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Youth Radio Gives Teens a Voice


While the American media often talk about them, teenagers have had little chance to talk about themselves on the air. Now some are using the power and simplicity of a radio program to speak out.

"There's a problem in American culture," a teen journalist from Atlanta tells a conference of radio professionals. "Not enough young women are being encouraged to be fairy princesses. They're being encouraged to grow up and be doctors and lawyers. The ranks of fairy princesses are dwindling because of that.

That's why Alex Black wears a stunning red tiara. "I can be a radio journalist and still be a fairy princess. I want to keep that dream alive."

For Alex, the dream of being on the radio came alive in a high school communications class, taught in partnership with a local radio station. She says her classroom skills have led to professional pay for a radio essay on Hurricane Katrina.

"I didn't think of having a career in radio until I got involved with youth radio," Alex says. "It was interesting to know what I could to with it later, like freelance or college radio."

Stephanie Tulley learned the craft of radio through a summer program where she produced a about her childhood, and growing up in an abusive household.

Youth radio programs can be heard more and more around the world. With funding from an international humanitarian group known as GOAL, radio journalists and musicians teamed up with street kids in Maputo, Mozambique. They created and skits about HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, and children's rights.

However they learn about radio, an expert on the media says what matters is that their voices are being heard.

"Youth Radio is important because young people have things to say," says Ginny Berson, director of the National Youth in Radio Training Project. Each year, it brings young radio producers and their adult mentors together for skills and leadership workshops. "And they need the radio skills in order to be good radio producers so that other young people, and not young people, will hear what they have to say."

Teens can get those skills in more than 100 programs in the United States that train high school kids in radio production. Some have paid, fulltime staff that work with teens in state-of-the art facilities. At others, trainers help kids use a single computer and microphone to do .

In many communities, the mentors are volunteers, such as at a community station in Boulder, Colorado, where teens are producing a , a burrowing rodent that many residents adore and others detest.

Boulder teenager, Griffin Hotchkiss, says he likes to tilt his lance at the status quo. "My favorite shows are the ones that spark phone callers to come in yelling at the guests. I like debate."

His friend, Dan Leifer, says that he enjoys the teamwork needed to create a show. "It's important for a lot of things that don't have anything to do with radio, about working with other people."

And that could be the most valuable lesson of all, says Ginny Berson. The skills they develop in producing a radio program can be useful in a variety of professions. "They have an opportunity to work really closely on important projects with people who are different than them, and they learn how to deal with that," Berson says. "They are learning skills and immediately getting to practice them, and seeing how they improve, and hearing what they sound like, and seeing the impact that they have on listeners.

For anyone interested in starting a youth radio program, the National Youth in Radio Training Project offers an on-line training manual called, Let a Thousand Voices Speak. It's available at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters website.

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