Where are the K-12 Student-Run Radio Stations?

Zach and Screech had a student-run radio station on Saved By the Bell that they used to save the local diner. Lyons Township High School outside of Chicago has an award-winning student-run radio station. While not student-run, my local NPR station is licensed and owned by Elkhart Community Schools in Indiana. But in the era of “everyone is a content creator” where are the student-run High School radio stations?

Independently hosted and published digital writing had its day with the rise and fall of blogging. Everyone’s 15 minutes of digital video fame is currently in transition from short-form Youtube videos to micro-form Tik Tok and Instagram Stories. The digital revolution saw online publishing of writing and videos dominate the K-12 space, with COVID bringing synchronous video for learning to a near ubiquitous state for K-12. But I don’t ever recall a particularly overwhelming surge in the use of internet radio for students and teachers to broadcast and share learning. The barriers to publishing, and maintaining a 24/7 stream of digital audio content used to be quite technical and logistical in nature. But then Jim Groom goes and keeps pushing his idea of radical open digital learning spaces and uncovers a hidden gem for me.

I watched one of Jim’s “bava weekly” updates (which he hosts on his own avante gard self-hosted video streaming platform) and it helped re-connect me to thoughts that used to dominate my instructional mindset for K-12 students; if we truly want students to learn ABOUT the real world, why not find ways for them to publish their thoughts and learning TO the real world in small and simple ways. I dove back into “bava land” and was introduced to AzuraCast, a freely available open-source, self-hosted internet radio management solution. Essentially, a “roll your own” internet radio station that you can host with any hosting provider, or locally on internal resources with the help of your district’s Technology department.

I’m intrigued. Mostly because I’m in a position to make something like this happen for our campus; we have the tech and servers to support our own internal student-run radio station. We have a relatively captive audience. But we have a curriculum that’s focused more on consumption of information; yes, students create websites, presentations, pamphlets, and visual display so knowledge. We even have a broadcasting course at the Junior High. Audio though is different though. We don’t have students writing and then producing short audio stories, or creating serialized podcasts (we did have one briefly before COVID), or even just giving one another audio feedback through Voice Notes.

Sure, podcasting is hot right now, and it would be straight forward to give teachers and students templates for creating student podcasts. Most podcasts today seem to fall into the “talk radio format” and would only require some loose ideas of segments, interviews, etc. It would be easy to expand a student or school-run radio station by playing recorded band and choir performances, reruns of radio broadcasts from basketball and football games, or even encourage students to start producing spoken word poetry! I’m going to noodle on this idea for awhile, because it would be a really fun way to push teachers and students outside of their norm, while leveraging the mostly hidden technology that hums along maintaining our network and systems.

If anyone is still reading my blog, and has examples of student and school-run radio stations, please share!

5 comments

  1. I brought this up with my daughter (a senior) a couple of years ago, but there was no interest. The problem is that a lot of students can’t get into the idea of radio, where they don’t get to pick each and every song. And, more importantly, that there isn’t a skip button.

    AzuraCast looks really nice! I do have a question, what do you do for licensing? Is there an education license available? I did some searching, and there are a ton of different licensing options, but I didn’t see anything directed toward educational stations.

    1. Really good point about the medium and how you interact with it. You can pause video and reading, then come back to it later. I suspect that’s why podcasts are so popular now over traditional live radio. It will likely be a niche piece of the media landscape in the future.

      I’m not sure about licensing. As long as you kept the broadcast to material that the school district has purchased a public performance license of and/or is in the public domain, your choices for music would be limited but doable. I think there will be a lot more value in students producing talkshows, daily news, and other “podcast like” pieces of media.

  2. I grew up in Rochester, NY, which has a local gem: WBER. It’s run out of a high school and students take 2-hour time slots during the year and run shows. They didn’t often have specialty blocks, but they did everything (from what I remember).
    Because it’s a licensed station, they do play published artists, though often not main-dial radio artists.

    1. Do you grew up just like the teens at Bayside High with the student-DJ’d radio? That’s awesome!

      Since this post we now have Azuracast up and running. So far I’ve identified old recordings of band and choir concerts that we could run play, and at least one student produced podcast from before COVID. Apparently all of the basketball and football games that were broadcast back in the day would not be deemed “good listens” by most staff I’ve talked to as they’re typically against larger opponents where we got our busts kicked. I’m toying around with the idea of having my instructional tech work with teachers next year to create a “life in Coloma” podcast about interested projects and learning going on. At the very least, it would be a way to highlight cool classroom projects. We also have a broadcasting class at the Junior High, so we have a platform for them to produce some longer-form audio content beyond the weekly student news.

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