Staples student station tunes in top national honors
Staples High School's radio station has long had a top-notch reputation. Now there's no argument -- it's been cited as No. 1 in the nation.
WWPT-FM Wrecker Radio took first place overall in the John Drury High School Radio Awards last Saturday in Naperville, Ill., and took one of the top three spots in six of 12 categories, including first, second and third in "Best Sportscast" and first and second in "Best Radio Drama Adaption."
Senior Ben Greenberg, who along with 2011 graduate Ben Myers took home a "Best Sports Play-by-Play" award for a broadcast of the state championship soccer match between Staples and Farmington, was pleased with his accomplishment but said "the station winning first place is most important."
Founded in the early 1960s -- initially off-campus -- by a half-dozen students that included First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, WWPT, 90.3-FM, at 500 watts has a listenership zone that stretches from Stamford to Stratford. On some days, the signal can be heard as far away as New Haven, according to faculty advisor Jim Honeycutt. Besides Joseloff, notable alumni have included John Stashower of ESPN Radio and Jamie Roth, a reporter for WABC-TV in New York City.
Roth "used to always cover the apple festival," said Honeycutt. "She once had me impersonate Elvis."
The station's transmitter can be used remotely by town officials to keep the public informed during storms or other emergencies. Student programming generally is broadcast Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 9:30 p.m. When students are not staffing the station or calling athletic events on weekends, an automated musical playlist fills the rest of the schedule.
Greenberg said the honors presented to WWPT and its student staff "wouldn't have been possible without the work and commitment" by Honeycutt and co-faculty advisor Mike Zito. Both serve as faculty advisors of Staples' media lab, which includes the radio station and the school's television network. However, Honeycutt gave most of the credit to Zito, a former DJ for WPKN-FM in Bridgeport.
"I got Mike to come here about 10 years ago. I figured he could get it to reach its potential," he said. "It was brilliant on my part."
Zito, however, deflected the praise. He said the sports coverage, much of it delivered by recent graduates DJ Sixsmith and Eric Gallanty, played a big part in WWPT earning top station recognition.
"In the three sports categories (best sports play-by-play, best sportstalk program and best sportscast), we really dominated. Of the nine awards we took seven," said Zito, who added that Sixsmith and Gallanty "really pushed our program."
Sophomore Hannah Foley took a second-place award for "Best News Feature Story" for a radio broadcast about a sophomore with cerebral palsy who hosts a radio show. Junior Brendan Burris came won a third-place honor for "Best Sportstalk Program" for an interview he did with Deb Kaufman, the current anchor/reporter for the New York Devils' home and road games on MSG Plus and the MSG Network.
Staples Principal John Dodig said WWPT's first-place overall finish is a concrete example of one of his top priorities -- that Staples be a "a comprehensive high school."
For many students in the in the radio program, he said, "these courses and these programs are as important to them as chemistry is to a kid who wants to be a research chemist." Dodig said it's easy for people to snipe about cutting programs during budget season and argue that math is more important than radio production, "but that's not true for some of these kids."
"Look at DJ Sixsmith. He's taking over the Fordham University radio program," Dodig said. A freshman normally doesn't get a chance to broadcast games for the college, but Sixsmith's decision to expand beyond football and other more visible sports at Staples, and try girls' volleyball, has enabled him to call the sport for Fordham's station.
Honeycutt said opportunities at WWPT and the Staples television network give students "the tools of media to create at a young age." He added there are about 400 high schools in the nation that are fortunate enough to have a student-run radio station. Approximately 150 submitted entries to the John High School Radio Awards.
Students involved in WWPT are not required to take a course but there is one available. If they do take it, they have a better foundation for being an on-air DJ, Zito said, because they will have a better understanding of music history and radio history, and also learn to edit audio clips.
While some students, such as Sixsmith, have their sights set on becoming a broadcaster or a music DJ, some get involved in the station for the fun of it. Burris hasn't decided on a professional path, but said it's "good that we have all these options to explore." In addition to his radio work, he is vice president of the school's investment club. Foley is a little more sure about her future career path -- broadcast journalism. She is also on the morning news program on TV sets throughout Staples every Tuesday.
Heading back from Illinois on a plane Saturday, Foley got a taste of what may be in store. The captain, informed of her win by her brother, acknowledged her award to passengers and called her a "famous journalist." A short time later, not wanting anyone to feel slighted, she asked a stewardess to announce the names of the rest of the Staples winners onboard.
Honeycutt said he and Zito let the students choose the content of their radio programs. As a result, the station "goes in the direction of the kids who are involved in it."
"It's an amorphic thing," he said, "and that's how it should be. It allows the kids to connect with their interests and their passion."