Credit: Ali Tadayon/EdSource
El Cerrito High senior Ace Lackey operates the control board while hosting a show on the school's radio station

The KECG radio station, run by El Cerrito High School students, was a bustling scene on a recent Friday during a radio marathon. Students were in and out of the school’s two radio studios, some DJing music shows with their favorite songs, while others hosted witty talk shows. Outside the studio, students wrote scripts and planned radio shows and programming schedules, all engaged in their projects and working together.

Students say the radio station allows them to express themselves and get their voices out to the public when they feel they’re not being heard. Unlike morning announcements or in-school news publications, the radio shows allow students to reach a wider audience while being authentically themselves, said senior Ace Lackey.

“There’s not a way for students to get their voices out there, whereas this is very public,” Lackey said. “Somebody can find it by chance, skimming frequencies.”

The radio station, available in the East Bay at FM 88.1 in the city of El Cerrito and FM 97.7 in the city of San Pablo, is taught by Jeanne Marie Acceturo, who also works as an on-call announcer for Bay Area NPR-member radio station KQED. Students use the school’s broadcasting studio, equipped with control boards and microphones, to run their programs, ranging from talk shows to sports broadcasts and music shows.

Lackey said the class gives students a chance to “build something from the ground up” and come away with something memorable that they can be proud of.

“Everything we do, we’re creating from scratch,” Lackey said. “In college, I’ll still have these programs that I can listen to, and they’ll still have value as entertainment and as a snapshot of what person I was at the time.”

El Cerrito High School has had the radio station and has offered a radio class in some form since 1978. The class came to a stop during the pandemic, since “radio is not something you can teach remotely,” Acceturo explained. Longtime station manager and radio class teacher Corey Mason also retired during the pandemic.

Under Mason, students had their pieces featured on KQED and NPR, and one student’s podcast was named one of the top 10 student podcasts in the U.S. by the New York Times.

The class started back up again in October, when Acceturo took over. Acceturo began her radio career in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s KCPR as a DJ, fundraising and promotions director and, eventually, general manager.

She went on to work at a commercial radio station in Grover Beach as well as for some record labels. She moved away from radio stations until 2013, when she started volunteering for UC Berkeley’s KALX radio station, which led her back to working at radio stations — this time at the Bay Area’s KALW and KQED.

Acceturo said when she first started telling her friends about her new job teaching El Cerrito High’s radio class, they were surprised that high school students were still interested in radio. She said her students were “sort of offended” by that.

“Radio to (my students) is still very alive and relevant, which is cool,” Acceturo said. They may only listen to it in the car, or they may think of it as something that their parents listen to, but we actually do have students who were avid radio listeners before coming to this class. It’s been really exciting to see just what they come up with.”

All 38 students in the class either have their own radio show on KECG or are involved in one, which they are graded on. Among the shows are “Confused Chess,” run by students in the chess club, “Underrated/Overrated” where students rate movies, music, food and other topics as either “underrated” or “overrated,” “Bae’s Bonanza,” a dating advice show, a video game show called “Maidenless,” a political talk show, quiz shows and several DJ shows, spanning different genres of music.

“I went to Cal Poly, whose motto was ‘learning by doing,’ and I take that approach with this class,” Acceturo said. “If you want to learn something, try it.”

Senior Xavier Ramos hosts “Sports Across The Sea,” a talk show focused on international sports. He also announces some of El Cerrito High School’s baseball games live, an experience he says has been his dream for as long as he can remember.

“Every time my dad and I would go to an (Oakland) A’s game, we would listen to the radio as the game was going on,” Ramos said. “I grew up listening to voices like Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo.”

Ramos studied the mannerisms of those baseball announcers and practiced not saying the same things over and over again, he said.

“I was nervous the whole day leading up to (the game),” Ramos said. “But when I was actually there, with the headphones on and the score sheets, I was just calling it how I saw it, and it became much more of a natural flow for me. I really enjoyed it.”

Acceturo said the first baseball game broadcast was a “big standout moment” for the class and was spearheaded by the students. Ramos and two other students got the equipment together and went out after school with a truck and an antenna attached to a pruning pole without the saw.

“That was pretty memorable and really exciting because Xavier got a chance to do something that he’s always dreamed of doing,” Acceturo said. “He did an amazing job, and everybody got that experience of having an idea and being able to see it through.”

The school also has a “radio club” for students who are not enrolled in the class but want to be involved in the radio station. Acceturo said many of those students will run the station and put on shows during the summer.

While the radio station operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, live programming is only featured for a portion of the day. The rest of the time, the station plays reruns of past live programs.

The class is included in El Cerrito High School’s arts, media and entertainment pathway program, and as a career technical education class, it has academic standards. Acceturo plans her lessons around those standards and has rubrics she uses for grading the students’ projects.

Students create a plan,  outline or script for the radio show, record the product and do a self-reflection. Each weekly show is treated as an assignment for which students receive a grade and feedback. Other assignments require students to listen to and review other radio programs.

As a final project, the students review all the programs they’ve done for the semester and put together a half-hour to an hour-long program, that could be either an edited version of a complete series or a selection of what the students consider their best work.

Lackey said one of the things they love most about the class is the “spontaneity” of operating the radio station. Sometimes, they have to switch programs around, depending on students’ schedules, or having to figure out technical issues as they arise, or just scramble to find CDs to play for the DJ shows.

“It’s a little stressful,” Lackey said, “but the adrenaline rush you get from that and working together with everybody to make it work is really rewarding.”

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