September 11, 2022

Integrating Radio into a Secondary School Music Course

It was 2006, and I had recently moved to Hutt International Boys’ School from a school that had gone through the rigorous process of becoming accredited to teach a National Certificate in Production Sound (Recording).

I had heard through the grapevine that the Production Sound qualification was due to expire, so getting HIBS accredited was not going to be an option. I had several level 3 students wanting to use the school recording studio and I was looking for a way in which to utilise it to offer credits that could go towards NCEA.

After searching through the NZQA site, I came across the Technology Domain, in particular Digital Media. Although written more for computer-based tasks you would find for ICT, I interpreted the standard to cover the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) we were using. I asked our head of Technology to moderate the task design to make sure I was covering everything, and he noticed I hadn’t determined a context for the task. Basically, a ‘why’ the recordings were being made. “For the radio,” I told him. “Which radio?” he replied. “Ahhh…the School Student Radio…” I bluffed.

And that is how it started.

After some research into low power FM (LPFM) licences and determining what was permissible, I tracked down a small laptop and 2 channel mixer, a 0.5 watt transmitter and antenna, and started broadcasting on 107.7FM. At first, it was a small ‘hobby’ station that would be on air once or twice a week, playing a few songs and hosting a couple of student interest programmes.

Over the next few years, word of mouth increased the popularity of the station and soon I had more students wanting to host their own shows, which ranged from sports shows, music shows and a quirky ‘Anewsing Times’, whose catchphrase was “Talking about all the useless news that nobody really wants to hear…”.

As more and more students became involved in the station, I could see the potential for it to fit into other areas of the school. One year we were fortunate to have a few boys on our arts committee who were also avid radio show hosts, and they started suggesting ways we could use the station. They wanted live, lunchtime events – such as stand-up comedy in the library and un-plugged music performances outside
the Performing Arts block.

With these initiatives driven by the students, I decided it was the right time to invest a little more into the project. I installed outdoor speakers in the canteen courtyard, and on the exterior of the music room, facing one of our basketball courts.

Our school has a large catchment area but is geographically located in a valley, which makes our permissible 25km radius broadcast patchy in places. To solve this issue, online streaming was added, so that the school community could be reliably broadcast to.

Seeing the level of engagement from the boys in all year levels with the radio station spurred me into thinking of ways in which I might be able to include it in my Music programme. I already had the level 3 context for the technology standard (which was later superseded by US28807 SOND 3) and wanted to use it at other levels.

In 2016 I introduced a composition task at level 1 where the piece was to be inspired/based on a children’s book. I could see the potential for a cross-curricular task and asked a local primary school for books that they used for their remedial reading programme, with the intention of producing audiobooks that could be used as teaching resources. These could also be played on the radio at a scheduled time so they could be listened to at home. The boys composed a one-minute piece that could be used as theme music and incidental music throughout the narration. Diving into the technology domain once more, I created a task that assessed the construction of the audiobook. The boys found the context of composing for a school reading programme both motivating and rewarding, as the audiobooks were later gifted to the primary school.

Conscious of copyright issues we might be breaking, I turned to the internet for royalty-free stories, although the amount of editing to make them fit for purpose got me thinking – what if we asked students to write the stories during English class as part of their portfolio? What if the Māori class narrated stories in te reo Māori and we broadcast them during Te wiki o te reo?

In the following years, I wanted to accommodate the neuro-diverse students who struggled with the writing and literacy components of the music course. I was looking for ways in which they could achieve in areas other than just performance. In the level 2 course, for example, I modified the ‘Aspects of NZ Music’ task to allow for it to be presented as a radio show/podcast, which would be aired during NZ Music Month. The task allowed them to use musical examples and speak more freely, in a way that would engage a young audience.

Once the Music Technology and Performing Arts Technology Standards were introduced, my course was able to be diversified even further. Students were able to tailor their programmes to suit their strengths and interests. I always kept a core music base of theory and research (although not necessarily assessed), but they were free to choose from any of the other standards.

As with many Music departments, I found that I was being asked to allow boys into the senior classes who had not had any previous experience in music but had run out of subject options to take. Many of these boys had special learning differences and struggled with reading and writing. Because a traditional music course wouldn’t be attainable for them, I created a new course to run alongside my music students. It was a mixture of Media studies, Digital Technologies,
and Music/Performance Technology.

AS90993 – Design and plan a media product – Radio advertisement

AS90994 – Complete a media product – Radio advertisement AS91073 – Produce a digital media outcome

US32300 – Sequence (Radio Jingle/ Audiobook music)

US26687 – Sound Technology – PA set up – understanding microphones, mixers routing etc.

The students wanted to continue with the course into the next year, but I was concerned there was no clear pathway for them, especially if they continued through to Year 13.

The boys showed a real interest in the radio aspects of the course, so I investigated how I would be able to include standards that would best suit their needs. Not being accredited to teach or assess standards from this domain, I approached Whitirea Polytechnic to see if they would be willing to provide some resources that I could teach from and get them to assess against the standard. They agreed to the arrangement and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was established. During this time, I liaised with our school’s careers advisor to see if STAR funding could be used for the costs involved. I was also conscious that boys would be gaining standards under the course heading ‘Music’ which was not representative of the programme – Audiobook (Radio/Podcast) they would be undertaking, so I asked for their class to be labelled in KAMAR as ‘Studio Broadcasting Technologies’.


AS91278 Investigate an aspect of New Zealand music
US27658 Demonstrate knowledge of electronic music production and notation application(s)
US10313 Plan and broadcast a radio programme using an automated system
US10319 Write a voice report for radio
US26553 Demonstrate knowledge of radio broadcasting.

The course flowed nicely, as the standards AS91278 and US10319 provided quite a bit of content for the pre-recorded radio show required for US10313. The rest of the programme included original compositions from the level 2 and 3 classes. They used US27658 to write the introduction and incidental music for their radio shows.

Unfortunately, the Radio School at Whitirea was discontinued the following year, and I was left with the task of sourcing another provider that would be willing to adopt a similar relationship
with our school. I approached the NZ School of Radio, based in Tauranga, with a proposal that I create the resources so that they were contextualised specifically for our students and radio station, they moderate the task designs and carry out the assessments, then our school would enter the grades awarded. They were happy with the proposal and a strong relationship between our schools was established. The advantage of this arrangement was that I could choose which standards we included, whereas we needed to offer only the ones Whitirea provided us.


US10183 Present on-air for radio
US10235 Write a basic radio commercial
US10308 Record and edit for radio broadcast.

The year went smoothly, with the boys busy writing scripts and recording interviews, although a significant amount of time was spent on regular, on-air segments where they honed their craft, developing distinctive radio personalities. As neuro-diverse students, these boys had always struggled with school and it was wonderful seeing them happy, confident, and succeeding in an area that was giving them real pathways into a potential future within the broadcasting world.

The radio station is now embedded into our Music department culture, with a junior radio club and 2 online streams – one of which is fully automated and runs continuously with 100% student content (aptly named HIBS 24/7). As it is student-driven, there are, and will be, ebbs and flows as far as its popularity, but having the station has certainly made a difference for many students and is something I will continue to find ways to include in my programme.

Greg McMillan-Perry

BIO: HOD Music at Hutt International Boys’ School (Wellington, Upper Hutt) A multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous rock bands, wind bands and orchestras, Greg McMillan-Perry has been involved in music education since 1995 when he started as an itinerant music tutor teaching oboe and bass guitar. He has been the HOD of Music at Hutt International Boys’ School since 2006. Alongside his music, he has a strong interest in ICT and Music Technology and enjoys looking for innovative ways to deliver music education.


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