BCHS & WLBQ 101.5 Broadcasting Class
On graduation night at Butler County High School six students in the Class of 2016 wore white cords with their caps and gowns. The cords signified that the students were members of the inaugural Broadcasting and Media Class at the high school. The class was conducted in cooperation between Butler County High School and WLBQ 101.5 FM.
The idea for the class came about in the fall of 2015, and led to talks between school officials and the management of WLBQ. In January six students were selected to participate in the first class; Nolan Johnson, Ian Embry, Isiah Arnold, Jeremy Womack, Riley Slaughter, and Naomi Cade. The class was taught by WLBQ DJ/Program Director Joe K. Morris.
Morris set the curriculum for the class after consulting with BCHS Principal Patrick O'Driscoll.
"I wanted this to be about more than how to talk into a microphone and play music," said Morris.
The class first learned the history of radio and its role in American society. With that came lessons on the role of the federal government in regulating radio, and how radio and radio personalities have battled on behalf of free speech. Radio as part of the national defense and national command infrastructure were also discussed.
Although the students had a background in broadcasting from previous TV production classes, they were surprised by the intricacies of radio.
"I didn't realize the level of technology that's involved with modern radio," said Ian Embry.
The students had their writing skills honed and put to the test. They learned to write for radio, including newscasts, promos, and commercials. The challenge of writing copy for short news stories and thirty-second ad spots was something new for the students. A typical thirty-second commercial contains only around ninety words, which meant the students had to learn to tighten their writing.
"Sometimes it's really hard to fit everything into ninety words," said Naomi Cade. She also noticed how difficult it can be to stretch a commercial or promo to fill a sixty-second spot. "By the end of the sixty-second promo I was starting to run out of things to say."
Joe Morris said that one thing he hoped the class would do was help the class with their writing.
"All these kids are going on to college or technical school, and being a solid writer is one of the most important skills you can have for that. If your writing is strong you have a big advantage and your instructors will notice it," said Morris.
The class progressed quickly and by the end of basketball season the students were ready for their on-air debuts. The class took part in WLBQ's broadcast of senior night activities, including pregame and postgame programming, and providing color commentary during the games.
Jeremy Womack found out that radio sometimes goes at a faster pace than anticipated. "You have to watch what you say in the heat of the moment," said Womack.
One class member, Nolan Johnson, coupled his lessons learned in the classroom with his love of sports to be a guest host on WLBQ's weekly program, The Butler County Sports Jam.
Morris explained how Johnson came to the rescue on a night when the show's host, James White, had to be absent.
"I didn't have anyone to be on the show, so I texted Nolan about an hour before and invited him to sit in," said Morris. Johnson has since co-hosted several times, and Morris says he does a great job. "He's a natural, and he has a great sports background, he really brings something to the table when he's on the show."
Much of the instruction dealt with the behind the scenes work of radio broadcasting, specifically producing and editing news packages. The class created news features that aired on WLBQ about retiring BCHS Principal Patrick O'Driscoll, the annual Bear Run/Walk to benefit project prom, band and choir trips, and a feature about Patton Allen who will attend the Gatton Academy in 2016.
For the first feature packages the class was hesitant to edit interviews, but by the end of the term they had become seasoned producers. They were able to quickly identify what needed to be left in or taken out in order to tell a story in the best, shortest way possible.
Despite all the work put in by the class, there was also no shortage of fun. Discussions and critiques of radio and TV coverage of news and sporting events became part of the curriculum. As the students became more adept in the craft of radio their critiques and reviews of these events broadened from the actual events covered, to how and why they were presented the way they were.
The culmination of the class came when the class took over the WLBQ airwaves on two Sunday evenings for Beartime. Beartime let the students pick their own music, and be on-air to host the program. The students, who had been nervous around microphones when the class started, were able to present the show with the poise of veteran radio personalities. The program became less about the music, and more about the interaction between the students and what they had to say.
According to Morris the students could all have futures in broadcasting if they chose to pursue it.
Morris said of the class, "These kids are naturals. Ian (Embry) sounds like a pro, Nolan (Johnson) and Naomi (Cade) have great on-air personalities. Isaiah (Arnold) and Riley (Slaughter) really have a great of news and editing, and Jeremy (Womack) is great at the technical side of all of it."
Morris hopes the broadcasting class can become a yearly offering at BCHS.
"I really enjoyed working with the kids, and getting a glimpse in how education works in the 21st century. I was lucky to have six great young people in the class, and I hope I've helped make their senior years a little more memorable, and given them some skills that will help them as they move on with their lives and education," said Morris.
Nolan Johnson explained why the class decided to don the white cords at graduation.
"Other groups and classes had special cords, and we decided we wanted one too. We did this together and wanted to remember it," said Johnson.