Lowell — There’s been an ever-present voice at WRWW 92.3 The Red Arrow Network since it started 19 years ago.
While student broadcasters present music, on-air shows and sports coverage on the district’s very own radio station, they’ve always been guided by the expertise of Al Eckman.
“I’m not sure if I have a radio voice,” said Eckman, while demonstrating that he definitely does. The tone and steady cadence he first practiced on amateur radio gets Lowell High School students looking at him with interest.
Eckman has taught students to pace their speech, enunciate (“pop their p’s,” as one student explained), use synonyms like gridiron and get creative with fun descriptions like “a quiver of arrows.” Overall, he helps them become comfortable on the air and skilled with the ins and outs of radio.
“With Al, I kind of feel like an apprentice,” said sophomore Eli Wilcox, the station’s assistant sports director who also presents the on-air show, “Good Morning Lowell.”
“He’s always teaching me about how to run the show, work everything and do everything. It’s cool and fun. I have the confidence to run the whole thing. I wouldn’t know anything if it weren’t for Al.”
Eckman, 80, has been the uber-committed volunteer behind the station since he started it in 2004. A 1960 Lowell High School graduate, he was a Lowell police officer for almost 19 years before serving as the district’s security director for nearly 12 years.
After retiring, Eckman wanted to use his ham radio skills to stay involved with the district and its students. After getting the go-ahead, he started a streaming-only station focused on sports and recruited students to help run it.
His idea proved popular and the station evolved over time. Upon getting a license from the Federal Communications Commission in 2014, WRWW launched as a low-power FM radio station covering the district. It streams worldwide from its website.
“We started off with a very small room with 300 songs and now we have a full-sized classroom and 45,000 songs in our music media library,” Eckman said.
A Big Production
The station, which airs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not only gives high-school and middle-school students the chance to play songs of their choice (as long as the lyrics are appropriate), they also get a chance to produce their own on-air shows and head to the fields and courts to cover Lowell sports.
Eckman has even given his sportscasting crew the opportunity to cover major sporting events, including a Detroit Lions football game and the Michigan high school football state finals at Ford Fieldhouse.
These opportunities have made for exciting moments for sophomore Connor Rapson. While reporting on the Lowell football game against East Grand Rapids last year, a friend of his made a touchdown to end the half and Connor could barely contain his excitement. Fellow sportscaster and sophomore Kyle Stauffer had to take over.
“You have to stop yourself from shouting into the mic,” Connor said of his lesson learned, repeating a tip from Eckman.
Eckman clarified: He encourages students to keep bias out of their voices and be careful with the expensive equipment they are using. “We don’t like screamers,” he said.
Eckman said he enjoys seeing students go from timid to skilled as they hone their radio voices.
‘With Al, I kind of feel like an apprentice.’– sophomore Eli Wilcox
“Most of the students are the same when they start out — a little intimidated because of their lack of experience and they’re maybe not used to the equipment,” he said. “The first time for them is the hardest; once they get over that they come along really quickly.”
Lowell High School also offers Radio Broadcasting 101 as an elective class, which gives an entire classroom of students experience at the station each trimester.
“Al has been instrumental in so many areas of the curriculum,” said radio broadcasting teacher Laurie Summerfield.
With Summerfield teaching the class, Eckman, who used to volunteer 40-50 hours per week, has pared down his hours to 20-25 spent leading the sportscasting crew.
But his influence is still huge, she said.
“The broadcasting that Al and his students do rival the level and expertise of a professional station.”
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