12-year-old DJs take to airwaves

At night and on the weekend, their station broadcasts an eclectic mix.

Published May 27, 2007

Lots of people have a radio in the bedroom, but one Clearwater boy has his own radio station.

On a recent weekend afternoon, a dozen boys and girls, all around 12, gathered in Adam Baker's stuffy bedroom, a single ceiling fan whirring above them. Two kids swiveled on chairs. The others talked into the microphone.

All the radio gear -- a mixer, a microphone, a few radios and other electronics -- was balanced on a desk underneath Adam Baker's bunk bed. Outside, there was a 30-foot metal antenna.

Most of the kids attend Largo Middle School, but despite their age, they have an uncanny appreciation for the cadence of radio. They simulate the small talk of on-air personalities, albeit with more sincerity and less profanity. Even the weather is read with vigor.

"We're probably the only kid radio station," Kade Ballogg said with pride.

For this distinction, the kids can thank Adam's dad, 40-year-old Rodger Baker.

Three decades ago, Baker wanted his own station, but the best he could do was an AM radio kit that barely broadcast beyond the living room.

Two Christmases ago, Baker, a communications maintenance technician for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, decided to surprise his two sons by assembling a low-power station in the house. The overall start-up cost was $2,500.

Unofficially dubbed 96.7 WKIDS, the station's signal has a mile radius, carrying along S Highland Avenue as far north as Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater and as far south as Rosery Road in Largo.

The station broadcasts an eclectic mix from classical and hip-hop to country western and "Weird Al" Yankovic. During the school day it's silent. But weeknights and all through the weekend, as many as a dozen kids from the neighborhood take turns as disc jockeys.

The scene at the Baker house is both cutting-edge and quaint. Baker's radio station is part of the vaunted democratization of the airwaves, but it is also a throwback to an era before iTunes, myspace.com and the blogosphere -- a time when radio was king of entertainment.

The programming is sometimes a work in progress. Minneapolis becomes "monopoly" in one news story. Shouting and giggles break out in the room. A cell phone goes off. "Oh. Hi, mom." One kid slaps another. Still, the overall scene is impressive.

"It inspires other kids that they can take action and do whatever they want," said Summer West.

Many of the kids come over just to hang out with friends, but others say they want to go into radio as a profession. Adam badly wants a license from the Federal Communications Commission so that the station can turn up the juice on its broadcasts. But that will have to wait.

The power level is a source of constant concern for Rodger Baker. His nightmare, he said, is accidentally going over the legal limit and getting busted. But if he wanted to -- and this would involve breaking the law -- he could turn up the power on his 30-foot antenna and broadcast throughout Pinellas County.

Baker has buzz-cut brown hair and a slight sunburn. He used to run a DJ company that played birthdays, graduations and school dances, but he was always too shy to do the actual disc jockeying, so he just handled the technical side of the show.

He hopes the station will teach the kids to overcome their shyness and, in the process, improve their reading. Reading into the ether is scarier than reading in front of a classroom: Anyone could be listening, everyone could be listening -- unless, of course, no one is listening, which is always a possibility with this small station.

Even as the kids depend on Rodger Baker's guidance, they are already pushing him to learn more. The pint-sized DJs want to stream online. They want their show to go worldwide.

"That would be something I'd love to do," Baker said. "I just can't find anybody who knows how to do it and teach the kids."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

By the numbers
30 feet
Height of the antenna the kids use to broadcast
1 mile Radius the station reaches from the south Clearwater home.
96.7-FM Where you can tune in if you're in the neighborhood