When school closed in March, radio production teacher Geno Heiter wondered how he could keep WWPT-FM on the air.
The answer was right in his basement. The longtime musician had plenty of equipment there. His students were used to broadcasting remotely, for sports.
In a matter of days, 90.3 was back on the air.
Heiter oversees every show from his Milford “control room.” They take place during regular class time, and in afternoons and evenings too. Students — er, the on-air talent — see each other via Google Hangouts. They plan their general talk, sports talk and music shows that way, communicating and improvising and entertaining in real time. If you didn’t know it, you’d think they were all hanging out together at 70 North Avenue.
Behind the scenes — virtually — as the staff collaborates on a WWPT-FM broadcast.
And make no mistake: These teenagers are good. They’ve snagged guests like Monday Night Football and Olympics sportscaster Mike Tirico, and New York Knicks and ESPN announcer Mike Breen.
Tomorrow (Friday, May 8, 7:30 p.m.) they’ll chat with Stephen A. Smith, host of ESPN’s “First Take.”
“I get the ball rolling. They run with it,” Heiter says modestly.
In his first year as Staples principal, Stafford Thomas has earned high grades for his quick understanding of the school, his warm and upbeat manner, and his care and concern for all students.
When he was hired last summer, he never imagined one task would be overseeing distance learning.
Today — with schools closed at least through March 31 due to the coronavirus — the Westport district begins “distance learning.” It means different things for different grade levels.
There are bound to be questions. Administrators in the central office and each building have been communicating with students and parents about what it all means. It is still — as it is nationally — a work in progress.
Staples students have a better idea now though, after a video from their principal.
He begins — as he often does on the announcements — with shout-outs to students. Then he explains what distance learning is, and why it’s important. He ends with some tips on staying healthy (teenage style).
Click below to see how Westport’s high school students are beginning a difficult — but important — part of their educational journey.
(Hat tip to Staples media teacher Geno Heiter, who produced the video. It’s part of “70 North,” the high school’s great media platform. Click here for many other videos.)
With a soft launch last week, the site — named for the school’s physical address — became a clever, irreverent, YouTube-like destination for 1,900 students, scores of staff and faculty members, and anyone else in the world who wants to know what’s going on at that active, creative and very fertile campus.
It’s a work in progress. But what a work it is.
70 North marks the next step in the evolution of television. And whether that TV is based in a high school or broadcasts nationally doesn’t really matter, says media teacher Geno Heiter.
What counts is content. “70 North” has plenty of it. Sports, features, upcoming events, guidance and college news, humor, poetry, reviews, music department concerts, artwork — you name, it will find its way onto the site.
For over a decade, the school was served by “Good Morning Staples.” Devised by former instructors Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito, and filmed, edited and hosted by students, the show aired 3 times a week, at 8:25 a.m. Every class watched — supposedly — an intriguing mélange of interviews, announcements, sports highlights and more.
It was fun, entertaining — and static.
The television landscape has changed a lot since “Good Morning Staples” marked a fresh way of providing information. Americans — particularly teenagers — no longer sit on a couch and watch a show at a predetermined time.
TV today is all about streaming. People watch on their terms, their schedule — and their devices.
70 North is television for the smartphone age.
A poster for one of the many episodes available from “70 North.”
Just as viewers no longer have to gather around a big screen, creators no longer lug around big (or even moderate-sized) cameras. Great video can be shot on phones everyone carries.
Thanks to TikTok, Snapchat and many other apps, students are used to telling visual stories. They have a different way of telling those stories too, than even people just a few years older.
“70 North” allows them to do just that. Yet it’s hard to describe, and still evolving.
Heiter says, “It’s a platform. It’s whatever they want it to be.”
Sam Gold — a crazily creative senior, and one of the driving forces behind 70 North — calls it “School updates that don’t suck.”
Max Dorsey, shooting a “70 North” show.
Heiter likens “70 North” to Netflix. “You choose what you want, from a lot of options. It’s not one video that’s forced on you.”
But it’s not the Wild West of the web. It’s still a schoolwide communication tool. It uses server space provided by the district. And it’s as educational as it is entertaining.
Geno Heiter (left) and Sam Gold, with “70 North” on the laptop.
Heiter says he’s still “teaching skills, teaching technical ability, teaching how to use sophisticated equipment, how to cover stories, how to engage and build an audience.”
But he’s doing it in a way that meets students — those who create 70 North, and those who watch it — exactly where they are.
Which, these days, is in front of a device. Not a TV screen. Accessible any time, anywhere, by anyone.
Once again, Staples High School is at the forefront.
Just as it will be in 2029, when a new, not-yet-invented form of communication supplants “70 North.”
