As high school students gathered in a circle to write scripts for an upcoming radio show last week, a young producer asked, “What brings us together in Philadelphia and what divides us?”
The question, considered by a dozen teenagers, would serve not only as a premise for the next live broadcast on WPPM 106.5 FM but also as the foundation for the whole Listen to us show, a product of PhillyCAM’s Youth Media program.
Over the past two months, 15 young adults from across the region, including South Philly residents and students from Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), have immersed themselves in media studies with PhillyCAM. Based in Center City, the community media center, which works to “create and share media that promotes creative expression, democratic values and civic participation,” recently launched its radio-focused youth project with a grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
“WPPM, in particular, seeks to give a voice to people who have been underrepresented in the media,” said Vanessa Maria Graber, WPPM Station Manager. “…Community radio and public access television have long provided space for those underrepresented in the media, so we are following in the footsteps of many other community radio stations and public access centers across the country. who have really strong youth media programs. So knowing that, we aspire to be able to provide that space here in Philadelphia as well, especially since, again, there really aren’t any radio programs for young people on the FM dial right now.
Although more than 40 students applied, only a handful of them were selected for the workshop, which not only taught young people how to become insightful consumers of information, but also producers of information with the aim to diversify newsrooms and elevate the voices of young people.
Throughout the summer, the students, who also received stipends for work, were introduced to a range of newsgathering, storytelling and multimedia techniques, which they translated into three episodes of Listen to us, a variety show aired on WPPM 106.5 FM and aimed at teenage listeners.
“The youth program is based on media literacy,” said Ariel Taylor, PhillyCAM Youth Media Coordinator. “So hoping that students understand and question media, giving them a better understanding of representation and giving them access to technology and tools…just giving them a space where they can learn these technologies of base and those communication skills that can potentially advance them into a career that would ultimately help diversify newsrooms and television stations and the media in general.
Developing a range of media skills, the 15 students took on a variety of roles, such as hosts, producers, interviewers and editors, to run shows that spoke to local youth.
From local music and college applications to police brutality and immigration, Listen to us strove to capture the local teen psyche.
“Young people aren’t being heard because our thoughts, our ideas and everything we want to say aren’t valid, because we’re young or inexperienced,” said Raven Lewis, a CAPA sophomore. “It’s our way of making ourselves heard. The radio show aims to make our voice heard and to cover topics that many young people go through and do not know.
Each of the three shows, which included two pre-recorded episodes and a live broadcast, centered on different themes including stereotypes and unity.
In one episode, students discussed the place of school uniforms in the context of the First Amendment.
The teens questioned whether or not the uniforms challenge free speech as a form of self-expression.
“I think it’s important to talk about different topics,” said Denim Stanback, a freshman CAPA student. “If we stay on one part, the conversation does not continue. Our thoughts go together, so if you continue on one topic, you won’t get anything else out of it.
Since the majority of high school students are too young to vote, participants of the show say the radio show is an effective platform for them to voice their own concerns about society while raising thoughts of their peers.
The segments, which were tied together with locally produced music, upcoming youth-oriented events and more, featured guests and interviews with street men.
“The goal was to get the voices of young people heard,” said Dylan McKinley, a sophomore at CAPA. “Many children, when talking about issues today, are excluded by adult voices…I hope the public knows that young people – when discussing societal issues – that their thoughts are valid.”
The three CAPA students are Media Design Television and Video Program majors in high school, as the program introduces them to graphic design, commercial art, advertising, television, and digital film production.
However, as PhillyCAM staff point out, there are a limited number of media studies programs offered in Philadelphia public schools.
This shortage particularly intensifies the need for PhillyCAM’s youth media program. Alongside its already existing television segments, the program will continue Listen to us this fall through extracurricular sessions as it aims to produce new content and gain more listeners.
“I want (the audience) to know that we actually know things,” Lewis said. “To be honest, we want teenagers to listen the most, but if adults are listening, they just need to know we’re there. We’re listening. We know things and we also want to change things.