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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Free Form Radio & The Dutch (Dear Katie V3 #7)

Dear Katie,

When you hear a DJ on a radio station introduce a song, he/she probably did not select it to be played.  A station manager typically selects the songs in the rotation for the day and some DJ's are nothing more than talking heads who stick to the script leading you from one song to the next.

Things are different for my high school friend Rich Russo, one of the few free-form DJ's on the air in the New York market.  On Sunday nights, Anything, Anything with Rich Russo, comes on to the airwaves (on stations listed below).  He can play any songs he chooses. In between, he shares his views on events of the day, memories evoked by certain songs, history behind the songs, etc.  His comments are his own, the playlists are his own.  Sometimes he will play a song with certain word or theme, songs in honor of people's birthdays, and even pulls out songs like William Shatner's (Captain Kirk) spoken word performance of Elton John's Rocket Man  or Pebbles and Bamm Bamm singing Let the Sun Shine in.  He also introduces his listeners to new artists.  And somehow always works in plugs for one of his sponsors,  Sixpoint Beer.  You will not be hearing his playlist on Top 40 stations.

It's all very eclectic in a world that seeks more and more to be standardized.

He doesn't build a audience of casual listeners, but loyal listeners who are drawn into his show because they appreciate the passion he brings every week.  When you listen to the show, you don't know what to expect.  You turn to his show because you have come to know him and have built a "relationship" with him though his banter.  By the wide variety of music he plays, you come to appreciate his extensive knowledge of music. While on one side you have the comfort of listening to a "friend", you also have an anticipation of not knowing what to expect from him from week to week, but you listen because you have grown to trust him.

What can a free-form radio host teach us about education?

My assistant principal, Brad Currie, arranged for a group of Dutch educators to come our middle school a few weeks ago.  It was great to talk even for a few minutes (wish it was longer) with Dutch teachers and education professors about educational pedagogy and philosophy.  One professor asked me if I came up with my own lesson plans.  I said yes.  She said that wasn't the case in the Netherlands.  We discussed the pros and cons to scripted lessons (One pro was that the instructor did not necessarily need a lot of background knowledge when working off a scripted lesson, where she felt in our method that I must have a strong background knowledge in my subject, history, to make it work).

The biggest con to the scripted lesson for me was that it does not allow the teacher to display their passion for the topic.  When a teacher is passionate both in delivery and content, the student is drawn into the world that is being discussed (much like how the free-form DJ draws his/her listeners into the  music they are playing and discussing).

When the teacher has freedom to make the class memorable,
The students will remember the lessons learned.

The Dutch education professor agreed that freedom for the teacher is more engaging for the student (and shouldn't that be the goal?).  However, there is a push in some districts, even in some states, that every teacher teach the same thing, the same way, to every student.  Some educational bureaucrat making the decision without ever stepping into a classroom to understand both the students or the teacher.  A classroom of students and teachers is a social creature, not an industrial machine.  The push and pull of levers in one classroom will not necessarily work in another.  Any other belief dehumanizes both teacher and students.

Can we truly say we value diversity if every day in every classroom in America
students are learning the same thing the same way?

The educators who I respect, the ones that I have learned from the most, are "Free-Form educators" who don't depend upon textbooks and workbooks for how they instruct the class, but take those ideas and reshape them to make the lessons their own in a creative and imaginative way.  I also think students respect and learn the most from those "Free-Form educators" as well.

Uncle Kevin


Anything, Anything with Rich Russo can be heard on WXRP 107.1 "The Peak" at 9PM and WDHA 105.5 from 11PM-1AM on stations for us in northern NJ. He can also be heard down the Jersey shore on "WRAT" 95.9, Springfield, MA on "The Lazer" 99.3, and in Washington D.C. area "The Gamut" 820AM and 103.5 WTOP

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