By Emma Marsano | Special to the Almanac
As a high school freshman with a passing interest in radio, Alex Mitchell couldn't have known that, by his senior year, he would be the founder and president of KSHS Radio, a student-run radio station at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton.
It's the only fully student-run high school radio station on the Peninsula, he says, and is the product of four years of hard work by Alex and his colleagues.
Though Alex knew nothing about radio broadcasting as a freshman, he and KSHS co-founder Tim Lewis thought creating a station might be fun and approached SHP's dean of students with the idea. They weren't met with opposition, but they found there was no protocol in place for securing funding and faculty support.
Determined to move forward, Alex and Tim hired radio engineer Harry Hall (a host on KCSM 91.1-FM) to help them establish a budget proposal and outline a plan. By the end of the co-founders' sophomore year, SHP's Senior Activities Committee had approved the station's budget.
"Things were kind of moving along," Alex recalls, "but at this point, other than Tim and I and, like, my mother, no one was really pushing to get (the station) started."
Undaunted, Alex and Tim used their budget to purchase recording equipment and build a booth on campus during the first semester of their junior year. In January 2013, they held open auditions and selected hosts and writers for the station.
Having assembled a staff, Alex and Tim thought about the best way to encourage their peers to tune in to KSHS broadcasts.
First, Alex says, to make the station seems like an integral part of life on campus, KSHS staff handed out free pizza and KSHS sweatshirts. The free shirts seem to have worked in that students unaffiliated with the station still wear them around school today.
After attracting their peers' attention, the students behind KSHS had to work to keep it.
Accessibility was a main concern. "We found that, if anyone has to take more than five seconds and two steps (to listen), they won't," Alex says. For increased ease of access, KSHS made their broadcasts available to stream on the SHP website, as well as on FM radio.
But for the KSHS staff, the most important task was producing fresh and engaging content every week. "You're not going to get listeners if you're not talking about things your audience wants to hear," Alex points out. "You can shape the conversation and add to the dialogue, but you can't try to run against the current."
Today, SHP's administration gives KSHS staff a lot of freedom, provided that their content is tasteful and respectful. The station broadcasts six regular programs every week. These include "Girl Talk," a show on which two female hosts discuss beauty tips, dating advice, and social events on campus; a debate show that takes calls from listeners; and a variety show, which combines comedic segments and interviews with local business people and politicians.
KSHS also airs occasional live broadcasts of high-profile school sporting events, along with special panels every few weeks to allow teachers, students, and outside experts to discuss controversial topics, such as teen drug and alcohol use.
Currently, there are 27 students involved with the station, and the online broadcasts have had 1,500 unique IP address hits in the past month. "It's nice to see that the station's made a culture around it," Alex says. "Now there are people who really spend their time on the show. They've been able to make (KSHS) a part of who they are."
Every high school class at SHP is represented among KSHS's on-air hosts, and younger students say they are grateful for the opportunities Alex and Tim have made possible. "I would never have considered radio as an option in the future," says junior host Nick York, "but now I'm thinking it might be a nice thing to do at some point."
Currently, KSHS is broadcasting online only, as the students work on acquiring a new FM frequency and move to a more powerful transmitter of around 100 watts. They've also begun releasing recorded content on a SoundCloud account. The station will go on hiatus for the summer, but the students plan to resume regular broadcasts at the start of the next academic year.
For more information, search online for KSHS radio.