t speak the language, but my parents wanted to communicate through me, so I learned English and served as their translator.
Now that I’m in the newsroom, I think it really has developed my skills. Not only am I learning video, I’m learning radio, I’m learning web as well. Within a day, I’m putting out three to four stories. I’m constantly writing, I’m constantly reading. It’s definitely helped my grammar. And I’m improving each day, in professional ways as well.
We get together in the newsroom and talk: What are some of the things we want to put up? What are the youth stories we’re focusing on this week, and what are we doing about them? The meetings take place in the morning for full-time members, online producers. Then every two weeks, we have an editorial meeting with our interns.
Media for a new generation
I’m one of the youngest persons to help with the development of our website. Along with co-workers from 20 to 24, we’re in charge of the content: the interviews, the videos, all that. We add a joke to the news or we add our spin to it, make it speak our own language. Because a lot of news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, they target more our parents and unfortunately they don’t use our own language.
We’re using the term “converged media.” So when we’re writing a story for our site, we don’t just do a radio story and print. We want to make sure it has a picture, a video, an audio. And we’re getting it out on other social media outlets, whether it’s the Internet, radio, podcasting—on blog spots, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Digg—in order to create traffic to our website.
We have a very strong connection with the young supervisors. Pretty much the staffing here, it’s alumni—we keep it in the family.
The reporters are young like myself. Some of the producers can be young. Our news director is an alumnus. We have a very strong connection with the young supervisors. Pretty much the staffing here, it’s alumni—we keep it within the family. Your supervisors not only assign you the stuff, but they actually notice your work and acknowledge the good work that you do, which makes you want to keep doing better. I was, like, “I took their suggestions and I made it better and I was able to grow like that, so…”
Listen to Denise’s radio commentary on her experience entering the U.S. from Mexico when she was seven years.
Shaw Killip, Paid Intern, Youth Radio
All my friends know that every time you see me, if I’m not listening to music I’m probably banging on something. My friend was like, “There’s a place called Youth Radio, where you can get paid to make beats.” So I came here one time with my friend. I signed an application, and two weeks later I got a call to come in for an interview. I got in the CAP class, and ever since I’ve been making music.
First I joined the CAP class—it stands for “Community Action Program.” It takes about six months, and it introduces youth in Oakland to producing music, to Photoshop, to radio broadcasting and journalism. I would come here every day from four to six—constantly trying to find new sounds, make new music. Every student gets a stipend, and if you don’t do good enough work, it shows in your money.
I’m actually teaching other students. You’re learning new things every week and adding it on. I’m learning along with them.
Youth Radio is a place where you can grow. As of two weeks ago, I’m a paid intern—I’m actually teaching other students how to make music and radio broadcasting. I never thought I’d be doing that. You’re learning new things every week and adding it on. I’m learning along with them. And a lot of my supervisors were students here maybe eight years ago.
Making the show your own
To graduate the CAP class you have to complete five shows on your own, and you also do a group show every week. Monday would be our tech day—if you weren’t doing beats on the Reason program, you’d be doing Photoshop. Tuesday would be media literacy, where you learn about specific topics that you could talk about on your radio show. Thursday would be preparation for your radio show.
One person would run the board, pick their own music for music breaks. One person would host the roundtable: three or four students, talking about the topic that they chose. Someone would write a commentary about any topic that they chose. Someone else would do a PSA to inform youth, say, on teen pregnancy, or on where to get an AIDS test. One week you learn to use instrumentals on every mic break. And then the next week, you learn how to do better transitions. This week we had to do a Skype interview in the radio broadcast room. When they’re preparing for their show and writing their stuff, they’re getting one-on-one critique, with every intern, and with the supervisor.
That’s just getting you ready. Later, when you become an intern, you can actually go in there and do it all yourself, on your own time. You can host a show. You know how to write commentary, write a PSA, do a roundtable. You edit your own show on the computer using ProTools, and post it on a podcast. Your show is anything you choose. They have two radio broadcasting rooms, and if there’s a spot open you could produce your own show every day. I’m going to have a show that showcases up-and-coming artists that I know—friends of mine, and friends of friends.
Living well matters too
Every floor has different internships, and once you complete yours, you can go to a different one.
From my CAP class, everybody branched out into different internships. Every floor has different internships, and once you complete yours, you can go to a different one. There’s four of us interns for the new CAP class. Once I complete this internship, which lasts about three months, I’ll be able to intern wherever I want in other departments. They have a healthy relationships internship, a mind-body health center, a yoga class. Upstairs they’ve got study hall, journalism, photography interns. Interns get minimum wage when you start off, but you get the chance to get raises as you go up.
Us CAP interns, right now we’re teaching the new class about the economy—how it happens that a lot of people’s homes are going into foreclosure, how that happens when you get a loan. We talk about other issues that are affecting youth. When they learn those topics, that gives them an idea of how to look at different topics that they might want to use on their own radio show.
Creating a legacy
There’s a certain number of things you have to do to graduate. Every CAP student has a project. One is called the Legacy Project. They told us, If someone came here and they wanted to know about you, what would they see? How would you represent yourself or your family or your culture? I’m a big football fan and my favorite team is the 49ers, so I had me on there and the background of San Francisco. It was red to represent the color of my favorite team. I had my favorite car. I used a collage-type thing, photographs of me playing the piano.
I never used to have the support that I got at Youth Radio. It’s making me an all-around better person.
I used to have a show about sports. I wanted to shed light on the things that happen behind the scenes in football, basketball—athletes and drug abuse, athletes and fighting. In football they have a penalty, it’s called “unnecessary roughness,” where if a player’s too aggressive it will cost their team in yards. So I called my show “Necessary Roughness.” Because it’s necessary to show all that stuff that goes on—a lot of people don’t really know about it.
I never used to have the support that I got at Youth Radio. I can talk to almost everybody that works here and I know that they’ll listen to me. Every student in CAP has an academic adviser who charts goals for academic success. They help you study if you need help, or if you can’t do it here, they’ll help you get it somewhere else. I know I’m getting better in music production, and when it comes to my career, I want to be a football coach. I’ll be getting my GED and then I plan on attending community college. Youth Radio is a place where you could come and be productive in a safe environment. It’s making me an all-around better person.
Some other youth radio programs across the country:
Generation PRX, Public Radio Exchange
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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”
– Deborah Meier, educator