In my job, I come across a lot of radio that I love. It’s not that all youth radio stories are lovable (or authentic and real, as they’re sometimes romanticized), but that these stories can offer something a little closer to the bone. Unbound by convention, occasionally clunky, experimenting with voice – this is radio with promise.
And so, dear reader, an excruciatingly-difficult-to-winnow-down list of some of my favorite youth radio pieces (as of, you know, today):
1. Dressy Girls from Lena Eckert-Erdheim of Youth Noise Network/ SpiritHouse Inc. “What are you wearing, and why?” Lena, in an old tie-dyed t-shirt and black, dog-haired covered corduroys, interviews the girls at the Other Table: the ones who have put a lot of thought and time into short skirts and matching tops. Skanks, self-esteem, fashion. Contains the disturbing line, “You want other girls to feel inferior to you to make them jealous so they’ll be your friend…”
2. What We Wish We Could Tell Our Parents…., Curie Youth Radio – the awesome (yet now disbanded) group out of Curie High School in Chicago had a rare gift for mixing simple vox pops, good writing and brute honesty. The results were audio gems, alternate universes in which teens spoke honestly about what really went down. Really.
3. Oakland Scenes, In 2002, Youth Radio wanted to report on the high homicide rate in Oakland without vilifying the people or the neighborhoods where the shootings were taking place. The response is a nuanced mix of poetry, interviews, and story (also, dare you not to get “standing at the bus stop, suckin’ on a lollipop” stuck in your head).
4. Glasnost, Alla Pekareva of outLoud Radio. Endearing, funny, dry, playful with bits of fantasy mixed in – Alla’s story of coming out to her immigrant parents is disarmingly moving (she even gets them to re-enact the scene).
5. If These Walls Could Talk, Incarcerated Youth Speak Out, Susan Stone. “If these walls could talk, they would tell you how insane and sick these walls drive us. If these walls could talk, they would tell you I’m not innocent, but I am…sorry.” 20 short poems from youth incarcerated at San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center.
6. Perceptions Shattered, African American Masculinity, from Chicago Public Radio, National Black Programming Consortium and PRX. 7 engaging pieces hold down this hour-long special, a complicated portrait of what it means “to cope, thrive and survive” as a young Black man in America.
7. Homelessness: It Could Happen to Anyone, Even My Dad , Iris SanGiovanni of Blunt Youth Radio. Less a down-and-out story than a lesson in humbled gratitude: “Honestly Iris? It’s not over. I think a lot of people are not that far from homeless, and I try to remember that. I don’t for one minute think it couldn’t be me, tomorrow.”
8. Legal Emancipation, Jordan Teklay and Melissa Allison, Radio Rookies. Many of us harbor teenage dreams of freeing ourselves from our parents, but Jordan Teklay actually did it. Leaving behind his mother in California after a legal emancipation, Jordan headed east to NYC where, thankfully for all of us, he found his way to WNYC’s Radio Rookies.
9. Lunchroom, from Third Grade Radio. At the vanguard of radio’s future, Chicago teacher David Green makes audio magic with his young students. Here, third grader Evan describes “one of the funniest and coolest days of my whole life.” Oh blue sports drink, how much happiness you bring.
All of these pieces have been compiled into a neat and tidy playlist which you can listen to here.
Playlists are good. Youth radio is good.
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