North Texas high school students in spotlight on High School Radio Day

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — There is a good chance you remember crossing several milestones in high school, some more important than others.

Perhaps you caught a game-winning touchdown for the varsity football team. Driving a car for the first time – legally – might come to mind.

Your list of memories might be as long as it is uniquely yours, but a small number of high school students in the Mesquite Independent School District are forging some truly unique memories that could end up making an immediate impact on their short-term future.

In the coming months or years, their voices could end up coming straight out of the speakers of your car or device one morning or afternoon as you head down IH-35. Or perhaps you will hear their voice during an automated message as you wait on hold. Or maybe they are delivering a public message for a local politician, company or agency.

Welcome to KEOM 88.5 FM and HD1, a non-commercial radio station that serves as an early introduction to the world of broadcasting for a select number of students who may not have expected such an opportunity well before ever setting foot on a university campus.

Mesquite Independent School District – Lilith Swint front, Raykwon Morrison back

‘’I was introduced to KEOM my freshman year, meaning I joined my sophomore year,’’ said Lilith Swint, now a senior at Mesquite High School, ‘’Through KEOM and other outside factors, it really drove me towards wanting a career in broadcasting and news.’’

Swint is an example of how a given student who sees the ‘On Air’ light come on when opening the mic also envisions a clear image of her future. For other students, it may not be a career in radio broadcasting that they are looking for. After all, a mic is used for more than just radio broadcasts. One can probably see how an aspiring vocalist needing direction could find KEOM useful in another way.

‘’One day I want to become an artist, and I lacked confidence in talking on the mic,’’ said Mesquite High School senior Raykwon Morrison, who is now in his third year in the program. ‘’That’s why I joined KEOM so I could get behind the mic first and gain some confidence from that.’’

Morrison says his experience on the air as a student broadcaster has helped him to express himself in class more effectively, which is something he says he struggled with not long ago.

In fact, the newborn confidence factor seems to be a dynamic that has spread all the way to the top at KEOM.

‘’The funny thing is that people who knew me in high school would know that I was very shy,’’ said Station Manager Shondra Tharp, who is in her first year running the station. ‘’Everytime they talk to me and they know that I now manage the radio station, it is so surprising to them.’’

On the other hand, some of those in charge of developing students at the five high schools in the district know exactly why they are there.

Mesquite Independent School District – KEOM Studio

‘’My passion is radio, my purpose is radio,’’ said instructor Keturah Hill, who concedes she had a stuttering problem as a child, but eventually found that reading copy at a church radio station was a virtual cure for that issue. ‘’It’s not work for me. I love what I do and sometimes my husband has to text me, ‘Hey it’s seven o’clock and school let out at four.’’ Hill says she is excited to bring voice acting into the picture during her first year as an instructor.

Every radio station has its own history, and KEOM continues to add to its legacy while having gone through many changes over the years. Original Station Director Dr. James Griffin reflects on the early days for the station, which signed on for the first time in 1984.

‘’In that summer, after I was chosen, I had a lot of studying to do,’’ said Dr. Griffin. ‘’I had to figure out what kind of station, what kind of music, how were we going to get jingles, how were we going to get news, how were we going to cover sports.’’

Those answers came one by one, KEOM starting off at 88.3 on the FM dial at a signal strength of 3,000 watts, which was plenty to blanket the Mesquite area. But KEOM soon began to explore opportunities to increase its power while also improving its technological foundation.

By the early 1990s, KEOM moved up the dial to its current frequency of 88.5 FM and boosted its signal strength to 61,000 watts. The station also replaced reel-to-reel music service with compact discs offering a wide array of adult contemporary music. A final touch was a new communications tower reaching a height of 415 feet, which dwarfed the previous tower standing 250 feet in the southern endzone of Mesquite Memorial Stadium.

Less than a decade later, KEOM advanced with the times while adding its first digital automation system, which fell along the same path the commercial radio industry was following at the time.

Mesquite Independent School District – Dr. James Griffin

Beyond setting the stage for young broadcasters within Mesquite ISD, KEOM offers a steady stream of local high school sports coverage that is unrivaled by any commercial radio stations in the 5th largest radio-television market in the United States. Broadcasters Steve Glenn and Ed Johnson have paired up to deliver more than 2,000 sports broadcasts, including high school football, baseball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, girls’ softball and girls’ volleyball.

The station also has a history of covering local events outside the studio, including a remote broadcast booth at the State Fair of Texas for several years in the 1990s.

April 26, 2023 is High School Radio Day across the state of Texas and beyond, and the well-established program at KEOM offers a rare example of how some lucky students can get a jump-start in this particular industry while also having time to decide how exactly they want to utilize their on-air experience in the future.

KEOM is gearing up for its 40th anniversary next year, and Dr. Griffin sums up the station’s past and future.

‘’Our goal from the beginning was to serve the schools, the students and the community in a special way that other radio stations could not. We were going to focus on Mesquite community service,’’ said Dr. Griffin. ‘’We really had a unique concept coming from the administration on what we should be doing, and we just tried to build all of those aspects.’’

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