Staples' 'Wrecker Radio' on a winning wavelength
Published 10:50 am, Thursday, September 23, 2010
Already well-known around Westport, Wrecker Radio (WWPT, 90.3 FM) could soon become nationally recognized in the broadcasting field. The student-driven radio station at Staples High School was nominated for nine John Drury Awards, which salute excellence in high school broadcasting.
The Drury Awards, based at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., and judged by Chicago professionals, will be handed out at a Nov. 13 ceremony. There are 10 categories, each with five finalists.
"It's incredible, I am very psyched. These kids deserve it," said Mike Zito, WWPT's advisor and a Staples teacher. "I've work at another station -- WPKN in Bridgeport -- since 1972 and we are all kind of old and jaded and set in our ways. It is such a positive to work with these kids, they have such creativity."
Each year about 150 students participate in Wrecker Radio at Staples, Zito said.
At the Drury Awards, the radio station that racks up the most points (each award has a weighted points scale for first place to fifth place) takes home the coveted Best High School Radio Station prize. WWPT has a significant shot at it, with the second-most nominations out of the 125 schools that submitted broadcasts this year.
"It feels great that Wrecker Radio was nominated for awards once again because not only is it showing our growth as a station, but also it is a sign of all of our hard work over the past few years," said D.J. Sixsmith, a Staples senior who received four nominations for his sports shows and play-by-play. Sixsmith has worked at the station since his freshman year.
Wrecker Radio received nominations for Best Newscast (Brendan Rand, WWPT 5x5 Updates), Best Public Affairs Program (Eric Gallanty, "On the Trail"), Best Sports Play by Play (Gallanty and Sixsmith for Staples vs. Greenwich football) and three for Best Sportstalk Program (Gallanty and Sixsmith).
Last year, Wrecker Radio placed in four categories. It won first place for Best Radio Drama (adaptation) by the school's audio production class for its work on "A Christmas Carol." Zito was named the Best Radio Station Advisor. Gallanty received a third place finish for Best Sportscast and Sixsmith, Gallanty and Mike Nussbaum finished third for Best Sports Talk for Two Guys and a `Gal'.
Zito said that the Drury Awards, which WWPT first entered last year, have motivated his students to work harder.
"Already this year I've had some students come up to me and say, `I would really like to get something for the Drury's next year,' " said Zito, adding that winning awards in high school looks great on college applications.
"At least for me personally, I don't do radio to win awards. I do it because it's something I enjoy doing," Gallanty said. "However to be recognized by someone and something this big is really something that I am proud of and the station as a whole is proud of. Whether it's D.J., or I or anyone else getting the award, it all comes back to the station, which is the best part."
Gallanty said winning awards "goes back to our faculty advisers, Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito, who put us in a position to flourish with this stuff." Honeycutt is the adviser for the high school's television station and a production teacher.
High school radio is rare in Connecticut; only seven other schools have stations.
Sixsmith said he and his fellow students "are able to gain experience in radio before we head off to college which puts all of us well ahead of others in the country. Having a radio station at Staples is truly a blessing because it has provided me with so many different opportunities as well as allowed me to become the broadcaster that I am today."
Zito started as WWPT's adviser seven years ago and turned the station into true local radio.
"I've always stressed to these kids that WWPT is Westport's radio station," Zito said, by pushing community news programs and emphasizing sports coverage of all of Staples teams, from football to basketball to volleyball.
"One of the easiest ways to be local is sports," Zito said. "It is a part of the high school culture. The teams here have grown to not just accept the coverage, but it is sought after. When we don't cover a team, they come after us for coverage."
Zito said the station has covered sports that aren't often covered by radio broadcasts, such as soccer, volleyball and lacrosse, but are nonetheless important to Staples students and the community.
"Having been to many different schools in Fairfield County to broadcast Staples sporting events, other schools are so jealous of the fact that we have our own radio station and the Westport community has really embraced the station's presence to the point of where we have become stars in the town," Sixsmith said.
The sports department consists of about 25 students and now includes a television network, which airs student-produced game coverage featuring play-by-play by the Wrecker Radio crew.
Zito said the station is trying to expand its news and public affairs department. Gallanty has been a major part in the station's steps forward in news coverage. He started a political show in 2008 during election season and has continued to bring politicians in for interviews ever since.
"He is an impressive kid," Zito said. "He does great play by play for sports, but he is well-rounded. I don't think I'll get a kid like him ever again."
Zito said it is "amazing to see politicians come in and it is not like a kid interviewing a congressman or selectman or whoever, through the interview, you can tell the depth of questions, the research and see he is the real deal."
The duo of Gallanty and Sixsmith together helped the station, which first hit the airwaves in the mid-1960s, grow to its current status.
"Eric and D.J. are so committed and are doing an amazing job," said Zito about the two seniors, who both started at the station as freshmen. "I can't wait to see what they do in the future. They both have such incredible potential. There are so many directions that can go in and be successful. I hope to hear them on ESPN one day or wherever they want to be."