Monday, August 3, 2009

The Soundtrack to Your Liberation! (a history of WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage")

WALZ 1670 AM/90.9 FM (The Cage) started off as something of a joke. One day Lucas Huttenga and some friends were discussing the idea of starting a radio station at DeWitt High School with a teacher, Jason LaFay. The station was going to be underground (pirate) until Lucas made the better decision to doggedly pursue a legal one with the help of local radio stations and broadcasting professionals.

After receiving some donated equipment Lucas contacted and enlisted the invaluable help of Larry Estlack, a veteran broadcaster and Director of Technology of the MAB (Michigan Association of Broadcasters). Lucas - with some assistance from Mr. LaFay - wrote a grant proposal to the DeWitt Boosters for an antenna and transmitter. The boosters in their infinite wisdom and understanding approved the grant; WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage" was born. The antenna was installed with the help of Dirk Huttenga, a local business (they provided the lift), and personnel from the DeWitt Public School District Maintenance and Technology departments. Once the antenna and transmitter became operational Larry, Lucas, and his assistant Ralph Haines prepared a soundboard, microphones, and other vital equipment to make the station ready for its initial broadcast.

Soon various students required training to create competent radio programs. Bill Brown, a community member and parent with an extensive background in audio engineering, became an indispensable source of training and inspiration for the novice broadcasters. Sessions were held to help students design coherent, quality programming. Behavior contracts were also signed in order to ensure appropriate behavior and that programs stayed true to the founding principles of WALZ 1670 AM (The Cage):

  • Radio Broadcasting must reflect professional conduct and standards
  • WALZ is for and by the people of the DeWitt area
  • WALZ will not willingly violate FCC standards
  • WALZ will provide training for students on how to develop quality radio broadcasting skills
  • WALZ will expose people in the DeWitt area to varied and unique music: grindcore through Ethiopian jazz
  • WALZ will be run on a non-profit basis
  • WALZ will cover topics of interest such as live sports broadcasts
  • WALZ will continue to explore appropriate outlets such as local cable television outlets, an extended FM license, online audio streaming, podcasting, etc. to increase its broadcasting radius/reach

Past and Present Significant Contributors to WALZ:

Lucas Huttenga

Jake Quimby

Larry Estlack

Jeff Spicer

Tim Sullivan

Bill Brown

Dan Brown

Ralph Haines

Joe Smith

Sean Wade

DeWitt Boosters

Melanie Huttenga

Jesse Fisher

Dirk Huttenga

Anna Walz

The Top Ten List of the DeWitt Creativity Group

The DCG loves and promotes the following:

1. Entreprenuerialism
2. Creative Industries
3. Information Technology
4. Alternative Energy
5. Grass Roots Democracy
6. Pluralism/Diversity
7. Social Networking
8. Biosciences
9. Localized Globalization
10. The DeWitt Area

Monday, July 13, 2009

DeWitt's "Impossible" Day: RiverBash 2009

On June 5, 2009 the City of DeWitt, Michigan eagerly anticipated RiverBash 2009. As the time approached for the start of the event, the many volunteers: students, teachers, parents, administrators, and business owners met any and every challenge that potentially could have derailed RiverBash 2009. The community responded to these efforts by attending and participating in a well-organized, fun, and family-friendly environment. Official estimates place the attendance of the event from 700-1,000 individuals. Ages of the attendees ranged from less than one year old to 90. Fears of an unruly or chaotic gathering proved unfounded as RiverBash was characterized by a celebratory and joyous mood - members of the community wanted this event and conducted themselves in a positive manner. The DeWitt Creativity Group and others were proud to help make this happen. Rather than merely summarizing what occurred during RiverBash 2009, here is a sampling of the many highlights:

