South Philly students produce radio program through PhillyCAM youth program

"Hear Us Out" touched on a range of topics affecting teenagers today.

For the past two months, 15 young adults from across the area, including South Philly residents and students of The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), immersed in media studies with PhillyCAM. Above: Students prepare for their first live show. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

As high school students collected in a circle to draft scripts for an upcoming radio broadcast last week, one young producer asked, “What brings us together in Philly and what divides us?”

The question, considered by a dozen teenagers, would not only serve as a premise for the impending live airing on WPPM 106.5 FM but also as a fundament of the entire Hear Us Out show, a product of PhillyCAM’s Youth Media program. 

For the past two months, 15 young adults from across the area, including South Philly residents and students of The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), immersed in media studies with PhillyCAM. Based in Center City, the community media center, which works to “make and share media that promotes creative expression, democratic values and civic participation,” recently established its radio-focused youth project through a grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

“WPPM, specifically, seeks to give a voice to people who have been under-represented in media,” said Vanessa Maria Graber, WPPM station manager. “…Community radio and public access television has a long history of providing a space to people that have been underrepresented in media, so we’re just following in the footsteps of many other community radio stations and public access centers all around the country that have really robust youth media programs. So, knowing that, we aspire to also be able to provide that space here in Philadelphia, especially since, again, there really are no youth radio programs on the FM dial right now.”

Though more than 40 students applied, only a handful were selected for the workshop, which not only taught young people how to become insightful news consumers but news producers in an effort to diversify newsrooms and elevate youth voices.

Throughout the summer, students, who also received stipends for the work, were introduced to a scope of newsgathering, storytelling and multimedia techniques, which they translated to three episodes of Hear Us Out, a variety program aired on WPPM 106.5 FM that was oriented toward teenage listeners. 

“The youth program is based in media literacy,” said Ariel Taylor, PhillyCAM’s youth media coordinator. “So, hoping students understand and question the media, giving them a better understanding as to representation and providing them access to technology and tools…just giving them a space where they can learn these basic technology and communication skills that can advance them potentially in a career that would ultimately help to diversify newsrooms and television stations and media in general.” 

Fostering a range of media skills, the 15 students dabbled in various roles, such as hosts, producers, interviewers and editors, to execute shows that spoke to the region’s youth. 

From local music and college applications to police brutality and immigration, Hear Us Out strived to capture the psyche of local adolescents.

Photo courtesy of PhillyCAM

“Youth aren’t heard because our thoughts, our ideas and everything we want to say is not valid, because we’re young or inexperienced,” said Raven Lewis, a CAPA sophomore. “This is our way of being heard. The radio show is about getting our voice out and covering topics that a lot of youth go through that they don’t know about.”

Each of the three shows, which included two pre-recorded episodes and one live airing, centered upon different themes, including stereotypes and unity. 

In one episode, students discussed where school uniforms fall in the contexts of the First Amendment.

The teens talked about whether or not uniforms challenge freedom of speech as a form of self-expression.  

“I feel it’s important to touch on different topics,” said Denim Stanback, a CAPA freshman. “If we stay on one part, the conversation doesn’t extend. Our thoughts go hand-in-hand, so if you keep going on one topic, you’re not gonna get anything else from it.”

Since the majority of high school students are too young to vote, the show’s participants say the radio program is an effective platform for them to express their own concerns about society while also lifting the thoughts of their peers.

The segments, which were bridged together by locally produced music, upcoming youth-oriented events and more, featured guests and man-on-the-street interviews. 

“The objective was to get youth voices out there,” said Dylan McKinley, a sophomore at CAPA. “Lots of kids, when they’re talking about issues today, they’re shut out by adult voices…I hope audiences know that the youth – when having discussions about societal issues – that their thoughts are valid.”

All three CAPA students are Media Design Television and Video Program majors at the high school, as the program introduces them to graphic design, commercial art, advertising, television and digital film production. 

However, as the PhillyCAM staff points out, there are a limited number of media curriculums offered in Philadelphia public schools. 

This dearth especially escalates the need for PhillyCAM’s Youth Media program. Along with its already existing television segments, the program will continue Hear Us Out this fall through after-school sessions as it aims to produce new content and gain more listeners.

“I want (audiences) to know that we actually know stuff,” Lewis said. “To be honest, we want teenagers to tune in the most, but if adults are listening, they just need to know that we’re here. We’re listening. We know stuff, and we want to change stuff, too.” 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano