Photo: Aaron Johnson / Hearst Connecticut Media
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A group of the trophies that the WWPT station has won during the 2017 Drury Awards.
Photo: Aaron Johnson / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Students working the operating board during live shows.
Photo: Aaron Johnson / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Staples students Jake Pauley, Phillip Strandell, Arthur Shapiro, Zach Iannacone, and Jack Dembsy on live during class on WWPT 90.3 student radio station
Photo: Aaron Johnson / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Geno Heiter talks to the radio class before on Wednesday morning.

WESTPORT — Walking through the halls of Staples, there are plenty of similarities of the typical high school.

There are teachers, lockers, faculty, and of course, students. But the home of the Wreckers also boasts something that most other high school in the country don’t have.

An award-winning student radio station.

“I’m having a blast,” Radio station adviser and teacher of radio broadcasting Geno Heiter said. “I let (the students) turn it into what it is. I’m just the guide on the side.”

With that approach WWPT 90.3 radio station has become the top high school student station in the country — with the hardware to prove it.

The station has be nominated for several John Drury High School Radio Awards over the years, with 2017 being no different. Last spring, a group of student representing the station flew out to Chicago for the awards ceremony, with a number taking home awards — including the biggest award of the night, the Best High School Station, going over to Staples.

While the awards and accolades are great, they aren’t the only thing that matters, Heiter said.

“I’m not an awards guy,” he said. “I’m not interested in any awards. I tell them ‘the awards are great, but there’s maybe 15 high school radio stations, so we’re the best of 15.’ But let’s just be the best we can be, let’s not worry about getting this and that.”

For many students, the radio station has been more than just an extracurricular activity, but a place where they can find their voice and even begin to formulate plans for future endeavors in the field.

“I think that having access to all this radio equipment in this class has really opened my eyes,” senior Max Lonergan said. “Coming into high school, I really had no idea I would love radio this much, just access to this technology has really sprung inspiration for me even for the college process.”

“This place is just great to express yourself,” senior Nicholas Diaz said “You can go on just about anything and have a pretty good conversation with just about anyone.”

But the approach to creating the atmosphere to give students the kind of freedom to speak on air, or even host a show about a given topic is something that Heiter said he puts great focus on.

On a class day, students can be in the studio preparing podcasts for the online soundcloud or be on air live with a show. But new ideas flow through the activities like an ‘idea toss,’ where students toss around a beanbag with Heiter and others to help generate fresh content.

It is through that kind of interaction that a family-environment has blossomed for the class.

“We’ve all kind of built a community with each other,” sophomore Zach Iannacone said. “I’m able to go on a show with anyone in this class and have some fun out of it.”

While students in the class are able to get an early introduction into a possibly professional field, several are able to get real life experience through live play-by-play coverage of Staples athlete games.

Skills that some have been able to refine over the course of four years in school.

“I think this gives us a pretty serious leg up on any future competition for anyone that wants to pursue a career in this sort of field,” senior Jackson Dembski said. “A lot of high schools don’t even have radio stations, much less the No. 1 high school radio station in America. So I think going to college when some people are going to be getting their first tastes of radio and we’ve been doing this for four years.”

Jarod Ferguson was one of the several student to take home hardware during the Drury Awards last spring in the Best Public Affairs Program category and he said radio has had direct impact on his future going into the college search.

“I know if I wasn’t introduced to radio when I was a freshman,” Ferguson said. “I wouldn’t have tried to pursue it as a career. I only knew radio as something I would listen to in the morning, but now having to do it for four years at Staples, I’ve seen a whole new light of radio and all the opportunities that it brings.”

Despite only being at the school for a year and two months, Heiter said he understands the position that the students are put in through the time that they give to the station and the hard work that goes into that.

“I love the process,” he said. “So if you don’t win, look at what you were able to generate. That’s the award. You won already, now if they give you a trophy that’s great. When I first got here, it was a different program. My job was to take an already special program and move it forward.”

In an era when high school students are often looked at negatively for being the catalysts for the texting and app, world of today. The students that fill the classroom and the airwaves for the WWPT 90.3 understand the position that they are in and try to break that stereotype while also taking the opportunity to have free range over the content that goes on it.

“I think that’s what has made this radio station great,” Iannacone said. “We’ve kind of made it what we want it to be. It’s kind of an open community that all of us have kind of merged together.”

ajohnson@hearstmedia; @aronJohnson_