For almost 10 years, Rick Dunn has been giving Athens youth a voice. Uplifting Athens youth through music and education was the goal when the University of Georgia alumnus and 35-year radio talk show host created MEU Radio-Athens, a nonprofit, youth-operated internet radio station, two years ago.
Dunn started MEU --— music, education uplift — Radio-Athens after creating the Education Matters program in 2009. Education Matters is a youth-hosted radio show that airs once a week on WXAG-1470 AM (92.7 FM), an Athens-based urban contemporary radio station.
Dunn has been working with Athens youth since 1982, a year before he graduated from UGA with a bachelors in journalism. He sees MEU Radio-Athens as another program where he can meet the needs of children in the community.
“I decided I could do something to make a difference, so we started this program to try to increase the graduation rate,” said Dunn regarding his work with kids in the Clarke County School District.
Students involved in the MEU Radio-Athens program produce community sports broadcasts and appear at live events in the community, including the West Broad Farmers Market and the Athens Hip Hop Awards.
Dunn is currently running a summer camp for MEU Radio-Athens, where students are taught “what broadcasting is all about.” When asked what the kids are currently learning, Dunn answered with a laugh, “How not to be afraid of the mic.”
“We’re helping them find their voice so they can articulate the issues that are important to them,” Dunn said.
Kaden Monteiro, 10, said he’s learned what a soundboard does, about broadcasting and how to “edit and cut things out,” through the summer camp.
“It’s been great. I kind of like this program,” Monteiro said. “It will really show me a way to being successful.”
Khloe Hills, 12, joined the program because she plans on going into broadcasting in the future. Hills said she has enjoyed the camp and her time with other students.
“It’s been fun with all of them, because they’re all funny in their own ways,” Hills said.
Brian Smith, a volunteer for the program, has been assisting Dunn with the business side of things, including sponsorships and fundraisers, while teaching the kids what he knows about radio.
“Giving what I’ve done in radio before, working with youth is really important,” said Smith, who was involved in his high school radio station for four years. “With these kids, they are improving every day. It’s really cool to see that progression.”
The station is currently looking for youth to join for the 2019-2020 school year and for volunteers to help the program grow.
Uplifting through the mic
Apart from helping Athens youth with broadcasting, Dunn hosts a radio talk show called Community Forum that airs Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on WXAG-1470 AM (92.7 FM).
Dunn said he wants youth in Athens to know that they have a voice in the community and that they need to use that voice. Since Dunn started the Educational Matters program, 96% of the kids he’s worked with have graduated high school, 83% went to college and 71% of those majored in journalism, Dunn said.
After the launch of the Education Matters program, CCSD hired Dunn in 2009 to be one of seven graduation coach coordinators with the goal of increasing graduation rates after CCSD was awarded a $400,000 grant from AT&T. In 2015, Dunn retired from the position.
In 2014, the school district’s graduation rate was about 71%. In 2015, the graduation rate was up to about 80%.
“When you look at everything in life that has a direct impact on children, we don’t ask kids what they think,” Dunn said. “These programs gives them the opportunity to have a voice.”