How the Valley’s Youth DJs are Connecting the Community
Just as the Crystal River is a vital tributary that flows into the Roaring Fork River, the content provided by the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP) is a small but indispensable source of rapid information and entertainment that feeds into the waves of Carbondale’s well-known nonprofit radio station, KDNK. The substance is like water that nourishes, and the programs themselves are akin to bridges, which connect. Combined, the broadcasted material is the intangible means by which the bonds of a community are built and strengthened so that youth can be heard despite not being seen, music can be a common language, and where you live can be secondary in importance to how you live and what you value.
The AZYEP is a valuable program created by Annemarie Zanca, who wanted to honor her brother’s memory, as well as support other precocious local children. According to Zanca, a Roaring Fork School District counselor, her brother Andy stopped by KDNK one afternoon in 1985 and asked about working as an 8-year-old DJ. The station manager, Missy Bowen, gave him the chance. For the next 13 years, until he died in 1998 at age 21, Andy was given a place where, as his sister says, “He could shine. There were adults who cared about him.” In 2000, Zanca was approached by former KDNK Program Director Skip Naft about founding a youth radio program. Zanca explains, “Something clicked. Radio had been good for Andy, and I wanted to capture the kids’ voices. I wanted them to talk about what they cared about.” With the support of friends and mentors, Zanca was able to found the AZYEP.
Now in its 17th year, AZYEP Co-Director Beth Wysong shares, “I think putting kids on the radio can only happen with the support of KDNK.” Gavin Dahl, station manager at KDNK, feels it’s a mutually beneficial situation: “It’s amazing to me how even adults without children love the AZYEP shows. For local people, they remember hearing the kids and almost watching them grow up.” Dahl adds that he views the AZYEP as an opportunity to plant seeds, and “till the soil for the future of radio.” One of those seeds is Finn Windmueller, aka DJ Finno, a 12-year-old student at Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle. As a third-year DJ, he is glad to have a safe place to express himself through music, even occasionally playing songs in his native language: German.
While only a handful of listeners speak German, many more are bilingual in English and Spanish. Having a radio program that broadcasts in a variety of languages creates an atmosphere of mutual respect. Zanca shares that “It very much furthers KDNK’s mission of community access for everyone.” Wysong points out that Latino DJs tell their parents about the AZYEP, which “allows their parents to find out about KDNK and listen to it.” Glenwood Springs High School student Maija Petterson, a fourth-year AZYEP DJ and recent peer mentor, comments: “I’ve seen that students of different backgrounds can grow to respect each other through music.” A radio program like the AZYEP, supported by KDNK, makes this growth possible.
KDNK also makes it feasible for people from anywhere in the valley to have a constant stream of uninterrupted news and music. Dahl points out, “We want to reflect Carbondale, but we do think regionally.” Listeners call KDNK to find out about weather conditions, ask about local activities, or report a missing pet. Youth DJs respond to these calls, as well as produce their own news shows.
These and other aspects of the AZYEP make it unique not only locally, but nationally. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) recognized this by inviting Dahl and Wysong to share details about the AZYEP during the annual NFCB conference in Denver last month. According to NFCB Membership Program Director Ernesto Aguilar, “Involving young people is, in many ways, all about letting your principles of community involvement and quality programming shine. How you foster new connections in your area and enrich the ones you have can help you usher in the next generation of community radio leaders and makers.”
It is the Roaring Fork Valley community’s willingness to make these new connections that will allow many local youth to become the next generation of informed and engaged citizens. To find out more about the AZYEP programming, or to help it thrive, visit AZYEP.org and learn about its role as a truly unique community viaduct.