Youth Radio

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Steve Shurtz



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At Youth Radio, students learn to use Pro Tools, Audition and other creative apps.

At Youth Radio, students learn to use Pro Tools, Audition and other creative apps.

This year, something truly transformative is happening in the lives of more than a thousand teenagers and young adults who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Coming from mostly low-income households and ailing education systems, these young people are learning first-hand about the new world of converged media, thanks to a non-profit organization that offers free, hands-on classes and career training to high school students. You may have heard their segments on NPR stations, iTunes or a growing list of other outlets. It's all happening at Youth Radio ( in Oakland, Calif.

As the organization's Website states, “Youth Radio's mission is to promote young people's intellectual, creative and professional growth through training and access to media, and to produce the highest-quality original media for local and national outlets.” Youth Radio was founded in 1992 and maintains its free program offerings through voluntary financial donations and sponsorships from corporations and foundations. Students can apply by downloading an application from Youth Radio's Website.

These young people create programming based on their own point of view, with news and commentary about topics ranging from music to global politics. “These students are tastemakers, as well as cultural documentarians, looking at how a story affects young people and extracting the youth perspectives,” says news director Nishat Kurwa. “For an adult audience like NPR, they're often looking for young people to translate what's happening among other teenagers, translate cultures, what they're listening to and why, and the kind of decisions they make about their lives. It's a powerful look into the lives of teenagers — from them, not from an adult parachuting into teenagers' lives and telling their story for them, which is usually the only way young people show up in the mainstream.”

Youth Radio's training opportunities include two 10-week programs called Core and Bridge. The Core program offers an overview of journalism and broadcasting, including the fundamentals of radio and television broadcast, music programming, Web design, and music and video production. Students can work with Reason, Audacity and other creative software. The Bridge program provides intermediate-level training, allowing students to focus on areas of specific interest. Students can learn to use Pro Tools, Audition, video editing and Web design applications, and other creative apps. Youth Radio is working with the Peralta Colleges to bring its curriculum in line with California Community College standards so that students can earn college credit for their work.

Students who successfully complete these programs can apply for Youth Radio's internship program. Interns continue working on personal projects and work as peer teachers, for which they receive modest pay. Many staff members are former students, either directly from the Youth Radio program or alumni who have worked in media-related industries, or gone on to college or university programs and returned to what feels like an extended family.

Youth Radio has always emphasized quality production standards, and the team has earned many accolades for their programming, including a Peabody Award and two Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television News Directors Association and the United Nations Department of Public Information Gold and Bronze Medals awarded for “work that best exemplifies the ideals and goals of the United Nations.”

The Facility

After 17 years, Youth Radio outgrew its original facility and analog equipment and recently acquired a new home: a remodeled three-story bank building near Oakland's City Center, on the corner of Broadway and 17th Street. The new building will include industry-standard equipment and has an unexpected “wow” factor. “The professional look and feel of the facility creates an atmosphere of quality to inspire students and peer teachers,” says Tim McGovern, Youth Radio's technical director. “‘All this for kids?’ is a question some visitors ask.”

With decades of experience at Skywalker Sound, American Zoetrope, Sony Systems Integration Division and David Carroll Associates, McGovern knows facilities. He left his technical director position at Skywalker two years ago to devote his full attention to building out Youth Radio's new premises.

The new facility includes two on-air control rooms, a production control room with a voice studio, music production rooms, two news production rooms, edit booths and a performance space. There is also a computer lab, DJ workstations and more. Meyer Sound was kind enough to give a huge break to Youth Radio so that the building could have 5.1 sound in the production control room and performance space.

Youth Radio's training programs require a wide range of radio, music, video and IP facilities. “The technical challenge in this facility was making it handle converged media, which is still not perfectly defined,” says McGovern. “Building a music studio, a film studio or a radio studio isn't that difficult, but building a studio that can do all those things is a bit of a juggling act. Behind all the thinking and decisions of what equipment would go into the building was having that kind of flexibility.”

The organization purchased and installed a building-wide system of audio engines and routers from Logitek Electronic Systems (www.logi, along with Logitek's Mosaic and Artisan digital console control surfaces, which live in specific rooms. Youth Radio chose this system because of its flexibility in assigning different controllers to audio resources. Logitek's multithousand-dollar production consoles, broadcast consoles or virtual mixers can provide system control using a free Logitek application on any computer in the facility.

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