A truck load of donated radio and television broadcast equipment is stacked on the floor of the classroom of Tara High School classroom of teacher Joseph “Jay” Redmond.
Between now and the start of school on Aug. 10, Redmond and a handful of Tara teachers and outside volunteers plan to assemble what they hope will be a multimedia center unlike anything else in the area.
Redmond made the trip in late June to Lincoln University in southern Pennsylvania to drive it back to Baton Rouge in a rental truck.
The analog radio equipment has been repaired by an engineer with XM Radio, Redmond said, and once assembled is ready for students to start using. By the middle of September, Redmond hopes to be streaming the station online.
By next spring, the plan is have a student-run TV station operating, he said.
That’s just the beginning. The idea is to recreate — Redmond calls it “back to the future” — the media program the radio and TV broadcasting capability the high school had in the 1970s and up to the mid-1980s.
“It was designed to be the media magnet for the parish when it was opened in 1970,” Redmond said.
Walking around Tara High School on Friday, Redmond climbed a small metal circular staircase to the rear of the school auditorium. There at the top is the radio broadcasting booth. It’s now empty, except for some cracked sound boards and a small insignia with the old call letters of the station, WLEU.
Redmond said he hopes that within a couple of years, perhaps earlier, Tara’s radio station can broadcast once again as a low-power FM station, like WHYR-96.9, a community radio station that recently went on the air. Such stations have a range of about 10 miles, he said. The school would construct a small tower atop the gym, just as it once had years ago, he said.
Also, some part of the school, perhaps his classroom will be renovated for the television station, he said.
All of this effort will cost money. The high school is planning to raise money this school year with a target of about $175,000.
“We’re crawling right now,” Redmond said. “$175,000 will help us walk.”
Tara High Principal Luanne Estess has big goals for the project.
“Our goal is to create a full range student media center at Tara High School. Putting the radio station on the air is just the first step in the process,” Estess said. “When it is all said and done, we intend to have a student-run TV operation and a computer platform that mimics the functions of Newsy.com.”
Newsy.com is a multimedia student-run news service and training program that has a partnership with the University of Missouri.
Redmond said he saw Newsy.com in action a summer program he attended last year at the University of Missouri and came away impressed.
A social studies teacher and adviser to Tara’s student newspaper, Redmond said students change when they get involved in media and broadcasting.
“They develop their written and oral skills,” he said. “Kids come out of their shells. They become more creative.”
The donation of the radio equipment came from a contact Redmond made at that summer program. There he met Ashley Sims, media manager at Lincoln University. That university was upgrading its student radio station to digital and was looking for somewhere to donate its old analog equipment, Redmond said.
Redmond said he still needs two to three broadcast-caliber cameras and is hoping to find another station that’s upgrading to digital.
Three Tara teachers are currently interns learning about film production at a summer camp at local film studio Celtic Media Centre, a camp led by producer Aaron Williams.
Williams has also volunteered to help Redmond assemble Tara’s TV studio.
Plans are also in the works to have classes for the technical side of media and broadcasting, jobs such as grips, electricians, “everything functional on a movie set.”
“We’re trying to work out a program to where these kids when they graduate from here, when they are not going to college, they have a union card and can work on a set,” Redmond said.