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On-air outlet for teens

Tampa Bay's Hype Radio on WMNF-FM invites listeners to debate issues that are important to teenagers.

By JANET ZINK
Published March 29, 2005


[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
DJ LowDown, a 27-year-old construction worker whose real name is Michael Eubanks, helps fill the Saturday night airwaves with Tampa Bay's Hype Radio.

TAMPA - The radio show about teen sex that aired just before Valentine's Day prompted the most calls.

Teenagers revealed that although they shy away from intercourse, oral sex is an acceptable activity.

Parents phoned in to say they were horrified by the comments. They weren't sure what bothered them more - knowing their kids might have intercourse or knowing they might have oral sex instead.

It was a good show that sparked intelligent dialogue among teens and parents, said Sunny the Brown Fox, co-host o f Tampa Bay's Hype Radio , which airs from 9 to 11 p.m. Saturdays on WMNF-FM 88.5.

Sunny, a 19-year-old whose real name is Jennifer Neil, is one of the newest volunteer voices to hit the radio waves on WMNF, a community radio station that recently moved into expanded digs on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

During the opening minutes of her second show Jan. 29, Sunny made it clear what the program is all about.

"Teenagers are definitely what's up," said Sunny, who lives in New Tampa. "Every week we're going to have a different topic of discussion called the War of the Words. You guys are going to get to call in and voice your opinions. Who knows? You might just change the world. All it takes is one person."

So far, topics have included the Ybor City teen curfew, cutting class and school attendance, the pitfalls of being smart, joining the military vs. going to college and standardized testing.

On the curfew, a city ordinance that bans anyone under 18 from Ybor after 11 p.m., Sunny had this to say: "There's a teen club down there. For teens. They should be able to go where they're allowed. I don't see why the kids can't go down there."

Her co-host, DJ LowDown, who lives near the University of South Florida, saw it differently. Some of the kids in Ybor are way too young to be around drinking and partying adults, he said.

"I've seen young kids out there. I see sisters bringing their little brothers, and little brothers bringing their little brothers," he said.

Most of the two-hour show is devoted to music and on-air interviews with local artists.

DJ LowDown, a 27-year-old construction worker whose real name is Michael Eubanks, plays music by artists heard on commercial hip-hop stations - Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, Ludacris. But he often picks tracks not heard on mainstream radio, including by local artists.

LowDown came to Tampa from New York City three years ago to spin records in the Ybor City club scene.

He met Sunny just three days before their first show together after a mutual friend suggested they might work well together.

Sunny, who works as a receptionist near Rocky Point, started in radio two years ago while volunteering at a station in Fayetteville, N.C., for a high school project.

After graduation, she followed a boyfriend to Tampa and got a job as a research assistant at WLLD-FM 98.7

Her job included going to local hip-hop clubs and parties. She later became a promotions assistant and cruised Tampa streets in the station's bright green X-Terra.

After earning a certificate in radio and television broadcast from a Tampa technical school, she took a job as a board operator at WFLZ-FM 93.3.

But Sunny had other aspirations.

She wanted to be the voice on the air. She went to WFLZ and WLLD, but they turned her down.

Then she talked to WMNF program director Randy Wynne. He was intrigued.

The station was in the middle of some program changes, which it does every two years. He offered Sunny the Saturday night spot, but he wanted her to do more than just music.

He wanted Sunny to bring up issues and send out positive messages.

"We didn't want a show appealing to the lowest common denominator, the worst elements, like Bubba the Love Sponge," Wynne said.

Sunny, a former member of her high school debate team, jumped on the idea and launched the War of the Words segment of the show during the first broadcast Jan. 22.

Sunny is WMNF's youngest DJ. Many of the station volunteers started when they were in their late teens but now are in their 30s and 40s. The median age of WMNF's listeners has held at 47, Wynne said.

Sunny's program might bring in a new pool of supporters, he said.

"We've always been open to the idea of bringing in younger listeners, but we were looking for viable proposals," Wynne said.

Normally, volunteer DJs go through a training process and spend time with longtime program hosts. Sunny was able to jump right in.

"She has good skills, good values, a good head on her shoulders," Wynne said. "So far, we're happy with the show."

Ten weeks after introducing the program, WMNF held its annual on-air fundraising drive. Tampa Bay's Hype Radio got more than 30 calls from supporters pledging a total of $710, which was $10 more than the show's goal.

It was a modest goal given that some programs aim to raise several thousand dollars. But it was a start.

Eventually, the station hopes to apply for grants to provide training for teens affiliated with the show. The money might be used to pay for a trainer or to buy equipment for teens to use and collect sound from the community.

It's something the station has done before, but Sunny's program offers a better avenue for it, Wynne said.

Sunny has her own plans for Tampa Bay's Hype Radio . She wants to create a street team of 16- to 19-year-olds to distribute fliers and bumper stickers promoting the show. She also wants the show to sponsor teen nights at clubs, bowling alleys and skating rinks.

Those types of events would provide a safe, positive place for teens to have fun and, possibly, change the skewed image some adults have of teens.

"They think they're only looking for trouble," Sunny said.

Kids don't get enough credit, she said. Most are hard working and deep thinking. She wants her program to highlight that.

"It's important to listen to teens," she said. "They're the future."

--Janet Zink can be reached at 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 09:26:49]


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