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Youth Radio wins a Peabody Award

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Friday March 29, 2002

Youth Radio is aglow. 

A day after learning they had won the prestigious Peabody Award, staff and students at the Berkeley-based, youth-run media outlet were still excited in Thursday interviews with the Daily Planet. 

“I am very proud to be part of the organization,” said Gerald “Whiz” Ward II, a program assistant at Youth Radio who started as a student intern in the mid-90s.  

The George Foster Peabody Awards, doled out every year since 1940 by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, typically go to big-name organizations. This year’s list of 34 winners, chosen from more than 1,100 entries, includes ABC News, National Public Radio, HBO and CNN.  

The awards, selected by a national advisory board of professors, media critics and others, generally recognize specific shows or news productions. NPR, for instance, won an award for its Sept. 11 coverage. 

But the Youth Radio award recognizes the entire organization, which provides high school students in the area with media training and internships, and produces shows and commentaries for National Public Radio, KQED and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others. 

“What’s really exciting about this for us is it includes everything Youth Radio does,” said Ellin O’Leary, executive producer and president of the non-profit organization. 


Youth Radio, O’Leary said, does more than just turn out radio shows and news stories. It builds technical skills and self-confidence, she said, while broadening young people’s horizons. 

Staff echoed O’Leary. Ward said the organization, which targets low-income youth, provides young people with an after-school alternative. 

Jaime Talley, internship and college bound counselor for Youth Radio, added that the organization allows young people to tell their own stories, in their own ways, to a national audience. 

This broader mission is reflected in the Peabody citation, which recognizes Youth Radio “for activities enabling thousands of teenagers to express their views, to experience civic engagement and to develop critical thinking skills, teamwork and self-esteem.” 

Rynell Williams, a Youth Radio alumnus who is now a DJ for “The Dog House,” a highly-rated Top 40 radio show on KWLD in San Francisco, said the program was vital in his success. 

“Without Youth Radio, I wouldn’t be here doing radio right now,” Williams said in a phone interview. “I was speechless about the Peabody Award. I feel that it was long overdue.” 

Surmiche Vaughn, a senior at Berkeley High School who has an engineering internship at Youth Radio, also had high praise for the organization. 

“It’s gotten me more focused on career goals, majors and college,” she said. 

O’Leary said she hopes the attention from the Peabody Award might help Youth Radio in its quest for new space. The organization currently has space in two buildings owned by Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy, one at 2461 Shattuck Street and another at 1809 University Avenue. 

Kennedy plans to demolish the Shattuck building in 6 months and create a new structure, and the University Avenue lease runs out in October. O’Leary said the organization is seeking a new, large space, preferably in Berkeley, that will house the entire organization under one roof. But, she has concerns about cost and availability of space in the city. 

Kennedy, who has provided Youth Radio with the Shattuck space at low cost, said the organization is a “gem,” and that he would like to create a new mixed-use development downtown, similar to his Gaia building on Allston Street, with space for Youth Radio. 

Kennedy said he is eyeing a couple of downtown properties, but has no specific plans in the works.