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Radio rookies

Young DJs step up behind the mic to host their own on-air shows.

By Barbara J. SloanContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / February 3, 2009

ON-AIR: Ayanna Perez, Brittany Goodman, Tami Holley and Shytasia Williams (left to right) sing on a radio show at WESU.

BARBARA J. Sloan

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Middletown, Conn.

Every Friday night, two 10- to 12-year-old DJs put on their headsets in the WESU radio studios at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and host their own half-hour radio show.

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Kid DJs Clayton Smith and Ayanna Perez, both seventh-graders, write stories, poems, and songs for their weekly show. The program, "The Middletown Youth Radio Project" (MYRP), partners 12 elementary and middle-school students with eight Wesleyan University (WU) student mentors.

Every week, mentors help the young DJs edit their songs and stories at DJ workshops. Mu Abeledo, a WESU DJ and a senior at WU, and Jessica Jones, a former WU student, started the program in 2007.

Before the young DJs host their shows, each makes up an on-air name. For example, Clayton is DJ C-Dog and Ayanna is DJ Strawberry Shortcake.

These youthful DJs also have a chance to conduct interviews with people in the community. Recently, fifth-grader Chris Madera and his mentor, senior Eli Scherer, visited Marco's Italian Deli to interview its owner. This was the first time Chris had interviewed someone. He used a handheld recorder to record the interview. Afterward, Chris edited the interview and played it on the air.

Other young DJs write their own songs to perform on the weekly radio shows. The Berry Crew – a musical group made up of four girls: Ayanna Perez, Tami Holley, Shytasia Williams, and Brittany Goodman – write original songs to present on the air. Sometimes they perform together.

Ayanna and Tami, both seventh-graders, and Shytasia, a sixth-grader, participated in the program last year. Brittany, a sixth-grader, joined the program this year because "I want to make songs and I want to hang out with my best friends," she says.

All the young DJs live in Traverse Square, a city-owned housing project located near the WESU studio.

Patricia Smith, Clayton's mother, says of her son's participation: "He loves the radio station and being on the air. It's good for kids. His nieces in New Britain, [Conn.], listen to his show, and he says 'hi' to them on the air."

Kareece Holley, Tami's mother, thinks the program "will help Tami tap into her creative side more" and maybe even lead to a future career as a DJ at a radio station.

The MYRP students want other kids to know that being a DJ is exciting.

"It's fun to be on the radio. Not a lot of kids get to do it," says Chris, who participated in the program last year. "I thought it was easy when I just listened, but when I came here, I saw what they have to do."

Ayanna also enjoys hosting her own radio show. "I like making songs and things like that. I can't wait to go on [the] radio again," she says.

Tami added that being on the radio has helped her "conquer my fears of being shy in front of people."

Last year, Ms. Jones and Ms. Abeledo produced a CD called "Best of MYRP." It features raps, stories, and essays that the kids composed. Each young DJ received a copy of the CD along with a T-shirt at a year-end party.

Ms. Jones, who graduated last spring, now lives in New York. She is a production coordinator for a children's music company, but she still keeps in touch with the young DJs online.

Both WU students and the neighborhood kids benefit from MYRP, say Sonia Manjon, WU's vice president of diversity and strategic partnerships, and Ben Michael, WESU station manager,

"The program ... connects students and their curricula work with hands-on application right here in our neighborhood ," Ms. Manjon says.

Want to hear these DJs on-air? You can listen to MYRP on WESU 88.1 FM and online at www.wesufm.org.

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