  • Elderly citizens sitting with their grandchildren watching the Junior High School Band perform while eating ice cream cones from Scoopie Doo's.
  • Children exclaiming with glee after throwing an egg at Dan Nakfoor and seeing him catch it with his mouth, of course!
  • The crowds of students and parents assembling to watch the DHS Theater Department perform improvisational comedy in a vacant section of a building. The performance and the audience's reactions could be seen outside a large display window.
  • The unique psychedelic sounds of Caravan, a DeWitt based band of students and alumni, pulsating throughout River Side Park, prompting one observer to say, "I never realized how talented some of these kids really are."
  • More kids giggling and squealing with joy as they watch others gorge themselves on pizza in an eating contest outside of Water View Condos.
  • The appreciation at the welcome individuals from outside DeWitt were given by student volunteers. Several of these people displayed art under a tent and originally hail from places as far away as Africa and India.
  • Free canoe rides given by Friends of the Looking Glass River. The reactions of people watching an older generation teaching a younger one how to operate a canoe...priceless.
  • A resident from Okemos exclaiming, "We have to have one of these (a RiverBash) in Okemos."
  • Sam's Kitchen having to call for an extra dish washer to come in to help with the additional business.
  • The performance of Ari Herstand and his unique indie pop, causing a crowd of both teenagers and adults to sway back and forth clutching glow sticks to the music under a full moon.
  • A statement by a parent watching the crowd's reaction to Mr. Herstand and stating, "It's like a whole new DeWitt."

Monday, July 6, 2009

The History and Influences of the DeWitt Creativity Group Part II

The first action of the DeWitt Creativity Group was to send an email throughout the DeWitt Public Schools District in February of 2008. The email listed the groups that comprise the DCG. They are as follows: Radio Club (WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage"), Creative Writing Club, Music Club, The Prowler (DeWitt High School newspaper), Audio/Visual Club, Dramatic Arts, and Art Department. The Alternative Energy Program would join later thanks to the efforts of Brian Byars, a science teacher. The email was largely met with uncertainty and curiosity. The advisor of the Creative Writing Club, Eder DeLaCruz created a nifty handout with nice graphics to help explain the objectives and projects of the DCG. Lisa Norman, an art teacher designed the DCG logo: a picture of Michigan with a star in the center to represent the Mid-Michigan area being struck by a lightening bolt with music bars sparking off as a result of the impact.

After the DeWitt Public Schools District was given notice that the DCG formed and fully intended to carry out its main purpose i.e. promote student creativity, members decided to contact Richard Florida's Creative Class Group for support. Reham Alexander, the Global Operations Director of the Creative Class Group, was extremely helpful by sending copies of Dr. Florida's books: The Rise of The Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class, audio CDs, CD-ROMs, and a DVD collection of presentations Dr. Florida gave throughout 2007. When these materials arrived many students were excited by the level of support given by the Creative Class Group to the DCG. Several students borrowed the materials and came away with a much more advanced understanding of the creative economy. The DVD was later used by members of the DCG as part of a presentation about the importance of creativity in the new economy at the City Visions Session (more about this later). Ms. Alexander was also kind enough to allow the original DCG Web site link on the "We Support" page of the Creative Class Group's site It is awesome to see the link to the DCG Web site appear next to those of organizations such as: International Economic Development Council, United Way, World Wildlife Fund etc. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Alexander and her family at the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 in Detroit (October 12-15, 2008). She happens to be the sister-in-law of Dr. Florida. The DCG greatly appreciates her help in recognizing our efforts to change the culture of DeWitt High School.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Tribute to Those Who Are Criminally Overlooked

On the night of Monday, June 29 the DeWitt Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to privatize all the district custodians. Many members of the DeWitt area were shocked, saddened, and some even outraged by the board's decision. The principle reason for the privatization was to save money. Many individuals who attended the meeting, including students spoke against the privatization measure by citing examples of excellent service the custodians provided to the district. Now that the proverbial dust has settled, I want to take the time to thank and explain how several custodians who worked at DeWitt High School were instrumental in creating an environment conducive to creativity. The DeWitt Creativity Group would never have formed without it.

Greg Cataline gave excellent and humorous performances in several holiday videos created by the DHS Video Production class. The willingness of a person like Greg to participate in such an endeavor helped to send a message to students that everyone has creative potential regardless of their occupation. Jesse Fisher became a guardian of the campus radio station WALZ 1670 AM "The Cage" by opening the radio station door for student disc jockeys throughout the early evening hours. He was also the eyes and ears of the station, making sure that students were not engaging in inappropriate behavior(s) while broadcasting. This allowed the station advisor (me) to not have to worry about student misconduct while away from school. Without his help and other useful suggestions regarding the station, it is highly doubtful it would have lasted.

