KMIH FM, the Mercer Island High School radio station, began its third year broadcasting live boys and girls basketball games last night, Dec. 3. This year, the station will broadcast both home and away basketball games. Also this year, the station began broadcasting Mercer Island home football and girls soccer games.
Radio broadcasting teacher and KMIH station manager Charlie Hilen has seen KMIH FM grow over his three years at MIHS, both through broadcast and in the classroom. Hilen, who began teaching at Mercer Island in Sept. 2011, started with one student enrolled in the radio broadcasting class. Hilen, who hopes to broadcast away games for football and girls soccer next year, said radio broadcasting offers students a glimpse into the real world.
“It’s pretty cool we can offer a unique program like this with real world experience,” Hilen said. “It’s not what it’s like; you’re actually doing it. I like the term ‘real world,’ real application, real class. Here’s how it is in the real world.”
KMIH broadcasts from a master control room and two production rooms at Mercer Island High School. The station broadcasts commercial-free in Seattle at 88.9 FM and 94.5 FM and streams online at www.hotjamz.org. Hilen said the station’s broadcast runs anywhere on Lake Washington, from Tukwila to Kenmore, as far east as Lake Sammamish, and all the way out past West Seattle. It is listener-supported, student-run and on-air 24/7. Students do the production, music selection and scheduling.
“We’ve had emails from all over,” Hilen said. “A grandma emailed me thanking me for doing this. Her grandson played basketball, and she never watched him play. Now she can tune in live and hear her grandson play basketball.”
Radio broadcast is a Career Technical Education (CTE) class, which is a graduation requirement. Hilen said his class covers all the basic concepts of radio, including audio production basics, history, engineering basics, public affairs projects, as well as learning about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While all radio broadcasting students get to be on the air, Hilen said students go through checkpoints and levels before being able to broadcast live. With three audio recording rooms in the back of the classroom, students start out recording their on-air spots, making sure everything is correct. Advanced students work on day-to-day operations, working to make sure the broadcast runs smoothly. Some advanced students are allowed to do one-hour specialty shows on Sundays. Students also have to come up with a promotional event they must promote by creating flyers, a 30-second radio spot and social media posts.
“When students leave the course, they’ll have a portfolio of on-air work and different production work. They could use that as a resume,” Hilen said, adding he’s had students go off to work for CBS and Sandusky radio.
Hilen said KMIH FM sticks with a Top 40 format to maintain a business-like approach toward the station, allowing students to look at chart trends to see what works and what doesn’t.
But KMIH FM does more than sports and music. If a disaster should occur, the city of Mercer Island encourages residents to listen to KMIH for emergency information. The station assists with the city’s emergency management, meaning it is set up to broadcast during the event of adverse weather. Backed up on a generating system, the station never goes off the air. Announcements for delays and school cancellations are pre-recorded by students and can be sent remotely via the internet.
While Hilen said he’s looking forward to getting mix shows going again with guest DJs, the focus for what’s next for KMIH FM will be toward raising money for the station to update equipment. KMIH FM is a non-commercial educational (NCE) radio station which relies on listener support. And even though overseeing the station broadcasting sports sometimes requires long nights, Hilen said there’s no place he’d rather be.
“I love what I do and I’m teaching my dream job,” Hilen said.
To find broadcast schedules and listen online, visit www.hotjamz.org.