Two years ago, Palo Alto High School's radio station, KPLY, had a humble beginning as a student-run club that presented a smattering of talk radio programs. Today, Paly Radio is a fully-fledged academic course as well as a 24/7 Internet radio station that features school and local news, topical podcasts and entertainment programs as well as a wide array of music, ranging from "Inside Lands" -- a show dedicated to indie rock -- to a jazz program dubbed "Cotton Club."
Paly teacher Paul Hoeprich has worked in television broadcasting since his college days, including NBC's affiliate television station in Phoenix, KPNX. Last year, Paly Radio club members asked him to become their academic adviser; the club combined space with Hoeprich's television broadcasting class to become an actual course.
"(The students) were like, 'Hey you know about broadcasting stuff, can you be our teacher?' and I was like 'I don't know -- this is only my second year here and I have so many things to figure out -- but I can try!'" Hoeprich said.
Over the past year, the broadcast instructor has helped the students "find their radio voices." Recently, his focus has been to help students add pizzazz to their on-air delivery while learning how to use upgraded software and databases. Paly Radio students became interested in a wider variety of musical genres after Hoeprich encouraged them to research each music request they received and mention a fun fact with the introduction of each new song they aired.
"I find that they're very good at the journalistic, NPR kind of stuff," Hoeprich said. "It's been really fun to educate them about music and pop culture and give them a wider view."
Esme Ablaza, a senior at Palo Alto High School, started out as a writer for the school's Verde Magazine before becoming its co-editor-in-chief. Driven by her passion for storytelling and reporting, Ablaza and her peers co-founded Paly Radio as their own platform to discuss topics facing today's youth. Ablaza currently serves as programming director for the radio station, keeping fellow students on top of their deadlines and assisting with the structure of each radio show.
Her primary focus, Ablaza said, has been to uncover topics that her peers may not be aware of.
"It's not so much that people don't have voices; it's that we need to divert our attention ... and listen to their voices," Ablaza said. "They already have a voice, but maybe the community isn't listening to it."
If she could interview any popular writer today, Ablaza said she would pick Tavi Gevinson who has given a voice to teenage girls since the 2008 via her online magazine, Rookie. Recently, Ablaza met Gevinson at a book signing and felt she'd met a kindred spirit.
"I'm just really inspired by what she does," Ablaza said. "She started a publication when she was in high school and she's continued it. I just think she's really cool. She's a voice for teenage girls, but not in a fluffy way. When she was interviewing, there was definitely an element of awkwardness that was totally relatable! It was really funny and I (haven't) seen anyone else who is in the public eye who is able to represent teenage girls in that way or produce content in the way she does."
High school senior and co-station manager Maya Kandell currently balances her time between Paly Radio and her job as co-editor-in-chief of C Magazine: Palo Alto High School's entertainment and culture publication. She and her peers began learning about radio operations with a little help from Stanford University. The experience has kept her interested in the craft of radio journalism -- especially as she selects a college.
"We started by going through Stanford's Community Station, KZSU," Kandell explained. "We got air cleared there, so we did a series of classes on Thursday nights. We (learned) about the FCC, what's appropriate for the radio and how to use the equipment. It was very inspiring, because Stanford's radio station is so cool. It's like this underground basement ... and it looks like nothing's changed there for decades. Every time I do a college visit now, I go see their radio station."
Kandell said enjoys her work with Paly Radio in part because the process there is less formal than at the school's print publications. That informality gives her a bit more freedom to express herself, she explained. In her radio show, "The Paly Underground," Kandell aims to introduce listeners to lesser-known topics. Among her recent projects was a Breakfast Club-inspired piece about Saturday School, a topic she said she had wanted to cover since her sophomore year.
Ablaza and Kandell both referenced Ira Glass, the producer and host of NPR's "This American Life," as their muse, noting that his style of presenting a wide range of topics from funny to serious keeps them engaged in the program. At Paly Radio, they hope to intrigue their listeners in the same way.
Above all, organizers said, their biggest goal is to keep the station running so future students will have a platform for discussion.
"I hope that we can just get it to stay alive after we graduate," Ablaza said. "This is one of the most important things that I've done in my high school experience, and it's definitely shaped (what) I want to do in terms of a career (and) in college. It's important that we leave it in a place where it can be continued."