Getting Stories to New Ears: What Youth Radio Groups are Thinking

Youth radio groups have contributed some 1,300 pieces to the PRX catalogue.  But who are young producers making their stories for?  How do they share those stories post production? And who is listening?

The questions were prompted by a panel presentation I was asked to give at the Digital Media & Learning conference on the high concept notions of learning, distribution and empowerment.  Generation PRX works with some 50 youth radio group and hundreds of youth producers.  We know how empowering finding your own voice can be.  But who is listening to those voices?

To find out, I interviewed youth producers and teachers,  I sent around an online poll for youth producers, and I emailed questions to youth radio teachers.  Here are some of the most interesting findings:

Interviews with youth radio group leaders and youth producers  helped round out the picture. In particular, nearly every youth radio leader expressed a desire to have distribution more integrated into teaching radio overall.  Many were looking for new ways to get youth listening to each others’ work and found creative ways – like listening parties, or using previous student work in teaching – to do so.

At least one youth producer commented that while youth do get trained in making stories, they need the next layer: Knowing how to distribute their work and pitch their stories to shows and programs that have established audiences.  Another producer who began in youth radio and now runs her own multimedia site showed how important distribution is: She explained that with new media, you’re not just distributing content, “you’re distributing yourself.” Her radio work contributes to entire online persona, which she carefully curates.  Distribution isn’t the end product; it’s the whole process.

So, what can youth radio groups – and producers in general – conclude from all this?

  • Think beyond production, integrating distribution – and the notion of a public – into teaching from the start.
  • Think multiple channels. Public radio stations license via PRX, but so do a long list of outside purchasers (including YouthCast and REMIX Radio): Have you opted in?  Promote your audio via your website and social networks.
  • Engage youth as leaders and advocates for their work: Where can it be repurposed? Who is the audience and how will they hear it?
  • Develop the concept of a public profileParticipatory culture means you are anything-associated-with-you-in-a-Google search.  Sharing your radio work means showing off your skills (and PRX has great Google rankings).
  • Use PRX to track pieces after they air (recently released embeddable audio players will also allow those pieces to be shared more easily).

Interviews also showed what a pivotal role PRX serves for these groups, though in ways that might not be obvious.  While distribution via PRX serves a crucial function, the site offers two additional benefits.  First, the public profile of pieces in a professional context can have a huge impact on group momentum.  As one example: At WHJE in Carmel, Indiana, the class votes at the end of each 9-week term to elect which few pieces  – out of 40 – will represent the group on PRX.  Second, comments are highly motivating for youth producers.  As one wrote, “Whenever I received comments on PRX, I took the time to personally email the commenter/reviewer with a message of thanks. That way, they may be more inclined to show the piece around.”

In the end, we were reminded – as we always are – why we love youth radio so much.  To the question, “What should people understand (but don’t yet) about sharing youth radio stories,” we heard this:

That youth radio is a lot better than it gets credit for much of the time. I think it’s kind of annoying when older radio producers listen to youth radio with lower expectations. Or that youth can sometimes become a selling point, in a way. Like, “This is interesting because s/he is fourteen,” not “this is interesting because it’s real and honest.” You know what I mean? Maybe I’m not making much sense. But it’s one in the morning, so I’m allowed to be crazy, yes?

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