The last and definitely most important custodian in regards to the DCG is Jeff Spicer. I met Jeff in 2003 when he was emptying trash in my room. Right away we began talking about several shared interests. Our mutual interest in unique and challenging music soon dominated our regular conversations. Jeff has an encyclopedic knowledge of many kinds of music (and other subjects), especially rock and roll from the 1960s and 1970s. His passion for Michigan rock bands from those decades is awesome. Numerous DHS students were exposed to the music of groups such as the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, The Rationals, Frijid Pink, Grand Funk Railroad, and many others. I witnessed Jeff give countless free CD compilations of these bands' music and more to students that he made. One of the best shows on WALZ 1670 AM was Challenging Apathy, a show that featured music by well known classic rock bands. The students who created and put on the show expanded their musical interests and those of their listeners thanks to Jeff. A new segment appeared on Challenging Apathy that featured many obscure groups from Michigan and elsewhere that have been tragically overlooked.

Jeff was also a huge factor behind the DeWitt High School Music Club. This was a group of student performers/bands who recorded original music on a professionally produced and packaged CD compilation. Four CD compilations were released from 2003-2007 that gave opportunities for students to release their music locally. Jeff loaned half of the start up money for the initial CD compilation. Additionally, he laid out the song sequence on each of the DHS Music Club CDs. Thanks to his assistance with this project many students were encouraged and supported in their creative efforts.

One last thing that Mr. Spicer did that I will never forget is to defend some artistic work of mine that was on display in the Teacher's Lounge. The works were fairly challenging examples of mixed media. I did provide typed explanations of the meaning for each work. Despite this attempt at clarification the pieces were dismissed and ridiculed by several staff members. Jeff pointed out to these individuals that my explanations were clear and concise. He went on to elaborate how cool he thought it was that such interesting works were exhibited in a high school. Jeff did not let his occupation prevent him from expressing his opinions to people who are more formally educated. It is interesting that some teachers are so negative and afraid of anything outside the norm. Remember these people are educating future generations.

Richard Florida gave a presentation about the importance of cultivating creativity in ALL people at the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 in Detroit, Michigan (October 12-15, 2008). I had the privilege of attending his presentation and was intrigued by the idea of the importance of helping people realize their creative potential. Dr. Florida gave examples from his own family history to help explain how America traditionally afforded opportunities for immigrants to try out new ideas. Many of these ideas led to new inventions that contributed to significant economic growth. After the presentation I thought of people like Jeff, Jesse, and Greg who are overlooked because they are custodians. Too many times the insights and knowledge of these individuals is undervalued, ridiculed, and ignored. This is not only sad, but potentially devastating for America's chances to succeed in the creative economy. Dr. Florida made the point if America is to effectively compete and maintain its stature in the world, it must educate and develop the creative capacity of all of its citizens. Think of how many great ideas and other insights have been stymied or crushed because an individual felt they were not taken seriously. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau talked about this loss of potential with the result of increasing alienation of individuals from society in Conversations with Canadians. Trudeau believed that Canada must create social structures that are able to support all reasonable forms of self-expression in a just society. This is something the DCG will in try to contribute to in its own small way.

One of the key measures of job performance should revolve around how open employees are to considering and implementing alternative ideas. If this measure was part of the job performance evaluations of the former DHS custodians, I have no doubt they would still be working for the district. One day creativity will be more important than the bottom line in determining the viability of an organization. Let's make that day sooner rather than later. We can not afford to wait.


Stop Living Off The Fumes of the Past!

A Lansing State Journal article from last week (July 1st edition) details the exodus of residents who are leaving the Mid-Michigan area. The article contains a list of population trends from census data from 2000 to 2008 that shows significant percentages of people are leaving Lansing and other nearby communities. The most surprising to me is the number of individuals that left the City of DeWitt (273). This translates into a 5.8% loss of population for a community that was selected as one of the best places to live in America by CNN/Money Magazine in 2005. Much of this loss of population can be attributed to the sour economy that Michigan has been experiencing for the last decade or so. However this does not excuse the citizens of DeWitt and other mid-Michigan communities to become complacent. The City of DeWitt is blessed with outstanding schools, strong neighborhoods, parks, quality downtown businesses, and a very low crime rate. These are all part of the appeal of DeWitt as a great place to live and raise a family. Many of these qualities evolved over time and were byproducts of hard work, good governance, and excellent timing. There is NO guarantee this fortune will last in the not-too-distant-future. We cannot assume the City of DeWitt will always have these tremendous assets unless we (all community members) do what we can - no matter how modest -in promoting it as a viable place for people to live, work, and play.

