WKHS, Kent County High School’s student radio station, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this week, March 24-29. And to mark the occasion in appropriate style, student DJs are spinning vintage 45-RPM records from the station’s extensive library of hits.
The Chestertown Spy, which is a sponsor of the station, paid a visit Tuesday morning and found three KCHS seniors, Aaron Drabic, Branden Aargo and Taiyana Goldsborough at the mics. Goldsborough was spinning records by such acts as Hall and Oates, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Jimi Hendrix, announcing the anniversary fundraiser between tunes. Drabic and Aargo interviewed guests (including your Spy editors) and added commentary. Also present were J.P. Henry and his mother Jane Ward, who came from Cecil County to deliver a donation in the form of a “magic trick:” a stuffed bunny in a box with $45 attached to the rabbit when you pull it out of the box. J.P. is a big fan of the station and of WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania station that fills WKHS’s programming slots when there is no local programming available. WKHS is on air 24 hours a day with either WKHS or WXPN programming.
Station manager Chris Singleton was also in the studio to help pick out the records. Singleton, who has been station manager for 11 years, served as the station’s engineer for 19 years before that. But his career at the station goes all the way back to his own student days at the high school when he was a DJ at the station in his own right. And, he says, his position involves a lot of instruction in the day-to-day operation of a radio station. The program typically includes 30 to 35 students, from 10th to 12th grades. Seniors are at the station 2 periods a day, while 10th and 11th students get one period a day. Part of the school’s technical education curriculum, WKHS aims to give its students the skills to move directly into professional broadcasting. And it works – a number of the station’s alumni have gone on to careers in broadcasting, either on-air or behind the scenes.
Aaron Drabic said that all the students take their radio jobs very seriously. This is not a toy station, he said. In addition to the on-air sessions, the students make podcasts for later online streaming of many of their interviews and special programs. Recent podcasts include an interview with author Will Haygood that originally aired on WKHS on March 21 of this year and a program on Student Cell Phone Usage in the Classroom that initially aired on March 8. All podcasts can be found here on the WKHS website. In doing all the various tasks, the students have gained valuable experience with professional software such as Adobe Audition.
WKHS, broadcasting at 90.5 on the FM dial, has a 17,500 watt signal – one of the strongest in the nation for a student station. Ken Collins, the station’s main fundraiser, says he can easily pick up the signal as far away as Crisfield on the lower shore and in Columbia and Baltimore on the western shore. Listeners can also tune into live broadcasts on the station’s website at http://www.wkhsradio.org/. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the small population of Kent County and the size of the school, it is the only student station in Maryland. However, the station’s feed is not broadcast in the school during class hours; the signal goes out to the rest of the community, but only those students actually in the studios can hear what’s on the air.
As part of the 45th anniversary – the official date is March 28 – WKHS is conducting a membership drive to raise funds for equipment and renovations to the station. Walking into the studios after not having visited for a couple of years, the results of previous fundraisers are plain to see. All the studios have up-to-date professional-quality equipment – computers, microphones, mic stands, etc. – essentially the same as what you’d find in a big-city station. The old soundproofing has been replaced, cables have been put out of view, and much of the engineering has been moved to its own separate room instead of being housed in the studios. As a result, the main studio is more attractive and far roomier, with plenty of room for both students and guests. The station has a very professional look now. Collins told us that Phil Dutton and the Alligators played a live session in the studio for Chester Gras this year – they all fit in and the sound was great, he said. You can hear that interview and the Alligators’ music here.
WKHS regularly broadcasts Kent County High School sports, including baseball, football, and basketball. It also broadcasts a performance recreating Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” every Halloween, with the students taking the various roles in the script. And a regular feature the last few years has been a simulcast of the Rock Hall fireworks show.
In the evenings, when the students are out of school, local volunteers broadcast a variety of musical programs, from classic country to jazz to big band to eclectic programs such as Lain Hawkridge’s “Musicology” program Thursday evenings. Singleton said that the community volunteers range in age from 14 to almost 80. The volunteer who has been with WKHS the longest is Mike Martinez who began his popular Monday evening show in 1990.
During the late night hours and weekends, the station carries programming from WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania station. The arrangement with WXPN benefits both stations, giving the Pennsylvania station an outlet in the local area and providing programming (and some funding) to WKHS.
Since they began fund-raising in 2013, the radio station has raised close to $200,000 which includes a sizable grant that Superintendent Karen Couch and the school board helped them to get. All this has gone to remodel and update the school station. There are still a few major pieces of equipment and software that the station hopes to be able to acquire soon in order to complete the upgrade and to maintain the station. Tax-free donations to WKHS can be made with PayPal on the station’s website, or by calling 410-778-8100 or 778-4249.