Lilliana Frantz, a member of Blunt Youth Radio in Portland, engineering a recent show about fantasy worlds. Courtesy / Caroline Hadilaksono

PORTLAND — After 25 years on the air, a lack of participants and funding woes could doom the Blunt Youth Radio program.

Hoping to encourage renewed interest, the program will host an open house from 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at WMPG, 92 Bedford St. in Portland. The event will include the chance to see a live show, an opportunity to meet and speak with the teens both on-air and behind the scenes – and free pizza.

Founded in 1994, Blunt Youth Radio has “played a vital role in youth media and independent journalism in Maine and nationally,” said Program Director Claire Holman. She said work by Blunt members has aired on “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” Maine Public Radio, “This American Life,” and the BBC, among other venues.

Each week Blunt members produce an hour-long talk show that’s aired on WMPG, the radio station located at the University of Southern Maine. With the open house, Holman said Blunt hopes to get at least 10 to 15 new members.

“We are currently down to a dedicated but small number of teens” and hope the open house will “help us bring on new and diverse voices to keep our institution alive,” Holman said this week.

Tahj Hebert, left, a member of Blunt Youth Radio, said working on the program has given her a new sense of self-worth. Courtesy / Caroline Hadilaksono

At Blunt, she said, teen members handle all aspects of production, from choosing topics to on-air hosting. They also learn about broadcast engineering and how to more effectively integrate and use social media.

“It’s youth-directed media, where we use the tools and ethics of journalism to give young people access to public figures they normally don’t have a chance to speak to directly – from senators to scientific experts – and to dig deep into issues that matter to them,” Holman said.

Keeping the Blunt Youth Radio platform going is important because “young people have a lot to say and Blunt provides an open forum where young people can broadcast their voices in an unfettered way,” she said.

Even in this digital age, radio is still relevant, Holman argued, especially “when it’s live, local and meaningful.” Blunt also streams on the internet and “we repackage our work as podcasts and features for other outlets (to use). We are very much part of the contemporary media landscape.”

Ashton May, 17, a senior at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, first joined Blunt Youth Radio last year.

What May most enjoys is hosting, but researching the various topics and booking guests is also a favorite activity. “It always feels good to have interesting and informative conversations. That’s what makes good radio,” May said this week.

One of the broadcasts he’s most proud of includes a look at social media and politics, which he co-produced with Libby Palanza. Another was a two-part series on the 2018 election, both for state and federal offices, which May also worked on.

May acknowledged that the digital age has “drastically changed how we learn about the world,” but believes that good radio can still get attention and draw an audience.

Another Blunt member, Tahj Hebert, first became involved in the youth radio program as a resume booster. But now “I see how important and groovy the radio medium is and why it’s so important to have youth voices as part of it and I’ve totally fallen in love with it,” Hebert said.

Hebert, also 17, said working on Blunt has been “a transformative experience for me. The amount of self-worth I’ve gained is wild.” Originally Hebert, who is homeschooled, didn’t want to host any shows, “but talking to people and coming up with questions has now become my favorite part.”

The first show Hebert did for Blunt was on queer music culture. It was “euphoric, talking to someone I really looked up to,” he said. “especially as a queer kid myself.”

Like Holman, Hebert strongly feels that radio is still “wildly relevant, because millions of people listen to it regularly.”

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