By Mike Marsee
The latest mass media venture at Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) has a greater reach than any of the school’s previous broadcasting efforts – and a greater purpose as well.
An internet radio station allows KSB students to be heard far beyond the school’s Louisville campus, and it also is giving them the opportunity to gain valuable experience that can help them after they leave high school.
KSB Radio is the latest component of a growing career and technical education (CTE) program at the school.
“We tried to set up a CTE program that was conducive to the needs of our students. We said, ‘What’s a practical application we can come up with that’s synergistic with what our kids are doing?” said Dan Sharrard, KSB’s CTE teacher.
The answer was an internet radio station, a venture that Sharrard said fits the strengths of the student population by utilizing technology such as screen readers, non-visual desktop access computers and magnifier/readers.
The new radio station also provides an on-campus application for the subjects Sharrard is teaching, including business and marketing, entrepreneurship, advanced computer and technology applications, digital literacy and financial literacy. Those were areas that KSB and its stakeholders deemed important when they set up the school’s CTE program. Sharrard said the goal is to develop marketable skills for KSB’s students, who often face significant barriers to finding employment in their hometowns.
“We had no CTE program four years ago, and we were trying to figure out what we could do to get these students college- and career-ready,” Sharrard said.
Sharrard said students involved in the program have earned CTE certifications through the Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment (KOSSA) and the Certiport test, which provides a Microsoft Office Specialist certification.
He said 20 to 25 middle school and high school students are involved with the radio station, which launched in March and began livestreaming in April, and several of those students have played integral roles in its development.
“Once we built the radio station, the kids embraced it,” said Sharrard. “I’m not a radio guy, but they’ve come up with things. They just ran with it.”
Students have learned how to use all of the equipment and have set the studio up to be used by students with no sight, meaning everything will be accessible to the blind and visually impaired students who will follow them.
They have placed Braille markers on all of their equipment, even placing markers on the wall behind the mixer board – through which the audio signals are controlled – to indicate the location of ports and plugs and the direction in which cords should be plugged into them.
One of the students who has helped KSB Radio advance from concept to reality in a few short weeks is Alex Stine, a junior from Oldham County who serves as one of the station’s two engineers.
“The fact that it did become something like this is great,” Stine said. “I thought it would be next year before we could do any of this.”
It’s a far cry from the old WKSB, a low-power FM station that could be heard within about 1-1/2 miles of the KSB campus that went off the air about five years ago.
When Stine was a 6th-grader, he was the youngest disc jockey for WKSB, which used tape and compact disc players that are obsolete now, as well as a board that’s about twice the size of the one in use today.
“Now I know a whole lot about radio stations, a lot that I didn’t know before,” he said. “Everyone has the opportunity to come in here and learn about broadcasting. This is going to be here for a long time.”
KSB Radio broadcasts music selected and downloaded by Stine and the other students 24 hours a day. Stine even wrote a program that allows the song title and artist to be displayed on screens while a song is playing.
There are also live broadcasts, such as a show that airs twice weekly in which students talk and take calls about topics of interest to the blind and visually impaired. Recent topics have included how to cook or perform other everyday functions and how to do other things, such as gaming.
There are remote broadcasts as well. The station has the ability to broadcast from events such as graduation and check-in day, or allow students to broadcast from home thanks largely to the work of Stine and the other station engineer, Mason Tilley, a Trimble County High School student who attends KSB’s short-term program.
All of the station’s broadcasts are saved as podcasts for access after they air live.
Sharrard said officials at KSB and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) supported the station’s launch. Some of that support came from Gretta Hylton, director of KDE’s Division of Learning Services, and from Jarrod Slone, a consultant in that division who has worked in broadcasting and who said he jumped at the chance to assist the school.
Slone met with Sharrard and with administrators at the school, and they arrived at the decision to broadcast online rather than over the air.
“Gretta fully supported the idea and graciously allowed me to take part in startup planning. We decided as a team the only way we could go was an online broadcasting format. This way the station could reach the maximum number of families and community members possible,” Slone said. “With over 20 years of broadcasting experience myself, I wanted make certain that students at KSB had the opportunity to take part in working in media, just like I was given as a teenager.”
There also was support from AT&T, which provided funding for equipment, such as microphones and software, through a connection with Stine, who won an award for his work on the AT&T Community customer support forum. The Kentucky School for the Blind Charitable Foundation also bought a new computer and is paying the royalty fees required to play the music the station uses.
But Sharrard said the work of setting up and running the station has been done entirely by his students.
“This is all student-driven. They created all of this,” he said. “They keep thinking of new things they can come up with to make things easier for the visually impaired community and themselves, and that’s what is so wonderful about this. And it connects to our entire CTE program.”
He said his hope is that working at the station will allow students to build skills and confidence that they can use beyond high school.
“What we don’t want is for them to leave here and not utilize the skills they’ve learned,” Sharrard said. “I just want to make sure we have a program that’s capable of enhancing the great things that these students can do.”
MORE INFO …
Dan Sharrard firstname.lastname@example.org
Jarrod Slone email@example.com