In a classroom at the end of a hallway at Linton Public School, Roy Orbison is singing “Oh, Pretty Woman” while Justin Moore belts out “Backwoods.” To the music, students move in and out of doors marked “KLHS,” “KLPS” and “Production.” There is energy in the room.

Jay Schmaltz stands at his desk, orchestrating the activity. His classroom is headquarters for KLHS and KLPS, the only two high school student-led radio stations in North Dakota and anywhere between Salt Lake City and Eau Claire, Wis. 

In operation since February of 2017, the school’s radio classes are the brainchild of Schmaltz, a 40-year radio veteran. The goal of this unique program is to get kids back to the basics of communication.

“I’ll say a million times over, this class is about getting kids away from their cell phones, away from texting friends, and realizing that you have to interact with people once you get out in life,” he explained emphatically. “My kids know how to talk to people, they know how to do an interview, they know how to conduct an interview, they know how to be cordial, they know how to act on the street, because we do live broadcasting. This is what it’s about: being life ready.”

With a crew of seven students at the microphones, the stations broadcast 24 hours a day, year-round. With call letters that stand for “Linton High School,” KLHS-AM 1620 sends out a low-watt signal from the school within a three-mile radius (depending upon the terrain) of Linton, a southcentral North Dakota town of about 1,000 people.

Students broadcast Oldies music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, along with local news, weather and sports. They operate the console board, conduct interviews, write stories and ad copy, sell advertising and conduct marketing including prize giveaways. (Listeners can also hear online at klhslintonhigh.com or through BEK Communications’ TV cable channel 22.)

When setting up the music format of the station, Schmaltz admits that was his idea. “I’m an Oldies guy, so it was an easy choice for me.” But with increased student interest in “Radio 1” in a high school of 80 students, he said they needed something more.

The original intent of the broadcast program, he explained, was to offer students two years of radio experience and two years of online TV. “But what happened is the students talked me out of it. They said, ‘Why don’t we just keep going?’” So, the idea of a second station was born and the students decided themselves on the hot new country format for the school’s newest station: KLPS “Outlaw Country – Your Most Wanted Country.” (The station’s call letters stand for “Linton Public School.”)

Although a strictly online radio station at klhslintonhigh.com/klps, KLPS might not have hit the airwaves without a much-needed sponsorship from Farmers Union Insurance that allowed the school to construct a dedicated studio. In return, listeners hear KLPS being broadcast from the “Farmers Union Insurance studio” as part of a five-year naming agreement.

“Words cannot express how much this means to my students and myself and mostly this program and the service it offers the community,” said Schmaltz, who had students pitch the naming rights agreement to Ressler in a formal presentation.

“I was very impressed with the students and curriculum,” said Ressler. “It’s a unique learning opportunity and one we’re proud to support.”

Support has come in other ways from Schmaltz’s radio peers. Warren Abrahamson of i3G Media has given the students a tour of their Jamestown stations, recorded a “how to” video on news reporting, and is setting up a system for students to record public service announcements and possibly ads.

“We’re happy to help them get a taste of radio life,” said Abrahamson, i3G’s news director, “and to give the kids outside experience.”

Those experiences are paying off for students and it shows in the quality of their broadcasts. Last school year, they earned five golden microphones at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) conference in New York City. Their first time participating, Schmaltz submitted just six entries in 80 categories. Of the more than 3,000 nominations that were submitted, Linton High School was a winner or finalist in four categories and earned a fifth golden microphone as a runner-up for Best High School Radio Faculty Adviser.

“That was an award my kids put me up for, so it means a lot,” said Schmaltz. “But there were only four finalist nominees for Best High School Radio Station in the nation and we were one of the four!” What’s most remarkable, Schmaltz says, is two of the three other finalists have been on the air for over 40 years.

Schmaltz, who always hoped the program would be where it is today when he pitched the idea to the school’s superintendent three years ago, said expanding KLHS’s reach is next on his list. “I’d like a real radio station, I mean a real frequency. It’s expensive and it’s time-consuming to get a frequency here, but that’s what I would like to see. A real low-power FM frequency, 5,000 watts, where we cover a 60-mile radius.”

A lot has happened in just three years for Schmaltz and his radio proteges. He shares a note from a former student, now in college, who wrote him, “Of all the classes I took in high school … what I learned in radio broadcasting class was the most important thing I’ve learned so far in my life.”

“I’m very proud of this program,” said Schmaltz, tucking the note back in his desk. “I’m very proud of the kids and the distance that they’ve all come – what they’ve done and what’s left to do.”

— Pam Musland, NDFU