Holding up three fingers, Kali Drake, the music director for the radio station, began to count down. When she hit zero, she pressed the button for Annie Burge to go on air.
“Hello to all the listeners out there. You probably know me as Mrs. Burge from the library,” she said. “But I am booked for the next hour as DJ Dewey Decimal and I will be bringing you a mix of songs inspired by literature... Make sure you bring your library card so you can check it out.”
Drake pressed the button again to stop the recording.
That was awesome, Burge said.
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On Tuesday afternoon, Cleveland High School participated in “High School Radio Day,” in which high school radio stations broadcast on air together for 24 hours to promote awareness.
The adviser of Cleveland High’s radio station, John Wood, a social studies and journalism teacher, said 69 stations in 28 states participated. Cleveland High’s station was one of three in North Carolina to participate.
It was Burge’s first time recording something for the radio. She said she was hooked.
“Those kids in there now didn’t even know how to turn a microphone on two months ago,” Wood said. “And now they are in there showing a teacher how to record voice tracks and how to build radio hour. It’s pretty impressive for me to see that.”
Voice of JOCO
There aren’t many student-led radio stations in the Triangle, Wood said. In fact, he said he doesn’t know of any.
Wood, a former journalist who had experience in radio, said he had always wanted to start a radio station at the school. The idea finally came to fruition earlier this year. The school initially didn’t have the money. So Wood applied for two grants from the Johnston County Education Foundation and received both. The grants were $1,500 each. And in late January, after winter break, they did a soft launch.
“It was always in the back of my mind because I knew these kids could benefit from it,” Wood said. “I knew I wanted to spend the money on the radio station. And that grant helped get me on the air”
The station plays news, sports, music, talk and local weather. All of the music is clean. Most of the music is niche music, or music that doesn’t get much radio play. Many of the artists are local, designed to give them more exposure.
Wood said the station averages 100 listeners a day. He said he wants the radio station to eventually be a voice of Johnston County.
“We’re Johnston County content. We want to eventually get to the point to where you turn it on you can hear what’s happening on 40/42,” Wood said. “Stuff that is community specific that you may not hear on the big station. Stuff that our community wants to hear.”
The station has a core group of 12 students and some others who help out from time to time.
Ralph McClure, who goes by the moniker DJ Ralphie Boy, said he joined the radio station after learning about it in Woods’ journalism class. He serves as the production manager of the radio station.
“Being in his classes before and seeing how he teaches things and seeing his passion for it, it excited me and it made me want to do it,” McClure, a senior, said. “Seeing his passion and seeing what he had to offer for us, he didn’t just come in and say this is just a fun thing. He said if this goes well, I can get you jobs in this, I can get you careers in this.”
Drake, the music director in her senior year at Cleveland High, agreed. She said she enjoys being able to play the music she wants to hear. And hearing her voice on the radio is a plus too.
“There are actually some days where you come in and want to play this song, because I’m in this mood,” Drake said. “And I can listen back to it and say, ‘I did this, I put this together.’”
Wood said he couldn’t have done it without the hard work of the students and the support from the school district and the principal Anne Meredith.
“I think it’s important to have as many different things for kids to be successful at as you can,” Meredith said. “Because they come to high school and some of them don’t know what they really want to do but they try a lot of things. I think it’s a period of life where you try on different outfits to see what fits. So not everybody is going to love Shakespeare...not everybody is going to be a mathematician, not everybody is going to be a great quarterback, but there is something that you can fall in love with and decide what you want to do.”
Around 2:15 p.m., at the end of school, about a dozen or so students filed into Wood’s classroom to record a track.
“It’s amazing to start from nothing,” Meredith said. “But he’s done a lot of working, asking and begging and looking and scratching and getting this grant and that grant and just cobbling together pieces of money.”
Wood has only used the first grant to help pay for radio expenses. The second one still hangs on the door as a reminder of the support he’s received. He just waiting on the right time to use it.
To listen to the station
You can go on wramradio.org or download the WRAM radio app for Apple devices. Or if you have an android, on Google Play