School Radio Station Marks 30th Anniversary
A high school student's idea 30 years ago to create a campus radio station in a teacher's small office closet has grown after three decades into an internet broadcasting program providing music, sports, and public affairs programming for The Wheeler School community and others in Rhode Island.
Wheeler radio traces its roots to 1984 when student (now State of RI attorney) John E. Corrigan (’87) proposed the creation of a school radio station through Wheeler’s Aerie Program (a department for academic enrichment at the School). The station was started with the support and encouragement of Wheeler teacher Mark Harris and a Headmaster’s Grant of $1,500 in “seed money” from then Wheeler Head William C. Prescott, Jr. The station was initially launched in 1986 when it broadcast from a studio at the School to Providence and North Providence over the facilities of Dimension Cable Television. The operation was then known as WELR and was programmed exclusively by Wheeler students.
Corrigan continued to develop and expand the station after high school graduation, applying to the Federal Communications Commission for a permit to build a 150 watt non-commercial, educational FM station on 88.1 FM (the last available FM frequency licensed to Providence). The permit was granted in 1992, and Wheeler took to the air in December of 1994 with WELH, broadcasting from a transmitter at the Wheeler School Farm Campus in Seekonk, Massachusetts. In the years since, Wheeler programmed WELH with a mix of its own students and select partnerships with other area schools and organizations, including Latino Public Radio, Rhode Island College and Brown University.
Today, the station operates at 4,000 watts following a power increase granted by the FCC and the construction of a new transmitting facility at the Farm. The station is managed by a full time broadcast professional, David Schiano, who has been involved since the station signed on as WELH.
As a result of having this campus asset, Wheeler students have been able to take elective and activity courses in both Middle and Upper School in Radio Broadcast Journalism and Radio Production to learn the mechanics of preparing and presenting radio and public affairs programming. Among the graduates of Wheeler who have gone on to a professional career in radio is Rob Pirraglia ’01, who broadcasts today for Michigan's Cumulus Media as Robby Bridges, and who as a 10-year-old, was one of the youngest Rhode Island area radio interns at WWBB-FM, B101, for nearly seven years.
In addition, Wheeler students have produced community affairs documentaries such as interviews with Sergei Khrushchev, son of Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Burmese activist Ma Thida and teen Afghan author and landmine victim Farah Ahmedi. Public Service Announcements are written and recorded for Spanish-language listeners by honors Spanish students while fourth graders record skits about protecting the Earth.
Current station director David Schiano said, "As we celebrate the 30th anniversary in 2016, Wheeler School Broadcasting (wheelerschoolbroadcasting.org) is the school’s new multimedia website which incorporates live radio, live video and archived Wheeler events. As we move into a multimedia world, the focus of our program has turned to offering Wheeler on-demand content, available on any device, worldwide. As we continue to enhance the unique Aerie program that WELR/WELH started at Wheeler in the late 80's, Wheeler School Broadcasting now captures the same spirit and students are able to create, record, edit and produce content that is available for all to see. This program is so very unique at the grade-school level, and has become a staple of Aerie and of the Wheeler community at large, serving that same community with NPR programming on WELH FM, and now globally showcasing our amazing students on wheelerschoolbroadcasting.org."