On any given Saturday at radio station KKCR 91.9 FM, teenage disc jockeys spin a blend of music that defies category. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Kaua‘i’s community radio station boasts the only show of this kind on the island — a teenagers-only format where students between the ages of 14 and 17 have the freedom to express their musical views over the airwaves.
Ninth-grade Kula High School student Ian Clarke first volunteered at the station to fulfill 20 hours of required community service for school — that was over a year ago.
“I already fulfilled it, but I love it so I’m still here,” he said.
Clark spends most of his Saturday afternoons at the station. He arrived early today to answer phones for the spring membership drive that began April 22 and will culminate at noon Sunday.
Clarke’s river of blond hair cascades over a black Dead Kennedy’s T-shirt — head phones barely containing his locks. When he’s at the mic you might hear “Frizzle Fry” by Primus or “Be Free” by Loggins and Messina. But this afternoon, Clarke is on a stool opposite Kula junior Wyatt Miles, who’s the official DJ on duty. Miles lubes the airwaves with a lush Cuban percussive mix by A Lo Cubano, and between sets Clarke makes a pitch to listeners encouraging them to become members.
Clarke revels in the freedom that accompanies commercial-free radio.
“We play what we want,” he said. “It’s not like commercial radio where you have to play off a list.”
The teen radio program that started nearly 10 years ago has given dozens of middle and high school students their first crack at a career in broadcasting. On average KKCR’s operations director Dove Liddle has six teenagers at the station every Saturday — two on the air and four being trained on the board in an adjacent room. The board is where students learn to mix music and operate the equipment.
Though the membership drive has attracted more then the usual posse of teens — phones ring with pledges and three more students transcribe information onto pink sheets scattered across a card table wedged into the corner.
What began for many of the teens as a school requirement quickly bloomed into a love affair with broadcasting.
“They don’t just DJ — they learn how to read all the equipment,” said Liddle. “Basically, they learn how the whole radio station runs.”
The teens also receive training on the Emergency Alert System.
“The EAS is what alerts us to flash floods and tsunami,” said Liddle, who has been at the station for over nine years.
Liddle sees the big picture when it comes to the teen radio program.
“Radio has so many other possibilities,” he said. “Some kids leave here and can immediately get involved in college radio.”
Veteran of the teen program, Kapa’a High School senior Tommy Patch, joined the station four years ago.
“My counselor Dane had me come up for a fund drive,” he said.
Patch got on the air that first day — which is one of the perks for teenagers. Adults are required to devote 20 to 30 hours volunteering before donning the mantle of disc jockey.
While some teen DJs prepare a play list for their time slot, Patch said he likes the freedom of improvisation.
“I tried to use a play list at first,” he said. “Now I just play what my heart tells me to.”
Patch, who writes and performs his own music, described his taste as “spiritual and conscious hip hop.” Recently he collaborated and recorded a song with renowned Kaua‘i waterman Titus Kinimaka. He attributes his musical connections to having spent time at KKCR.
“Being here helped get me in touch with other artists,” he said. “Music is my passion and I may as well express my passion to my community.”
Not only do the teens learn about the technical side of the business, but on a more subtle and equally important vein, they develop self-confidence and a healthy dose of censorship. Patch said he learned one lesson the hard way during a live interview.
“I had a guy start talking about hashish,” he said. “Now I do all my interviews prerecorded.”
Another avenue fraught with surprise is in song lyrics.
“I know where the swear words are and fade them out,” Patch said.
There is always the risk of offending someone. Patch admits to his share of what he called “hate callers.”
“The first time it happened I lost it over the air,” he said. “You don’t want to do that.”
Four years later, this soon-to-be Kapa’a High School graduate doesn’t let himself get rattled.
“I know what I am and I know what I stand for,” he said.
The second hour of the show featured Kula sophomore Marcus Rose who informed his listeners that, “This is not a fund drive — this is a membership drive where you can vote in the upcoming election for the station’s board of directors.”
Rose is a no-holds-barred free-speech junkie.
“I play music that is solely for artistic satisfaction,” he said.
Spinning favorite tunes aside, Liddle marvels at the way these teenagers will pursue an interview for their show.
“They’ve gotten more people in to interview than most adults,” he said. “They just call the press agents.”
To name a few notables: actor Jack Black interviewed while on Kaua‘i filming “Tropical Thunder”; songwriter Citizen Cope; and acoustic rock artist, Jason Mraz.
“As adults we’re hesitant,” said Liddle. “They aren’t intimidated by anything — they get the contact and go for it.”
Liddle’s next aspiration for his youth is to teach them how to report the news.
“I’m trying to get them out there with a recorder to interview people,” he said. “I want them to do more community service.”
Liddle encourages parents of teens to get their kids involved in the Saturday program.
“I see kids come in kind of shy,” he said. “Then see their self-esteem grow — some of the teen DJ’s receive fan mail from the Mainland,” he said.
To learn more about the teen radio program, call 826-7774.
• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or firstname.lastname@example.org