Monday, February 26, 2018

Radio Reality

If you saw my blog post from a few weeks back, then you are aware that my students and I have launched another exciting media unit. I like big, engrossing, complex topics to explore.

In 2013, it was media-tie in products related to movies.
In 2015, it was food and restaurants.
In 2017, it was clothing and fashion.
For 2018, it's all about radio.

I'm a big believer in making experiences as authentic as possible; therefore, I wanted my students to see the inside of a real radio station. Before everyone and their brother declares that this will be their next field trip, let me caution you: this sort of visit cannot be arranged frivolously. These are working environments not designed or intended for young children to tour. There are liability issues, transportation challenges, and security considerations. We were just extremely fortunate that the "stars aligned" and that we had two wonderful contacts (Dwane Read and Shawn Haswell) that made what is usually impossible a reality.

Gillian, Dwane, and Diana at CHUM-FM

On Thursday, February 22, 2018, 25 students visited the CHUM-FM radio studio in the morning and the Allan Straight Radio Institute at Ryerson University in the afternoon. We selected five students from every primary division class to visit. (Although I'm teaching this unit to the Grade 1-5 students in the school, only the Grade 1-3 students will have their entire media literacy grade determined through this inquiry and my administrator and I decided to prioritize those classes when deciding who should go.)

The Morning at CHUM-FM

Dwane (the promotions manager) and Gillian (the promotions coordinator) at CHUM-FM were informative and delightful tour guides. We learned about the different jobs that exist at a commercial radio station - such as music directors, program directors, imaging directors, the creative team, announcers (they aren't called DJs anymore), engineers, and more. We saw all the "tools of the trade", such as the control board, the microphones, headphones, computers and monitors. 

The students were exceptionally well-behaved and extremely quiet - so quiet that we were permitted to be in the broadcasting room with CHUM-FM announcer Richie Favalaro while he was actually on the air! I think I was more excited to be in the room with such a well-established radio personality than they were! Richie Favalaro is on the air from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. every weekday and on weekends too.

It's THE Richie Favalaro showing us where he works

Richie is not the only person we met. We were introduced to Wade, the imaging director, who described his job as "painting a picture with sounds". He said that it can take 4-5 hours to collect separate pieces of sounds and put them together effectively for a 45 second creation. Thankfully the clips are played often so it is not just for a one-time airing. This was a great lesson to hear when students want to rush through a project - good work takes time. 

Wade shows the students how he does what he does
We also met Lisa, the music director, who just happened to be meeting with Jody from a record company. Jody brought songs to discuss with Lisa for potential inclusion on the CHUM-FM playlist, and we actually got the chance to hear one of the songs she brought! I asked Jody how she persuades music directors to select her company's songs, and she explained that she uses all sorts of techniques - she points out the positive aspects of the song, offers "streaming numbers", demonstrates the potential popularity of the tune and uses other statistics to back up her recommendations. Lisa is responsible for scheduling and planning 300 songs a day and she credits her love of music and gut feeling for predicting hit songs for her success in her position.

Jody (L) and Lisa (R) describe their jobs
Thank you so much Dwane, Gillian, Richie, Wade, Lisa, and all the CHUM-FM staff for allowing us into your workspace to learn from you.

The Afternoon at Ryerson University

A short bus ride later, we were at the Allan Slaight Radio Institute at Ryerson University. Shawn Haswell, the manager of production and facilities, led us on our tour after the students had consumed their lunches. We were very fortunate that it was Reading Week for the Ryerson University students, so we were able to visit without interrupting students. The students really warmed up to Shawn, asking him if teenagers *really* came there, among other questions. 

Shawn tells us who Allan Slaight was and why this place bears his name
It was a wonderful opportunity to see similar radio production tools to those used at the commercial radio station, but actually have the chance to get even closer to the equipment. We learned about "cough switches", devices in an interview suite that speakers can use to quickly mute their microphones if they have to cough or sneeze. Shawn pointed out aspects of the learning space that we would not have noticed otherwise, such as the "floating floor" that holds and hides all the wires, and the sound-dampening walls. 

Trying out the microphone at Ryerson
Shawn was very encouraging about our planned goal of podcasting and broadcasting. He recommended free, novice and intermediate apps and software for us to use and gave us microphone usage advice.  Thank you so much, Shawn, for allowing our young students into your institution and giving us your time and attention.

We had to leave at 1:00 p.m. but the students learned so much from their brief times at these marvelous places. Part of the responsibility involved for chosen students was to use the photos they took while on the trip to create a presentation for their classmates so they could learn what "radio reality" is like. I won't be able to share those presentations publicly because the students don't block faces when they take pictures, but I hope to share them with Dwane and Shawn so they can see the impact that they made by making an exception and permitting us to visit. 

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