Not everyone knows that in the early days of Newport New Public Schools' Telecommunications program, classes in both television and radio broadcasting were offered. TV production has endured for 30 years, but the radio program was canceled after five, despite student success stories.
Molly Cochran, known better in those days as WWDE radio personality Molly Brooks, was the radio instructor when the Telecommunications Center opened during the 1986-87 school year. She was part of 2WD's Beach Patrol and later Dick Lamb's "Breakfast Bunch."
Cochran currently is a guidance counselor at Point Option, NNPS's school for non-traditional high school students.
One of the students in Telecom's first radio class was Lawrence Brown III, better known as "Kool DJ Law" on WOWI (103 Jamz) in Norfolk. He and Chris "Big B" Belcher were the legendary "Boodah Brothers," whose rap and hip-hop show was immensely popular for years. Brown graduated from Denbigh High School and the Telecommunications program in 1988. He was active in the community, raising awareness about AIDS and homelessness, and helped at local schools. Law passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 40.
The first semester she was radio instructor, Cochran had to create a curriculum that could be taught in a regular classroom, since the radio studio at Telecom was still under construction.
"I came on board in 1987 to write and teach the radio broadcasting program," Cochran said. With the studio incomplete, "my kids learned broadcast history, how to write for broadcast, the psychology behind commercial messages, how to splice tape to do manual edits," she said. "There was no computer editing back then," she added.
"Finally, the studio was completed and they learned how to DJ," said Cochran.
"One of the students in my class that first year was Lawrence Brown, better remembered as 'DJ Law' on 103 Jamz, one half of the 'Boodah Brothers,'" she remembered.
"Sadly, Law passed away suddenly in 2010. His show was the number-one rated morning radio show in the market for several years," she said.
In the late 1980s, the schools' radio station was known informally as WDFM, which stood for Warwick/Denbigh/Ferguson/Menchville, the city's four high schools. The call letters could not be official, though, because an AM station in Frederick, Maryland, already had them. And NNPS' station was slated to become part of public radio station WHRO's second radio frequency, anyway.
The partnership with WHRO came about because in 1986, both the school system and WHRO applied to the Federal Communications Commission for stations - NNPS at 90.1 and WHRO (for its second station) at the 90.3 frequency. NNPS hoped to create a regional high school radio station.
The signals would have interfered with each other, so WHRO tried to get NNPS to withdraw its application. But then-Superintendent Donald Bruno and the school system did not want to give up, and worked out a compromise with WHRO in 1987. WHRO was to give students about 20 hours of live air time each week on the new public station.
"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a continuing series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.
But years went by before WHRO launched its second station, WHRV, at 89.5 FM (WHRO took the 90.3 spot). When they did go on air, NNPS made sure they remembered the agreement with the schools.
The Hampton Roads Regional High School Broadcast Partnership provided for a daily student-run program on WHRV and was to allow students from across the region, not just Newport News, to participate. Only York County and Chesapeake had student-run stations at the time.
The partnership was to include airing performances by student music groups around the region. The students would have more opportunities for internships and learning about the radio broadcasting industry, too.
In 1991, the radio production class had 22 students enrolled, and the plan finally came to fruition. "Open Lines," a show the students hoped would raise community awareness of educational issues, started airing. It was broadcast Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m., so the Telecom students had to produce a program for live broadcast each school day.
WHRO-FM and WHRV-FM are owned and operated by Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc., which is a consortium of local public school divisions including Newport News. They are the only public media stations nationwide to be so owned.
The call sign WHRO (TV and radio) stands for "Home Room One."
Before the radio show, the students could only broadcast audio on NNPS-TV, the school system's public access television station (Channel 36 at the time). Those slots were very limited.
The "Open Lines" show featured music, news, and information and features from area school systems. It combined live segments and previously recorded features.
For "hard" news, the station used the AP wire service. The teletype machine printed out news stories and the students would "scissor through" them. They would literally cut out the stories they wanted to use for their newscast and then cut them down to the length they needed. "Rip and read" was the term used for getting stories from the wire because sometimes it was read on the news as soon as it came out of the machine.
According to Paul Cummings, who was the first Supervisor of Telecom, the radio program was discontinued after five years (two years of broadcasting on WHRO) because there just weren't enough jobs for the students coming out of the program.
"We had a mismatch," Cummings said. "There were not enough career opportunities."
"We had great kids and some had great careers," he said, "but very few could actually go into radio and stay. It's a cut-throat business."
Former instructor Cochran said of the Telecommunications program at NNPS, "It’s a great program that has propelled some terrific kids into successful and rewarding careers in media. I’m proud to have been there in the early days!"