NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - For 46 years as a radio broadcaster, Eric Worden has viewed his job as a platform to bring people together.
The radio station, even in an age of Spotify and digital music, is a link to others, the “glue” that can draw a community closer, he said.
Worden’s three children are older, but when the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March, he couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it must be for students to lose their normal routine. That’s when he decided to start inviting them on air to help him DJ his morning show on Norfolk-based 93.7 BOB-FM.
“I wanted to find a way to interject some kind of positivity into their day,” Worden said. “Change the day to day from being inside the four walls to kind of getting outside, at least in your mind.”
Several dozen students have now stepped up as “junior BOB-casters,” usually to introduce the “9 @ 9” block: nine songs played back-to-back, all from the same year. There’s been so much demand from students to appear on the show that some days Worden does two segments.
The “9 @ 9” block is usually introduced with a history lesson about life in the year the songs were released. Worden writes a script that he sends to students, then has them call the studio so they can record it in advance. He interviews students about their lives and lets them give a shoutout to friends and teachers they miss and then they read the script. One of the best parts, he said, has been getting photos and videos from parents showing the child’s reaction when they hear their segment air on the radio.
News of the segment has spread through word of mouth and families hearing other students’ broadcasts. Others asked to participate after a friend did or a teacher encouraged them.
Lilly Banks, a Norfolk sixth-grader at the Ghent School, heard about it from her language arts teacher, Heidi Huber. Lilly got her chance at broadcasting last week, one day after her friend did it. Both her teacher and friend got a shoutout from Lilly, as did the Ghent School Fighting Suns.
“Thank Bob it’s Friday,” Lilly said to start the segment, before introducing the year: 1988.
With Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” playing in the background, Lilly shared George Bush’s win over Michael Dukakis, how NASA resumed the space shuttle program, how gas cost 91 cents and a movie ticket was just $3.50. Then Axl Rose took it away.
Lilly was most worried that she would cough during the recording, but she didn’t.
“You did it perfect,” Warden told her.
The last two months have been weird not seeing anyone, Lilly said, but at the same time it’s been nice to spend more time with her younger brother and sister. She gets to see her teachers and friends twice a week over video and can text with a few friends who have phones.
Lilly sat in her bedroom to listen when the segment aired, about a half-hour after she’d called Worden to record it. Elsewhere in the house, her brother listened from the dining room without pausing his Minecraft game.
“It was really cool,” Lilly said. “I was just glad I didn’t stutter too much.”
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