You don’t have to be a Staples student to love WWPT.
Plenty of folks in Fairfield County with no connection to the high school tune into the station — 90.3 FM — for news, sports, music, even dramatic readings.
It was one of the first high school radio stations in the country.
Now the John Drury High School Radio Awards confirm: It’s also the best.
For the 2nd year in a row.
Yesterday at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, “Wrecker Radio” walked off with the top prize: Best High School Radio Station.
But that’s not all.
Individual staff members won for:
Best News Feature Story (November 11, 2018: Jack Gersh, Cameron Manna)
Best Sports Play-by-Play (Basketball final, Trumbull vs. Darien: Greg Settos, Jake Gersh)
Best Sportstalk Program (Open Season – 2.o “The Return”: Jake Thaw, Nick, Kornfeld
Best Sportscast (A Sports Update: Greg Settos)
Best PSA (Don’t Text and Drive: Ben Gross)
The entire station also won Best Radio Drama – Adaptation for “A Christmas Carol – Act 1 of 2.”
WWPT-FM members who attended yesterday’s national awards ceremony in Illinois (from left): Brad Cox, Greg Settos, Reilly Caldwell, Jake Gersh, Cameron Manna and adviser Geno Heiter. (Photo/Jack Caldwell)
Those were not the only nominees from Staples. Others included Greg Settos for Best Newscast; Brad Cox for Best News Feature Story; Reilly Caldwell and Settos for Best Promo; Seettos and Lefty Penderakis, Jack Borowsky and Mark Didio, and Jake Gersh and Cameron Manna, Best Sportstalk Program (3 separate nominations); Art Shapiro and Settos, and Brad Cox, Best Sports Play-by-Play (2 separate nominations); Ethan Frank, plus Cox, Zach Iannacone, Will Rosenthal, Tim Luciano for Best Public Affairs Program (2 separate nominations); Jake Gersh and Isabella Siskind (Best PSA, 2 separate nominations); Gersh, Siskind, Dylan Mace, Dan Chu, Oscar Hachter, Jack Noble, Ben Howard and Matt Hirschler (Best Radio Drama – Original).
Congratulations to all, and of course adviser Geno Heiter.
There are 12 categories in the John Drury High School Radio Awards.
Staples’ WWPT-FM was nominated in 7 of them — sometimes more than once.
Yesterday — at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois — they won 1st place in every category they were nominated for. The teenagers (and advisor Geno Heiter) snagged a total of 12 awards, in news, sports and public affairs.
Including the big one: Best High School Station in the Country.
The winners! WWPT-FM faculty advisor Geno Heiter is in shades and a beard, at right.
Congratulations to these Staples students — the next generation of radio stars:
Best Newscast: Cooper Boardman, Channing Smith (“WWPT News Update”) Best Public Affairs Program: Jackson Valente, Jarod Ferguson (“A Better Chance ‘Social Justice’) Best Radio Drama Adaptation: Staples Players and Audio Production classes, with support from WWPT (“Dracula”) Best Sports Play-by-Play: Cooper Boardman, Jack Caldwell (Football — Staples vs. Darien) Best Sportscast: Buster Scher (“Knicks — Past 2 Seasons”) Best Sportstalk Program: Cooper Boardman and Jack Caldwell (Staples Field Hockey State Championship Show) Best High School Station: WWPT-FM
2nd Place Best Sports Play-by-Play: Cooper Boardman (Basketball — Staples vs. Danbury) Best Sportstalk Program: Jack Caldwell (Interview with NHL announcer Chuck Kaiton) Best Sportscast: Luck McManus, Hunter Duffy (NASCAR championship interview)
3rd Place Best Newscast: Zachary Halperin, Nieve Mahoney, Jack Moses (Politics — Election Reflection) Best Sportscast: George Goldstein, Sam Zaritsky (Fulmer Trade)
WWPT-FM faculty advisor Geno Heiter (left) and student broadcasters jump for joy after earning 12 John Drury Awards.
Also yesterday, Staples sophomores Nick Durkin, John McNab and Daniel Westphal, and freshman Nathan Wang won 5 awards — including 1st Place Overall — in the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s New England competition, in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
The quartet — competing as Team Curriodyssea, which is not affiliated with the high school — designed, built and programmed underwater remotely operated vehicles.
Team Curiodyssea members (from left) Daniel Westphal, Nathan Wang, John McNab and Nick Durkin.
Team Curriodyssea also won golds for Engineering Evaluation, Highest Score on the Underwater Challenges, Technical Report and Poster Display.
They advance to the international competition next month in Long Beach, California, where they’ll face 27 other teams from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
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