Mike Sammartano and Evan Madin

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: Podcast Goes Live From Mamaroneck High School

March 03, 2019 - 4:00 pm
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MAMARONECK, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — How many high school students can say they’ve helped to create a podcast?

The answer is: not many. But, at Mamaroneck High School, one group of journalism students has done just that.

Taking after the public radio organization NPR, the students launched Mamaroneck Public Radio in January 2019 with the help of Evan Madin, who teaches journalism and English at the high school.

“I think that this medium is developing so fast now that the kids want something that's not only authentic but real and audio is exploding with the advent of iTunes and the iPhone, but also this new medium of sound is very exciting to students,” he tells WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “There's something about sound that's very human, that kids love, and they love to capture it and edit it and then talk about it and dissected it.”

Rumors of the demise of radio have been greatly exaggerated for decades, and this week’s Stories from Main Street, Adams tells us: the internet didn't kill radio, it actually provided a new platform for audio content.

Now, it seems as if there’s a podcast for everything, and to those who are new to the world of podcasts, it can be daunting.

But, to ease students into the world of sound, Madin told them to listen to as many as possible.

“They came in and said, ‘I've never had an experience like that before,’” he says.

One thing was clear to Madin: He wanted his students to engage in serious journalism and to explore beyond the parochial concerns within their school walls.

So, he decided to take them out of their comfort zone on a four-day trip to West Virginia last November, where he tasked them with interviewing local residents and investigating story topics of their choice.

“Initially, West Virginia seems just as foreign as I had imagined. I knew I was in New York anymore. The streets were relatively quiet, the chain shops and restaurants seemed low on activity,” one student said.

Their research would later spark MPR’s first podcast, “The Discourse.”

“When they got to school, they did some more reading and found themselves having a lot of deep conversations about pretty much every topic you could imagine around the region. Some students gravitated towards the politics of the region others towards issues like the opioid crisis, obesity, health issues, education, coal and energy issues, poverty,” explained technology coach Mike Sammartano.

He believes their trip to West Virginia provided so much more than just a lesson in how to be a reporter.

"One of the greatest takeaways that they had from this experience: the ability to see people suffering and empathize with them and feel for them and to get over the initial fear and be able to just hear them,” Sammartano said.

But before the stories could be told, the students needed to learn the basics, including interviewing skills, story telling and the digital aspects of audio editing. Not the mention, the students would need a space to record.

Two seniors assembled a studio right in the high school, in what used to be a faculty bathroom.

They covered the walls floor to ceiling with black foam soundproofing, installed an interview table, microphones and recording equipment, all while another group of students headed out of New York to begin their projects.

Talking with Adams, one student explained her in-depth look at racism in the judicial system and here experience with interviewing a local judge who served in an area that’s often labeled as “hillbilly country.”

Another tells Adams that he looked at the differences between the culture he grew to know in Westchester County in comparison to the rural towns of West Virginia.

He says that with a background in video, the most important thing he learned was using his words to “paint the picture for the audience.”

“It was really eye opening. I know that's like a pretty generic term, but just being outside of the large bubble that I live in was definitely like a great experience because someone my age doesn't really get to spend a lot of time outside, you know, the town that they live in and seeing how other kids and other people live with definitely really interesting,” he said.

And Madin isn’t done yet, he has a lot planned for his podcast course.

“Chappaqua schools just contacted us and asked us similarly they want to build their own studio and they asked us what the process was like and we're thrilled— I mean, imagine if we created a consortium of Westchester schools that do podcasts, then I think we were on to something really interesting for kids,” Madin said. “Imagine if our students provided the news, like people depended on us— that, to me, is the most authentic thing I think we can do for these kids.”