School radio programs feeling the squeeze from a limited range of broadcast frequencies should follow the lead of California’s Fremont High School.

At this urban high school in Oakland Unified School District (K-12, enr. 54,400), students enrolled in the school’s Media Academy have been using the internet to broadcast a student-produced radio program for more than two years.

According to Michael Jackson, director of the Media Academy and the radio and television broadcasting teacher at Fremont, “We have a really old computer that is our server, and it runs Windows NT. That’s because the software that RealAudio [originally] donated runs on NT. But we’re excited, because pretty soon we’re getting a new server that runs QuickTime, and I think it will be much better.”

The Media Academy is hooked to the internet via a T1 line, and students broadcast Tiger Radio daily from a portable classroom located behind the school building.

“We think the internet is a good place to [broadcast] for schools,” said Jackson. “We also receive a lot of help from the community. For instance, we have a professional DJ from a local station in the classroom today helping kids with their broadcasts.”

Jackson’s students divide into teams and produce four 30-minute radio broadcasts per day. “We’re pumping it out live every day,” he said.

The students are allowed to select their music either from their own collections or from the school’s music archive, and they use their selections to prepare the 30-minute blocks of airspace, complete with breaks and announcements.

“We have them write out their playlists, which requires some math for formatting purposes. They have to list the artist, the record company, the song, the song’s length, and the running time of the show,” said Jackson.

Tiger Radio’s students learn to use the electronic equipment to modulate the sound, and they have to work on their voice skills every day.

“Right now, we have two studios, but it’s a constant battle to try and get new and better equipment. I’ve had so many kids that want to take this class, but right now we only offer one section,” said Jackson.

The constant search for funding is not the only challenge facing the young broadcasters. When Tiger Radio decided to move to the next level in broadcasting and establish its own, very low-watt radio signal, the station ran into serious problems from the lack of available airwaves.

In December, lawyers from the University of San Francisco drafted a letter to ensure that the high school would not produce a radio signal too close to the university’s tower (as determined by Federal Communications Commission guidelines) and thereby interfere with its signal.

Fremont’s Tiger Radio had proposed a 100-watt FM station on the dial at 89.9, but the station’s transmitter would have been closer than the required 29 kilometers away from the university’s antenna.

“We are currently negotiating with the University of San Francisco not to block us,” said Jackson. “We at least want an LP10 [license]. LP10 licenses allow for a very small broadcast range, perhaps just three or four miles around the school building itself.” The LP10 is only a 10-watt signal and would not create an interference with the university’s signal.

“It’s almost impossible to get airwaves,” Jackson added. “The big media conglomerates own almost all the stations and all the airwaves.”

Jackson said the number of noncorporate radio stations has decreased drastically over the years, and there are fewer owners today than there ever have been.

“But there are a number of small voices that want to be heard. A lot of our audience does not have computers or the internet, but they all have radios,” said Jackson.

In the meantime, the internet will continue to serve Tiger Radio’s purposes well.

“The internet is great, we’re happy to have it,” said Jackson, who hopes to use the webcast radio shows to pull in money for the Media Academy in the future.

“We really want to put ads on the station to raise money for the program. We’d love to do that right away, except right now we are working on our content. Once we have that up to speed, we’ll think about selling our products to advertisers,” he said.

The entire program has been funded thus far through the efforts of teachers and students involved with the Media Academy.

“The kids have raised the money for the whole project—to date, over $100,000. They actually wrote grants, and we’ve received several, including one from the city of Oakland,” said Jackson.

According to Sarn Saeteurn, a junior at Fremont High and the station’s webmaster, “This class lets us get hands-on experience in things that you wouldn’t normally get to do in school. It’s interesting. [And] putting the radio [program] on the internet is easy—you just stream the broadcast directly onto the web.”

“The kids take this class more seriously than anything else in their school day,” Jackson said. “It’s a creative outlet for their talents. We are a gritty, urban school district, and this program really helps boost the kids’ self-esteem. They may not have the best grades and test scores, but they have a lot of talent and heart.”

And, students only stand to benefit from the contact with advanced media technology, Jackson explained. “Hands-on applications and access to technology are what we offer, and that’s big.”

Links:

Oakland Unified School District
http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us

Fremont Media Academy’s Tiger Radio
http://www.media-academy.net/radio.htm