KWDM Students Give Valley a Voice

Seniors John Garang and Addisin Atkinson work in the radio booth.

Seniors John Garang and Addisin Atkinson listen in the radio booth.

Staff members at Valley High School’s student radio station, 88.7 FM, KWDM, The Point, take on many tasks, from reading weather reports to crafting playlists that have something for everyone. The station has evolved with the student population over the years, resulting in an eclectic mix of music, talk radio, and sports coverage. Through all the station’s changes, one thing has endured: the students’ dedication. When the students cue songs or report live from sporting events, they know they are not only developing a lifelong skill but acting as the voice of their school.

One of the few student radio stations in Iowa, KWDM is considered modern rock. Students send classic rock mixed with alternative, pop, and indie music out over the airwaves. They also broadcast talk radio and weather reports, with live sports coverage added in during Valley High School games. Other than advertisements, all the material comes from students at the school.

“Because the station is student-run, there is not a typical day,” station adviser Janell Mikels said. “Each day depends on the students’ schedules. Introduction to Broadcasting gets to go on air as part of the class, so that changes the typical day.”

Berry and senior Ken Gisler talk a call from a KWDM listener while broadcasting.

Seniors Ben Berry, station manager, and Ken Gisler (left) take a call from a KWDM listener.

Most students involved in KWDM today come from Mikels’ radio classes. Introduction to Broadcasting provides experience in the radio room. After that, students can enroll in Advanced Broadcasting Lab. Students can repeat Advanced Broadcasting Lab to stay involved with the station, or list KWDM as an extracurricular activity. This means the station’s staff changes each semester.

Station staff from the 1990s laid the foundations for this flexible format when the station expanded its power from 10 watts to 100 watts ERP. Suddenly, the station was available all over the city; they had previously struggled to reach the surrounding neighborhoods. The students, led by then-adviser Brian Christiansen, started trying new things like live broadcasts and different types of music. They also worked to gain sponsorships for the station, raising money for anything extra they needed to create a competitive radio setup.

Jeremy Bingaman was a sophomore when the station’s power expanded. Now a radio professional sometimes known as Luke Matthews, he sees the same kind of station ownership reflected in today’s students.

“There’s always that core group of people who take care of the program,” he said. “That doesn’t always happen with an extracurricular.”

Junior Willaim Phillips reads a weather announcement his first day in the radio lab.

Junior William Phillips reads a weather announcement his first day in the radio lab.

Now, Bingaman enjoys being a guest speaker in the radio classes. He credits his KWDM experience with pointing him toward his career in radio and teaching him interpersonal and public speaking skills. He talks with students about what they can learn from the program, how it can become a lifelong career, and what it means to represent your school on air.

“I love for them to see this isn’t just an extracurricular that you do in your free time,” Bingaman said. “This is really something you could go on and do for a career. There are people who make their living and their lives off this, and it’s something they learned in high school.”

Hearing that broadcasting is a lifelong skill is valuable for students like senior Ben Berry, the KWDM station manager. He is interested in pursuing a career in radio or the Air Force, both paths that could benefit from his radio experience. Former station manager senior Maren Tuttle plans to pursue speech pathology but says her work at KWDM contributed to her interest in the subject.

“Radio is not exactly public speaking, but you’re doing it for the public,” she said. “It helps with articulation, your tone, and how you speak.”

Station manager Ben Berry, senior, assists senior Charlie Crowley, in the booth for the first time.

Berry assists senior Charlie Crowley, who is on the air for the first time.

As station manager, Berry talks with school clubs to gather new content for listeners, curates the playlists, and helps new staff members navigate being on air live. The first time students are on the radio, they complete simple tasks like reading out a weather report or other announcements. Once they are more comfortable, students may apply to be on the station’s staff. Some broadcast during football and basketball games, while others host their own talk shows.

“We want people to get something different each time they listen to the radio,” Tuttle said.

To offer up their fresh take on Valley High School life, the radio students use high-level broadcasting equipment. Bingaman compared the setup to some professional labs he’s seen.

“It’s a great environment for kids to learn in,” he said. “They’re not learning in a closet somewhere. They’re using the equipment they’ll intern on or work with.”

Junior Carter Czipar broadcasts live from Valley High School.

Junior Carter Czipar broadcasts live from Valley High School.

With alumni spread across several radio stations in the Midwest, KWDM is a proven jumping-off point for students interested in radio, public speaking, and leadership. As the voice of their fellow students, station staff learn to think on their feet, verbalize their thoughts, and work together. They display true ownership of their learning and the station itself.

“I think people don’t realize how cool and beneficial the experience of being on air, being a part of a team, is,” Berry said. “I don’t think I will ever regret being a part of the station. I gained knowledge and experience that most people won’t ever bother thinking about. The experience goes beyond just radio.”