WYSO bringing new voices to the airwaves with Community Voices project
By Lara Donnelly
Radio station 91.3 WYSO has long been a source of independent voices in the Miami Valley. The public radio station, which began broadcasting on only 10 watts of electricity in 1958, is a favorite of many denizens of the Dayton area. As per their mission statement, WYSO is committed to supplying their community with “news, information and entertainment to encourage dialog, understanding and engagement.”
WYSO does this in many ways through their diverse programming, but recently, they have begun connecting with the community in a new way: the WYSO Community Voices project.
The Community Voices project aims to educate interested parties in the how-tos of making radio programs. Organizers of the project hope that once locals are educated in radio production, they can provide the station with new, interesting – and local – stories.
One of the participants is Luke Dennis, also the executive director of Dayton’s The Muse Machine, an organization dedicated to getting young people involved in the arts. Dennis is a fan of the National Public Radio program “This American Life,” and enjoys the types of radio documentaries and personal audio essays he hears on that show.
Dennis wants to use the training he is receiving in the Community Voices project to benefit the Muse Machine and the kids who participate.
“I want to be trained on these kinds of documentaries so I could bring them back and do them with the kids,” he said. He cites several different youth radio programs as his inspiration, such as the “Radio Rookies” on WNYC, a New York Public Radio initiative that provides teenagers with the tools and training to create radio programs.
“I love how honest they are,” he said of the youths’ radio programs. “I want to get the tools so I can make them.”
Dennis also wants to pass on his new skills to teachers who work with Muse Machine, hoping that they can use radio to spice up curriculum.
“My original idea was that what if a student, instead of writing a term paper, could make a radio documentary about the same topic?” he said.
Neenah Ellis, general manager of WSYO, who teaches participants with Sarah Buckingham, WYSO Community Voices coordinator, says that Dennis’ idea for a Muse Machine radio project is exactly the goal for the Community Voices project. “The goal is to teach people radio production skills so that they can tell stories,” she said.
Ellis, who came to WYSO two years ago, has wanted to do something like the Community Voices project since she started work with Yellow Springs’ public radio. She believes it is important to residents of the Dayton area to have the ability to tell their own stories.
“I think Dayton has a special need for that right now,” she said. “Because we’re looking for a way to reinvent ourselves.” Ellis hopes to give people from the grassroots level a voice on WYSO, bringing stories of an active, creative Dayton to the ears of the public.
But first, those people need the skills to produce radio-worthy material. That’s what Community Voices is for. The participants have met twice already and will continue meeting once a month until May, when they will have the opportunity to take part in a master class with Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life.” Glass will be in Dayton as a part of a WYSO fundraising event.
So far, Dennis and his fellow prospective radio artists have learned to use recording equipment and editing software, including a free audio editor called Hindenburg. They have also gotten advice on writing for radio from Noah Adams, co-host of the NPR news program “All Things Considered” and a contributing correspondent for NPR’s National Desk.
Dennis says he’s learning a lot from the sessions. “I love it,” he said. “They’re great teachers.”
The participants got some first-hand experience creating their own radio pieces at the last Community Voices session. Their assignment was to record what Dennis called a “man on the street” piece. Participants had to interview random people on the street – or in Dennis’ case, his office building – and create a story from the sound bites. Dennis asked people what they had been voted in their high school yearbook. Other participants asked questions like: What’s your greatest fear? What do you think Dayton has going for it?
After editing, Dennis said, “Everybody shared theirs and they were astonishingly good for a bunch of amateurs.”
Come May, these Community Voices participants will be anything but amateurs. With three more sessions left and a wealth of enthusiasm on the part of students and teachers, Community Voices is sure to turn out some talented radio voices.
For more information on WYSO and the Community Voices project, visit www.wyso.org. To purchase tickets to see Ira Glass, visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Lara Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.