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Youth Radio Snares Reporting Honors

Friday August 15, 2003

Berkeley-based Youth Radio scored yet another journalistic triumph when the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) awarded the innovative program its Salute to Excellence honors for a radio documentary examining the violent culture created by the high murder rate in Oakland as seen through a teenager’s eyes. 

Youth Radio offers young people from around the Bay Area the chance to learn about radio broadcasting and then put their perspectives on the airwaves on KPFA, KQED, and National Public Radio. The NABJ award went to a collaborative piece entitled “Welcome to My World.” 

Gerald “Whiz” Ward II, Youth Radio’s broadcast training director, said that, as with many Youth Radio broadcasts, the program aimed to offer listeners a unique perspective on a newsworthy event. 

“There was always a lot of press coverage about all the murders going on in East Oakland,” Ward said. “As a group of young people, our kids wanted to show what it’s like for a kid that lives there, how kids are affected by the violence.” 

To provide that perspective, Ward interviewed Youth Radio student and East Oakland resident Bianca Yarborough and her mother. In the resulting piece, Yarborough chronicles her difficulties maintaining a normal life in the face of the violence in her town and neighborhood. 

“Even with all the murders and things in their minds, kids are still expected to wake up and go to school every day,” Ward said. “They need to maintain normal relationships, but they are often scared.”  

Making the honor doubly sweet was the fact that the “Welcome to My World” segment was created and produced primarily by students, many of whom were entry-level Youth Radio students at the time. 

Ward said that the idea for the piece came from the students in a beginning news reporting class roundtable discussion of important issues in their own lives. Yarborough herself was also a member of that beginners’ class. 

“The students really did this as their own project,” said Youth Radio development director Erin Callahan. “We’re proud of the award because it recognizes just one of the great things that talented kids are producing.” 

The NABJ awards committee cited the new spin Youth Radio took on everyday news as a major factor in their selection of “Welcome to My World” for the award. 

The Salute to Excellence, which usually goes to professional media outlets, aims to recognize programming that has taken an innovative approach to a story or explored it in more detail than most other news outlets would have done. 

“A program like Youth Radio winning the radio award is extremely appropriate,” said awards coordinator Warner Williams. “They are not the mainstream media, and that gives them a lot of freedom. They took a risk with the piece, and it paid off.” 

The Salute to Excellence award was presented to Ward at the NABJ’s conference in Dallas last week. Yarborough was unable to attend the conference because she was involved in preparations for beginning college fall. 

“It was an honor to be there,” Ward said. “It was an impressive assembly of great journalists. I was just really excited that they would recognize our work.” 

The NABJ award came close on the heels of the last in a long list of accolades presented to Youth Radio. The New York Festivals honored the program for excellence in communications media earlier this year, and Youth Radio staffers have won the prestigious DuPont and Peabody Awards in recent years.  

The parade of National honors has earned increased visibility for the program in Berkeley and around the Bay Area, and that, in turn, has helped the station grow and expand its ties with the community. 

Just last month, the station opened Airwaves Café, a weekend hangout for teenagers next to the Youth Radio office at 1801 University Ave. The café serves food and drinks and uses program students to DJ or perform music and poetry in a “safe space” for teens. 

Open from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the cafe is expected to grow as it gains popularity. Any proceeds from the café go directly into the main Youth Radio fund, which helps the station provide training to its students for no cost. 

“It should help,” Ward said. “It’s great because it provides a hangout space for teenagers, allows our students to practice their skills, and is good for Youth Radio on a whole. It’s a good addition.”