PENDLETON — When Emily Harless and Clair Goodwin requested their own radio show on Pendleton Heights High School’s 91.7 WEEM-FM, general manager Chris Green thought their format was a natural fit.
Because of their chemistry, the best friends are among a rare number of female-only drive-time duos in the nation, whether professional or amateur.
“These two are a unique part of the station and radio in general,” said the station’s general manager and student advisor, Chris Green. “These kids down here are the cream of the crop that we have.”
They are among 80 students at Pendleton Heights High School participating in 91.7 WEEM-FM, the school’s award-winning, student- run radio station. Partially supported by South Madison Community Schools Corp. and partially supported by donors and sponsors, it is one of 24 run by high schools in the state.
The station and its students have been named finalists for 30 national awards, including a third consecutive finalist nod as the National High School Radio Station of the Year by the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, a victory it achieved in the 2015-16 school year.
“We have strong on-air talent. Our sports coverage is phenomenal. It’s nationally recognized,” Green said.
One of the 1200-watt station’s strengths, he said, its uniquely local nature, drawing WEEMers, as the fans are called, from Fishers to the southern edge of Muncie.
“From a community standpoint, it’s been the only radio station in Pendleton and serving south Madison County,” he said. “When you tune in to a lot of stations, they’re not here. They’re in Pittsburgh. You know when they say the name of a street. They’re getting farther and farther away from servicing the local community.”
With its Top 40 format, 91.7 WEEM-FM, which has been around since 1971, relies on some automation and pre-recorded programming by students, Green said.
Participation is invitation-only after completing an introductory class. Whether on air or behind the scenes, students must apply for their positions, he said.
“We treat this just like we treat a job experience for them,” he said.
For those who are interested, he said, the station provides a strong pipeline to college and professional radio work, Green said. Graduates have gone on to work for the popular nationally syndicated Indianapolisbased morning drive-time program The Bob and Tom Show, ESPN and national recording artists, Green said.
For those who aren’t interested in radio careers, the skills learned at the station, such as public speaking, social media and brand management, are transferable to other careers.
For instance, neither Harless, Goodwin nor Jackson Keesling, promotions director for the station, anticipate careers in broadcasting.
Harless, 17, who has been in the radio program for three years, said she wants to help others by becoming an emergency room physician. Still, she hopes to minor in broadcasting in college at Indiana University-Bloomington or IUPUI.
Being on the radio, she said, has prepared her for communicating with the public and her eventual patients.
“It’s definitely helped with public speaking and confidence. Being on the air is not for the faint of heart,” she said. “I used to have problems taking criticism.”
As a senior, Harless also serves as a mentor to younger students in the program.
“We do a lot of Twitter polls, so we can see how they feel and what they want us to do,” she said.
Goodwin also expects to enter the medical field as a nurse, after attending either Purdue University or Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I feel like it definitely helps being comfortable talking to different levels of people, like adults vs. students,” she said. Though he has been accepted into the journalism program at Butler University, Jackson said he’s also unlikely to pursue that career. Instead, he hopes to become a veterinarian and work with exotic animals.
“Eventually, I would like to run something, my own business,” he said.
In his fourth year in the radio program, Keesling has been nominated in every promotional category nationally and won four awards last year.
“I expected to come in and be a big sports announcer. In the end, I’ve gravitated behind the scenes and been a different kind of leader,” he said.
But his time at 91.7 WEEM-FM left him with something even more valuable, Keesling said.
“I definitely made a family out of it. I’ve made friends for a lifetime.”