Members of the DeWitt Creativity Group (with some help from Loretta Spinrad) are attending Michigan Makes Movies Expo in Novi, Michigan on July 12th. Loretta, a local realtor, was generous enough to supply the DCG with nice brochures that highlight attractions of the DeWitt area for families/businesses looking to relocate. The DCG will use the brochures to convince film production companies to consider the DeWitt area as a prime location for shooting movie/television scenes. Our efforts at networking with film production companies may at least make some of them consider the DeWitt area as a potential location for future productions. This is a fairly modest effort to try to stem the loss of population but it will help to promote the community as one that is forward thinking and trying to take advantage of the recent flurry of film production that is currently taking place in other parts of Michigan. We are also hopeful students will make quality contacts that may translate into job shadowing and/or employment opportunities.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The History and Influences of the DeWitt Creativity Group

Please disregard the original post on this blog. The gardening topic was required as part of a computer class I am taking (nothing against gardening or gardeners!). The focus of this blog will be on a group that I helped to create along with Jeff Croley called the DeWitt Creativity Group (DCG). I plan on giving weekly updates on the progress of the DCG. Please feel free to send comments.

The DCG was founded in February 2008 as an attempt to create a culture of innovation at DeWitt High School in DeWitt, Michigan (a suburban community just north of Lansing). The group is comprised of teachers (including Jeff and myself), students, parents, and other community members who are interested in building a high school that prepares students for the creative economy. Michiagn is struggling to make the transition from an industrial based economy to one centered around services, information, and knowledge. Our initial starting point was how can DeWitt High School best help the City of DeWitt and Michigan make this transition?

Two sources of inspiration for the DCG are Richard Florida and George S. Counts. Many people are familiar with Dr. Florida's ideas from The Rise of The Creative Class. This work was the inspiration behind Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's Cool Cities Initiative. This was an attempt to create funding for communities to develop Michigan cities into places that would retain and attract members of the creative class, highly skilled and educated individuals ages 24-34 who Dr. Florida identified as the primary agents driving prosperity in the new economy. Jeff Croley and myself attended one of the Cool Cities conferences in Lansing to participate in brainstorming how Lansing can become a haven for the creative class.

Several Michigan communities achieved Cool Cities designation and received funding for various community projects. Unfortunately, the program was shelved due to a lack of funding. The Cool Cities Initiative did help to increase an awareness of how far Michigan has fallen in developing cities and communities that spur innovation. I remember thinking at the time what role can schools play in helping to bring about the necessary changes for Michigan to blossom into a place that fosters innovation and creativity?

The Creative Class prescribes three elements essential for communities to develop and strengthen in the creative economy: tolerance, talent, and technology. Schools to varying degrees impart these elements through the traditional curriculum. There are numerous examples of unique programs, classes, and community projects that go above and beyond in giving students opportunities to develop their creativity. A local example is Viking Design, a program where students design logos for local nonprofit organizations. Viking Design is based out of Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan. Several of the students' designs were featured in a story in the Lansing State Journal. The program is headed by Chad Sanders. There are probably thousands of great programs throughout the United States such as this that help to link student creativity with entrepreneurialism. What if a school made its core mission to become a catalyst for economic growth by encouraging and promoting students to create innovative products and services? The DCG wants to build a culture of innovation at DeWitt High School that not only prepares students for the careers of tomorrow, but to transform society in the present.

This notion of changing society is best summarized by a slogan that appears on the back of the official DCG t-shirt: "Innovate or Perish!" George S. Counts wrote a book entitled, Dare the School Change the Social Order? Schools can take the lead in helping to bring about social change. Counts believed with the correct leadership and organization students can be mobilized to use their talents to help create a more compassionate society. Part of creating a more compassionate society involves building sustainable economic growth. The DCG is trying to implement practices that will promote student creativity in such a way to contribute to innovative and humane growth. DeWitt High School - and other schools as well - have the human capital and facilities (computers, fax machines, copiers, telephones, etc.) to make a significant impact. What remains to be seen is how to best mobilize these tremendous resources given the restraints (curricular and other established practices) that are remnants of the 19th and 20th centuries. In my next posting I will explain how the DCG is responding to this key point in terms of its projects and relationships with other like-minded groups.