Youth Radio Gives Teens Experience in Broadcasting

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Young adults may have a lot to say about issues ranging from sex to violence, but they do not always have an audience or the skills to communicate. One Berkeley organization educates students on how to tell stories, not only to friends or family, but to the radio community.

Youth Radio, an award-winning broadcast journalism program designed to train teenagers in writing news stories, commentaries and public service announcements, provides an opportunity for disadvantaged children in the Bay Area to discover their own voices and to share them with others.

The program, located in a modest building off Martin Luther King Jr. Way, also trains young adults in the art of DJ-ing and provides them with practical skills in engineering and producing radio shows.

"It's a fun job," says Gerald Ward, a Youth Radio graduate and staff member. "When I started, I was in high school, while my friends were either at McDonald's or Burger King. That's not what I wanted to do. This is productive. This is positive."

The program requires a serious commitment from its students, program members say, and so far students have met the challenge.

"It's great - the kids do all the work here," says Beverly Mire, deputy director of Youth Radio. "I just do the paperwork. But if they don't like how I do it, they tell me and I change it. They have that much power."

Youth Radio began 20 years ago as Youth News, but faded into nonexistence by the early 1990s because of a lack of support.

Since then, however, the program's Executive Director Ellin O'Leary has resurrected it. It has been on the air for seven years under the name Youth Radio.

Students in this program have the freedom to explore a number of issues they may not otherwise be able to discuss openly.

"They write about sex, violence and music," Mire says. "But there are also stories like the pros and cons of the juvenile justice system and stories about obsessive-compulsive disorders. Last summer, we did a story on Kosovo during the NATO bombings. And then there are stories about what it means to have dreadlocks."

Youth Radio is a 12-week program; after its completion, graduates can choose to develop skills in a particular area. Options include becoming senior producers, teaching new students and working in administration or as an intern.

Students say the most valuable aspect of the organization is that Youth Radio helps them find major internships and jobs.

"Through Youth Radio, I was able to get an internship at Lucasfilm and other places," Ward says. "But there are some kids that go on to get internships at Z95.7, WILD 94.9 and even at magazines."

Youth Radio programs can be heard on such radio stations as Z95.7, Public Radio International, Pacific and National Networks and KQED, as well as on its own radio program on 89.3 KPFB.

"We want them to tell their stories to the widest audience possible," Mire says. "But we also want to teach them the most basic things - that it is possible for them to go to a good college or get a great job. We want them to gain the self-confidence to make possible change."

Youth Radio also teaches its students the value of teamwork, leadership skills and the power of positive self-esteem, according to Mire. Students agree that the greatest lessons are not always journalistic in nature.

Marlene Williams, who has been writing news stories and producing shows with the program for two years, says her experiences in the program have changed her for the better.

"The people here walk with you and hold your hand, personal and business-wise," she says. "They really care for you; it's a community. I was a totally different person when I first came in here, and that's a good thing. I still have a lot more growing up to do, but I'm a lot more self-motivated, focused and positive."

In addition to the journalistic skills students learn at Youth Radio, wonderful memories are created that students say will last a lifetime.

"There are a lot of good memories," Williams says. "The first time we went live was at WILD 94.9. The whole team went down to the station, and we pulled it off as a team. It was really fun. I was proud and I felt good about what I was doing. After the show, we went and got breakfast. The entire night was a bonding experience."

Last week Youth Radio won the highly respected 1999 Silver Baton award for excellence, part of the Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Awards for broadcast journalism, for their series "E-Mails from Kosovo."

This series broadcasted a number of e-mails between a young girl in Kosovo and a high-school student in Berkeley.

"You know that saying, ‘opportunity only knocks once'?" Ward says. "Well, Youth Radio is always at the door - it will always be there."

Youth Radio is about gaining access to guidance, empowerment and the opportunity to tell a story, members say.

"We judge success by the difference it makes on the young people involved," O'Leary says. "If it could help them pull their lives together or get them involved in the media, that's great. The Dupont award is great because it's held at a high standard. But the award came at the same time when most of the kids were learning a lot from the program, and it pushed them further."


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