The author is an Inside Sales Representative for WideOrbit. He is based in the Dallas metro area.
When you tune in KEOM 88.5 FM out of Mesquite, Texas, a suburb just east of Dallas, you might be surprised to learn you’re listening to a high school radio station.
Blasting a strong, clear signal across the Dallas market and virtually ignoring the hip-hop, top 40 and alternative formats popular with teenagers, KEOM’s live student DJs throw down the biggest hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. In a typical hour, KEOM DJs might drop classic rock from Elton John, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, vintage R&B from Marvin Gaye or a Donna Summer disco epic.
The tunes come sandwiched between all the other features you would expect from a professional, highly staffed station. Students contribute local and state news reports, weather, traffic, community announcements and jingle IDs.
Operating under the tagline “Your Community Leader,” KEOM has become a favorite in Dallas’s ultra-competitive radio market. Its unique blend of upbeat nostalgic music has an instant appeal for parents, school district patrons and other adult listeners. KEOM’s “old school” format has made the station a popular pick among Dallas-area adults. In fact, the station was a MARCOM (International Competition for Marketing and Communications Professionals) award winner in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2011 and it has been a reader’s choice nominee for D Magazine’s “Best Radio Station” every year since 2012.
“It”s cool because it’s not the same genre all the time. It’s like they let the students go back in time and pick the genre,” said Jay Ross a Plano, Texas, business owner. ‘Anyone between the ages of 35-60 will get it.”
Bill Arnold of Dallas agrees. “I love that station. It’s on in my truck all the time.”
For 31 years, the Mesquite Independent School District has operated KEOM as an asset to serve the community while teaching local students about the broadcast business.
Kids who want to work at the station face stiff competition to secure a coveted spot in the KEOM student program. Applicants from the Mesquite Independent School District’s five high schools compete for 56 openings in the Advanced Journalism class, which is responsible for running the station.
Students first learn the basics like terminology, Federal Communications Commission rules, speaking skills, operating the broadcast console, editing/production and script writing. In the second year, the course becomes more in-depth. Peer leaders provide on-air training, music programming skills, advertising sales and traffic scheduling. Training in interview skills and news and feature production also includes coaching on ethical considerations and laws affecting broadcast journalism.
In addition to earning special credit, participating students can explore broadcast or engineering careers while working at the station. The course covers all kinds of radio duties including voice and on-air training, writing, researching, news reading, programming, production skills, ad sales and traffic.
On average, at least half of the participating students go on to pursue a higher education degree in broadcast media. This year, KEOM awarded five scholarships to deserving seniors who plan to major in journalism, radio/ TV in college. Funding for these scholarships come, from underwriting sponsorships of local sports broadcasts.
“Our students find this is an eye-opening experience. Most admit they never fully realized so much was going on in their own community and how much work is involved before they get to the fun part,” says General Manager and Programmer Peggy Brooks.
Kids who make it into the program don’t want to cut this class. “Good attendance is required. Generally students would rather be at the station than sitting in a classroom somewhere,” Brooks says.
When school is out of session, that doesn’t mean students disappear from station activities. Some top performers can work over summer vacation. In exchange, they get more on-the-air time and even earn a little money for their efforts.
TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT
Part of what makes KEOM’s high school staff sound so professional is the district’s dedication to staying current with broadcast technology. Brooks and her team value bringing students the latest in station tech because they want to make sure the studio experience is as professional as possible.
As a result, KEOM’s teen staffers receive hands-on training on state-of-the art equipment. Housed in the former school district headquarters facility, KEOM has five fully equipped studios. These include one main, one backup on air/ interview room and three production workstations. All of the studios run on Adobe Audition and WideOrbit’s WO Automation for Radio.
“We went with live assist WideOrbit’s WO Automation for Radio because we wanted to give a real world picture of radio,” continued Brooks. “And our kids love the touchscreen technology.”
Founded by former Mesquite ISD Superintendent Dr. Ralph Poteet, KEOM signed on the air Sept. 4, 1984 on 88.3 with 3,000 watts at 250 feet. The station moved to 88.5 in 1992 and increased power to 61,000 watts after completion of the 514-foot tower project at the city-owned stadium.
Throughout the years MISD Director of Technical Services Dennis Hevron has been heavily involved with the stations’ power increases, the landmark tower project, and most recently, the addition of HD Radio. Hevron is a 37-year district veteran with a staff of 65. He relies on Department Manager Clay Cottles and Andy Floyd to assist with station engineering.
MISD engineers, regional broadcast engineering contractor Broadcast Works and KEOM staff collaborated on recent rebuilds and upgrades in the studio environment. The equipment upgrades include a new 12-channel Wheatstone E1 console and integration with WO Automation for Radio for the on air studio, Comrex codecs for remote game broadcasts, and a Gentner SPH-3 Phone hybrid for caller audio. A new Wheatstone L-8 was added as the production console late last year. Lastly, KEOM’s on-air processing was upgraded to an AirAura X3.
“Transmitted from a unique tripod tower just 10 miles east of downtown Dallas, Mesquite’s student DJs can be heard loud and clear throughout most of the top 5 market.
The 514-foot KEOM tower with its unconventional lattice design was built in 1990 by the Landmark Tower Co. of Fort Worth, Texas. It also supports two 1,500-square foot “pods” that accommodate additional equipment for customers who lease space. Two or perhaps three of this specific design were built.
A set of Wheatstone blades operate over a dedicated fiber network that is part of the 53 miles of underground fiber owned by the Mesquite Independent School District. They connect the studio to the transmitter site, which is located just beyond the end zone of Mesquite Memorial Stadium, on the campus of rival West Mesquite High School. The communications center and tower complex houses a Nautel NV40 transmitter and associated broadcast equipment including a standby STL and a dedicated WideOrbit Automation system, which backs up the studio facility.
The tower acts as a virtual commercial for KEOM to the Mesquite school district’s football-hungry fans who pack the 19,400-seat stadium under the Friday night lights.
High atop the structure a remote video camera provides a bird’s eye view of the stadium. The camera can zoom on downtown Dallas to project the city skyline onto stadium’s large screen digital scoreboard.
In addition to being a great confidence booster, students working at KEOM pick up experience they might not fully appreciate until they graduate, start college or enter their chosen field. The professionalism of the facilities and on-air product prepares them well for continuing in the radio industry.
Students also get recognition throughout the community. It turns out that student DJs — just like more seasoned radio colleagues — never get tired of being greeted with “Hey, I heard you on the radio!”
To hear KEOM anywhere in the world, tune in to its live stream at http://www.keom.fm or check it out on your mobile via the TuneIn app.