As a media professional since 1972, I found myself in south Florida in the new millennium, working as an audio engineer for the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins. A move to central Florida several years later forced me out of the media business and into education, where I have been ever since. I teach intensive reading to seniors at Dunnellon High School, as well as AP world history. It’s the reading students who motivated me to create “Reading for Radio” about five years ago.
I had been searching for an incentive to motivate students to improve their technical reading skills and, of all things, a 250-foot radio tower on our campus began the process. Although used by the transportation department, I looked into an LPFM license for the school and was encouraged — until I started the budget process. No way!
As most of you know and understand, we, in education, barely have enough money for essentials, not to mention trying to fund a project like that. But the idea of trying to blend radio technology with the academic needs of my reading students still seemed like a great idea.
Imagine, having a school radio station, run by students and opening the audition process to all struggling reading students to participate. I started looking into internet radio and suddenly the idea had legs. Still, funding would be a challenge, but nothing like the cost of trying to implement an over the air presence. This is where Century Link Communications entered the picture.
The company sponsors an annual grant competition through its Clarke M. Williams Foundation. These grants are open to public school teachers who blend technology and academics to benefit their students. It seemed like a perfect fit. However, for a traditional broadcaster, there was a significant learning curve ahead, trying to wrap my head around a new-to-me, method of delivery.
I applied for the grant in the fall of 2015 and received word that I had been successful in April of 2016. My first reaction was unexpected — “Now that I have the money you mean I actually have to do this?!” I spent the entire summer of that year doing the research; and there was plenty of it.
First, investigating what the technical aspects of putting a station on the internet was all about. What, if any were the government regulations; what licensure was required; how are royalties covered; basically how did all the pieces fit together. Next, of course, came a design and a location within the school. The administration at the time came through with an unused office, and I designed the equipment configuration around that space.
Now a meeting with the head of IT for the school system explaining the project and seeing if the infrastructure would support streaming within the school (bandwidth being the problem). I explained that we would be sending our outbound signal to a web hosting company for streaming and that our IT requirements were minimal. One problem eliminated.
Next, surveying and selecting equipment that would meet our needs at a reasonable cost. I enlisted the help of Guitar Center Pro and found them to be very helpful in the selection process. Finally, I needed to find a software automation system that would fit our needs and our budget. Most of you know that this market has become very active in the last few years, and there are dozens of products to choose from in every price range.
I was extremely fortunate to come across a talented young developer in Texas, who has created a program called NextKast Pro. The program is sold as a download with program key and is incredibly reasonable and both powerful and flexible. The studio is broken into two halves utilizing two Windows-based PCs. One is dedicated to just running the NextKast software and is our “broadcast” computer. The other is our “production station” utilizing an Allen & Heath analog mixer, Shure and AKG studio mics and Audacity editing software for our production needs.
At the beginning of school year 2016-17 students were recruited to join “The GROWL” (as we are the Dunnellon Tigers). Our goal was to get on the air prior to Christmas break that year. On Dec. 13, 2016 "The GROWL" went on the air for the first time, broadcasting 24/7 since.
The last piece of the puzzle was selecting our access platform. We have chosen Tune In Radio utilizing either their mobile app or their internet presence at www.tunein.com. Our format is eclectic, as we attempt to provide both music of all genres and some very creative original programming (written, produced and performed by our students).
For more information contact Barry Carrus at email@example.com.