0503SLIFEaudioListen as Matt Caudell, 14, introduces the afternoon news broadcast on WEGL-FM.
Listen to WEGL 93.5-FM
When: Chestatee Middle School’s radio station begins broadcasts at 7:40 a.m. each school day, with intermittent newscasts throughout until about 3:30 p.m.
Where: The signal extends about a mile from the school and can be picked up at Dawsonville Highway and Sardis Road, and at Sardis and Ledan roads and neighborhoods in between.
Throughout the school year, students at Chestatee Middle School in North Hall spent a little time each day breaking off into smaller groups and learning about subjects you wouldn’t normally find at a middle school.
Some delved into aeronautics. Others learned about cosmetology. One group, taught by Jeanne Rountree, learned how to set up and operate a radio station.
Yup, that’s right — the students, with the help of a company in Florida, a local commercial radio station and Rountree’s research, set up WEGL 93-5-FM, broadcasting live from a glassed-in room at the school.
And now that students have taken the CRCT, the "learning academies" where they covered these specialized topics have stopped. But a handful of radio enthusiasts are continuing the radio station, writing morning broadcasts, coming up with playlists and presenting listeners with a quote of the day and a joke of the day.
Every morning at 7:40, Matt Caudell, 14, an eighth-grader at Chestatee Middle, queues up the intro music and downloads the latest Fox News podcast. They run the station off a PC connected to a transmitter, and as parents line up in the mornings and the afternoons, they are broadcasting live with school news, announcements and whatever music inspires them.
Jeremiah Jennings, 14, and Alex Smith, 14, also eighth-graders, will all be moving up to the high school next year and leaving this legacy for the younger students who want to carry the torch.
"I was saying the other day on the air — we were running out of stuff to talk about — and I was just saying ... all three of us agreed this was definitely the most fun thing we’ve done while at Chestatee," Matt said. "This is definitely something I’m going to remember. I know they will, too."
The idea for the radio station started with Rountree, who was thinking of topics she could research for the learning academy — but a topic she was interested in, too.
"I came up with the whole idea because I had heard of other schools doing similar (ideas) but I didn’t know anything about it," said Rountree, who typically teaches English and literature. "And my other thought was, I always enjoyed listening to radio and the deejays, and I thought, why not put it out there and see if the kids are interested?
"And then I started panicking because I thought, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’"
But with the help of 12-year-old Levi Libasci — "Ham" — the fledgling broadcasters set up some basic transmitting equipment. And they were on the air.
The daily broadcasts are as much a learning experience as setting up the radio station, the students added.
"We’ll set up a playlist," said Levi, adding that there’s no format for the music they play, either. "We just do anything. We get a random song in your head and play it."
They pass the microphone from one to another, and each student has a specialty, whether it’s reporting the weather or coming up with a joke of the day.
"None of the shows are planned out at all," Matt added. "We mess up a lot on the air, too. We fight on the air, we turn down the microphone."
But all that doesn’t matter; instead the bottom line is that a handful of middle schoolers are live on the air to entertain parents as they wait in their cars outside the school. And because students are often in the cars in time for the morning broadcasts, Matt said he and the other students get feedback from their classmates, too.
"It’s very cool to be able to turn on your radio when you’re coming down the drive and hear them talking. And a lot of it is impromptu, but they know what they’re doing," Rountree said.
And what makes her especially proud of the students is how this topic she chose truly inspired them. Hopefully, when Matt, Jeremiah and Alex move on to the high school in the fall, a new crop of students will join Levi to keep the station going.
"It’s all about offering an interest," she said. "I don’t care what the content is, if you can get a student excited about it, my job is done. So this has been a total success. If two or three students get excited about it, I’m excited."