Sending Sound Waves Across an Ocean The World Children's Radio Network is a powerful tool to teach, reach out and learn - By Caroline Fetscher
The first transatlantic children's radio has been called an educational goldmine. It was founded by Thomas Röhlinger in Berlin. And it is expanding by the day.
The room is abuzz with the subdued chattering of children. Ten excited 10-year olds are gathered on the premises of radio station Jojo, one floor above a bustling Berlin kindergarten. About to perform a rap-song they have rehearsed in class for weeks, the girls and boys are still a little shy as they wiggle on their chairs waiting for their turn.
The room is crowded and packed with various items: Microphones, loudspeakers, coffee pots, piles of paper, a guitar in the corner and a simple wooden, soundproof cabin for recording. This is a very special day for Amneh, Silvio, Mehdi, Tatjana, Emin, Onur, Serhat, Dennis, Jeremy and Fabio.
Their names reflect the population of Berlin's Wedding district, one of the poorest and most multicultural communities in Germany, mostly associated with drugs, crime and troubled families. Few parents if any in this area have the capacity to widen the horizon of their offspring beyond providing for their daily needs.
What they are up to these days is sending their pro-environmental "Garbage Can Rap" across the Atlantic and to the entire world, to children like the fans of Lil Peppi in Tampa, Florida, a professional 10-year-old African-American rapper. Before their performance, radio editor in chief Thomas Röhlinger lets the children listen to Lil Peppi's song about Mother Nature.
"If I were the king of the world, I would make it a better place for the boys and girls," he raps along. "I would clean up, all of the pollution - if we work together, we can find the solution." On the colorful website www.across-the-ocean.org, the children in Berlin listen and watch Lil Peppi sing.
Only an hour later, their own pictures and messages to other kids out there will show up on the screen: "Hi everybody in Europe and in America! We are students attending the Albert Gutzmann School! We hope you will enjoy the rap song we made for you!" Some kids seem puzzled by the miraculous connections made possible here.
Röhlinger, father of four in a lively patchwork family, initiated Radijojo World Children's Radio Network in 2005 as an international non-profit project to produce educative and entertaining radio and online content for children by children on five continents. Since then, the network has been steadily growing. "It is amazing how many messages we receive, how much interest the radio generates," Röhlinger says.
Unlike his former peers, Röhlinger, born in 1969 in East Berlin, grew up with American pop music. He loves to remember the concert Bob Dylan gave in East Berlin in 1986. While people lined the streets cheering to the star from the free world, young Thomas held up his handwritten poster reading "Dylan for president!"
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Röhlinger went on to study sociology in Berlin and at New York University. His own children attend a bilingual state school with English and German spoken in class. When Barack Obama was inaugurated, seven-year-old Mina Röhlinger commented on air that she liked this turn of events because now there is a president "who is not a white one."
Radijojo as part of the World Children Radio Network, "is a powerful tool to connect children, to teach, reach out and learn," says Röhlinger. Issues on air range from sports, the environment and music to politics, history, literature and children's rights for an upbringing free of violence.
A patron of World Children's Radio is Daniel Barenboim, musical director and head conductor of the Staatsoper (the German State Opera) in Berlin as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - and a musical activist for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Funding for the radio station, which is free of advertising, comes from the German Transatlantic Program via the European Recovery Program of Germany's Federal Department of Economics and Technology.
Sixty dedicated co-workers, many with immigrant backgrounds, help run the radio station in several parts of town. The headquarters in Wedding are located at a community center built with money from the Marshall Fund, Röhlinger is glad to point out, because "it all fits."
Among the many modules of the programs, "Across the Ocean," the first transatlantic children's radio bridge, is Röhlinger's pet project. "We invite schools, community radios and youth-oriented media across the United States to participate," said Röhlinger. And they do.
Recently, for instance, Radijojo has included a program by young Native American poets from Santa Fe to their audio on demand section. An American intern, Chance Dorland, 22, experienced with College Radio in Boston has joined the crew for a year via the Parliamentarian Exchange Program between the U.S. Congress and the Bundestag.
"Dear Thomas, you have designed an educational goldmine," wrote Carol Gockman, learning technology specialist from an Illinois school. And Carrie Matherly, youth spin coordinator at the Griffin School in Austin, Texas wrote: "We are super pleased and excited that you'd like to share what we've produced with international listeners." She promised to include Berlin's work on the Austin airwaves. Amneh, Silvio, Mehdi, Tatjana, Emin, Onur, Serhat, Dennis, Jeremy and Fabio from Berlin Wedding marvel at how far their voices can travel.
In 2008, the radio station was awarded the title "Land of Ideas" by President Horst Köhler. Proudly, the document is displayed on the wall of the editing room where half a dozen editors are busy writing, translating and answering emails from around the world. American economist Jeremy Rifkin wrote to Radijojo: "A great idea! Let the kids communicate, share and learn from each other! That helps create a more humane and empathetic world."