Airing Things Out

Mount Pleasant High’s WMPH 91.7 puts students in the drive-time seat 

Dozens of Mount Pleasant High School students share their favorite songs and their most important concerns in an old-style but in-the-moment form: on the radio, specifically Super 91.7 WMPH.

About 50 students who take radio journalism classes or belong to the WMPH Radio Club are also learning about potential media careers.

“I love music so much, particularly classic rock,” said Vannah, a sophomore interviewed during a club meeting, pointing out her ELO T-shirt. “And I wanted to be part of the radio business.” She already has a weekly show named after the Traveling Wilburys.

“I thought it would be fun,” said Lucas, a freshman. “I wanted to share some of my favorites,” which for his “I Was Born in the Wrong Generation” show means songs more than 10 years old.

“I was curious,” said Nana, another freshman. “And I jump into things I’m curious about. It’s cool.”

Student are identified only with first names for WMPH programs, for their protection, explained Paul Wishengrad, the radio station manager and a career and technology education teacher at the North Wilmington school. That’s why their surnames are largely not used in this article.

WMPH, owned by the Brandywine School District, broadcasts locally at 91.7 FM and streams to the world at and via the Simple Radio app. 

Its format has changed multiple times since it began in 1969 as Delaware’s first high school radio station, and its operation hasn’t been continuous, including a year dark during renovation a decade ago. It now features classic rock, alternative rock, R&B, pop, jazz and community affairs, along with programming from National Public Radio.

Students develop the programming, with the help of Wishengrad, an advisory board and an audience request list that goes from Aaliyah to ZZ Top. Its schedule includes almost 20 programs.

The biggest chunk is just labeled “WMPH music with half-pasts.” Half-pasts refer to the students’ journalism, segments usually running a few minutes long and scheduled around half-past the hour.

The next-largest commitment is to NPR on weekdays, for its “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “Marketplace.” There is also mentoring from and interning with Delaware Public Media, an NPR member station, plus “The Green,” a show on “the First State of mind.”

“Student Voices,” which mixes student journalism with music, runs six days a week. Two “Black History Audio Research Projects” are every weeknight. Black history last year became a year-round part of the lineup.

 “I guess it seemed antiquated, old-fashioned to restrict these kids’ research projects — these sincere, serious music tributes, essays and studies about Black innovators and influencers — to ONLY the shortest and coldest month of the year!” Wishengrad said, referring to Black History Month.

Mark Rogers’ “Hometown Heroes,” a show that for more than 20 years has featured conversations with local musicians and their music, runs twice a week. 

WMPH also broadcasts live from school sporting events, with video on its YouTube channel.

Listeners can stream some content on demand. WMPH’s podcast homepage lists a dozen podcasts, including Senior Sage Duarte’s reporting on volunteering in an age of COVID-19, a podcast that won first place in the Delaware Press Association High School Communications Contest and the followup contest run by the National Federation of Press Women.

More podcasts are organized on pages labeled BSD Playlist (named for the school district), Public Affairs Shows, Student Music Shows, Green Knights Radio Sports, the Great Thanksgiving Listen (reminiscing inspired by StoryCorps), WMPH Club and the Carline Conversation,

Wishengrad (known as Paul Lewis when he was at B101.1 and WJBR) teaches three levels of radio journalism, progressing from personal essays and opinion pieces to researched and balanced reporting. 

“They’re first learning to communicate and find their voice,” he said. “Everybody is a broadcaster, but not everyone is a journalist.” 

That’s why students learn the importance of who, what, where, when and why. They also learn to understand their audience, as exemplified in “The Carline Show,” which airs at 3:15 p.m. weekdays “while you’re waitin’ in that carline, Mom,” its webpage explains.

Their journalism is largely about “all kinds of things that are important to them,” Wishengrad said, noting that the school dress code is always a hot-button issue. And the skills will help no matter careers students pursue. 

“We’re empowering kids to be successful in college, where they’re more rigorous about reading and writing,” Wishengrad said. 

He believes the station is part of the reason that Mount Pleasant is Delaware’s top general public high school, with U.S. News & World Report ranking only charter and themed high schools above it. (Only one other Delaware high school has a radio station: McKean’s EDge Radio, WMHS 88.1 FM.)

“Radio is still an important factor in today’s mix of media” said Mike Rossi, a WMPH board member and veteran Delaware broadcaster who is now an on-air personality at WJBR. “Audio production is important for emerging technologies, podcasts and radio journalism.”

WMPH “is laying the foundation for students’ careers,” he said. And he should know. He’s a WMPH alumnus.