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Spokane youngsters tackle big issues during radio show

It’s a radio show for kids by kids, but lots of grown-ups enjoy listening to it, too.

Every Sunday afternoon, 10 youngsters from Spokane squeeze into the 120-square-foot on-air booth at KYRS Thin Air Community Radio to share music, stories, jokes, interviews and poetry with listeners of all ages.

Their one-hour show, “Dragonflies on Thin Air,” is the only children’s radio program produced in the area. It’s also a standout nationwide because it’s one of the few elementary-age kids’ shows with a weekly live broadcast.

“We wanted to reach out to other kids,” said 10-year-old Reyna Flores, who came up with the concept for “Dragonflies” last summer. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved.”

Last week, the youngsters received a Chase Youth Award for creativity. Each child received a medallion and the group was recognized for its original and artistic contributions to the community.

When Reyna first came up with the idea for the show, she not only discussed the possibility with her friends, she also sought out students of all ages in order to reflect the diverse interests of elementary-age youth.

“A broader age range also means a broader range of listeners,” noted Ben Read, age 10.

The hosts of “Dragonflies” are ages 7 through 10 and all are students in Jefferson Elementary’s Montessori program. They were nominated for the Chase Youth Award by Claudia Start, one of the primary Montessori teachers at their school.

On the air, each child has his or her own specialty. Consider some of the 7-year-olds among the group: Reyna’s sister, Elisa, is known for her “knock-knock” jokes. Risa Lockwood specializes in scientific facts including information about vomit, medicine and the human body.

Jadyn Malone has dedicated herself to poetry. And Matty Read, the aspiring athlete and one of only two boys in the group, likes to talk sports.

“We have so many interests, but we can’t all talk at once,” reminded Alison Day, age 10.

Since KYRS first hit the airwaves more than six years ago, one of its goals has been to provide young people with a platform to express themselves and talk about the issues that are important to them, said station manager Lupito Flores.

A few years ago, KYRS started featuring two shows specifically for teens and young adults: “Raise Your Voice,” a forum on contemporary issues that affect Spokane youth, hosted by local high school students; and “Detention,” a variety music/talk show produced by middle-schoolers from West Valley City School.

But the station lacked programming for the younger set – kids from preschool and kindergarten all the way through sixth grade.

When Reyna learned about the need for a children’s show from her dad, she started talking to her classmates at Jefferson Elementary and together, they brainstormed ideas.

The kids submitted a proposal that included samples of the kind of music and programming they planned to broadcast, as well as an explanation of how their show would fit the mission of KYRS – a low-power community station that’s listener-supported, noncommercial and operated almost entirely by volunteers.

The station doesn’t accept just any proposal, Flores pointed out. The program has to be unique and provide content that’s not available through mainstream media.

It also has to reflect KYRS’ values, which include promoting peace, environmentalism, social justice, human rights, multiculturalism and freedom of expression.

The kids wrote a proposal and were interviewed by Angela Johnson, the station’s program director, last spring. In June, “Dragonflies” was on the air.

At first, the group pre-recorded and edited the half-hour show in the basement of Reyna and Elisa’s house. They quickly gained confidence in their skills and after two months, decided they could do “Dragonflies” live on the air.

Together, they learned how to turn on the microphones, cue up songs and operate the station’s old broadcast console.

Being in the studio was a huge learning curve. With 10 kids crowded into such a small space, the little ones sometimes had to sit on the older children’s laps. They also had to constantly remind each other to stop whispering and giggling and to take turns since every background noise could be heard on the air.

“With so many of us crammed in there, it’s hard not to bump the mikes,” explained Maya LeBar, age 10.

For the most part, the kids weren’t nervous when they first went on the air, said Isabel Greeley.

“You’re just talking to other kids,” explained the 10-year-old. “You’re not really going to mess up because you can’t see the people listening to the radio. … It’s not like the president is listening.”

Now, the kids are pros, although it’s still difficult for most of them to refrain from laughing in the background. They have too much fun, they said. Besides, listeners enjoy hearing their interaction and often laugh right along.

Since January, their show has expanded to an hour and often includes interviews with local leaders, authors and musicians.

Some of their guests have included Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush; local writers and poets Claire Rudolph Murphy, Sarah Conover and Kenn Nesbitt; and Native American singer-songwriter LaRae Wiley.

Earlier this year, the “Dragonflies” hosts called up the members of the Seattle band Recess Monkey and interviewed them on the air.

Sometimes the children choose a theme to focus on during their show.

Ellary Lockwood, who’s 9, recently led a discussion on Australia with help from her little sister, Risa. The two girls and their family had lived there when they were younger so the duo shared stories about their adventures, which included feeding kangaroos.

Previous shows also have looked at the Olympic Games and Haiti after the earthquake, said Ben Read.

The kids have learned a lot from the experience, said Flores, who also received a Champion of Youth Award from the Chase Youth Commission.

Even though they’re busy with schoolwork, dance classes, violin lessons, cross-country skiing with the Nordic Kids and other activities, the “Dragonflies” hosts still carve out the time each week to prepare for their show.

Parents say being part of “Dragonflies” has taught their kids the importance of being on time, solving problems, finding interesting and relevant content and getting along with others.

The station and its listeners also have benefited from having the children’s voices on the air, according to KYRS volunteers. During the station’s recent pledge drive, the “Dragonflies” hosts raised more money than any other show.

Dozens of people – including the kids’ relatives and friends – called in to pledge a total of $2,000. That’s the most money that a one-hour show has raised in the history of the station, program director Johnson said.

The children also donated allowance money to KYRS.

“People love this show,” Flores said. “We even hear that from people who don’t have kids.”

Virginia de Leon is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Reach her at You can also comment on this story and others that pertain to kids, families and parenting by checking out the Parents’ Council blog: parents