History of DHS Student Media (by Zach Gullion)

Media in the Making

The History of Delta High School’s Student Media

By Zach Gullion

The feeling of being transported into another era is rare; however, this perception is strong while exploring the back rooms of the Delta High School Student Media classroom. 

Seemingly ancient technology lines the walls of these timeworn rooms. Staticky tube TVs, giant cameras with video qualities lower than an iPhone, vinyl records untouched for decades, and dusty radio control boards all reminiscent of another age make you envision days before your time. 

This visual setting contains an astonishing amount of history, all waiting to be unmasked.

Old Radio Equipment

Old equipment sits idle in the former WWDS studio control room.
Old control panel An outdated sound board control panel in the studio.
Years ago, prior to cable and satellite TV, the Internet, and smartphones, radio was still a dominant media platform. People of all ages tuned in to listen to their favorite sports events, news broadcasts, comedy shows, and the latest hit music. Delta High School followed suit with this popular tendency by implementing a student radio program. 

1978 was the beginning of it all. At 2:30 in the morning, a brand new station sprang to life. WWDS (FM 90.5) first emitted waves across the air. At that time, “Mr. [Jerry] Jones (former Delta High School radio and television teacher), his wife, and their consultant drove around happily listening to the radio’s signal,” according to a story written by Eric Bryan in the 2002 Deltonian yearbook spring supplement.

Jones is now enjoying his retirement at age 74 near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Recently reached by phone, he recounted how the radio program began at Delta.
Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones in the WWDS studio prior to his retirement.

Delta High School was ahead of the game and surrounding schools when it came to student media. Jones collected hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment over the years that gave WWDS a clear edge. 

“I don’t mean to brag, but we had one of the best media programs in the state,” Jones says.

All students who broadcasted at the station were professionally licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Jones remembers taking students to Fort Wayne to have them pass the test. “I wanted students to get the full experience,” Jones says. 

Former student Mike Poore remembers the excitement of being a licensed radio operator. “It was a great honor to receive my broadcasting license,” he says.

Many things went into having an efficient station. Students earned the trust of their teacher. Jones recalls that he let them run WWDS without much interference. 

Another large part of Delta Student Media was the television station. Delta had its own cable channel to use at its disposal. Jones says his students would sign up to videotape school sporting events, and they would later put them on air. Students who played the sport or the parents could watch that game on television later. When nothing was being broadcast, a screen showing school information would be displayed, with the radio station playing in the background. Jones reminisces about the 1997 boys’ basketball sectional game being played at Blackford and paying the phone company to set up a line so students could broadcast the game. Delta went on to advance to the IHSAA state championship game in the last year of single-class basketball. 

Jones also had forward visions of Internet streaming which was early for the time. He wanted to be able to reach people out in the country who didn’t have cable. 

The FCC was a large controlling power over the station. 

“It was always kind of scary,” Jones says. 

The FCC is supposed to come in and inspect each station, but they never did.

 “It was scary because there’s not another program, nor has there ever been another program, where students of a high school were representing the school district to the federal government,” Jones says. “They were the ones responsible for keeping that paperwork that the federal government required us to do, and there’s never been another program where the students were keeping such important documents for the federal government on behalf of the school.”

FCC inspectors came within 10 miles of Delta, scaring Jones and the radio staff.

“Wes-Del’s radio station got inspected one time,” Jones recalls, noting that his engineer (a licensed radio transmitter repairman) called him to get his stuff together. “We were on pins and needles for three days.”

He said his number one fear as a teacher was that the FCC was going to come and find something bad that the class wasn’t aware of and fine the school. “The FCC was a constant thorn.”

Jones studied in college to become an English teacher. “When I was in college, speech, theater, and media were kind of a common department,” Jones says. “But I took enough media courses, and I went back and took additional media courses to stay abreast. When I got the bright idea of putting in a radio station, I needed to go back and catch up some. That qualified me to teach media.”

Jones was respected among other staff and students.

 “I have great respect for Jerry Jones and the phenomenal job he did for decades with the radio/TV program,” says Tim Cleland, current teacher of Delta media classes. “His dedication to the students was legendary as the radio DJ's started an hour before school and continued after school and students even did play-by-play of the home football and basketball games.” 

Jones is proud of the fact that many of his former students went on to be professionals in the industry. Some have become network announcers, sportscasters, or other roles in radio or TV. 
Pam ThrashDelta graduate Pam Thrash spent 31 years in the radio business.

Pam Thrash, a 1984 graduate, was one of those students. She worked at many stations throughout the country, including Orange County, California, as well as North Carolina and Lafayette, Ind. She spent most of her career in Bloomington, Ind., at WBWB radio where she hosted a “Retro Lunch Hour.” She says she eventually had to find a different career because of the “small salaries and bad insurance” offered by radio stations. 
Pam with Mr T Pam Thrash interviews Mr. T from the A Team.

Thrash has fond memories of Jones. 

“I really liked Jerry Jones. He was funny, inspiring, and just a great teacher! I’m friends with him to this day,” Thrash says. “He had a big part in what would turn out to be my 31-year radio broadcasting career.”
Stan with Ed Sheeran

Stan Atkinson chats with Ed Sheeran.
Stan Atkinson, a 1982 graduate, was another former student of Jones who went into the radio field. He worked for three decades at different radio stations throughout the country, including in Muncie as well as Dallas, Texas, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Milwaukee, Wis., but sadly also had to change careers. 

“I left the business four years ago. Being in radio is like being a professional sports manager/coach. You are hired knowing you’ll eventually be fired,” Atkinson says. “We had a management change at the station and I was let go. I had a son in high school and didn’t want to move, so I changed careers. I’ve been a Special Education teacher the past four years.”
Stan with Keith Urban Stan Atkinson shares a photo with Keith Urban.

   Atkinson recalls how Jones was one of his freshman football coaches. Atkinson says Jones was a nice guy who was “always on top of things.”

Jones remembers fearing what would happen to the program he spent his career building after he left. “That’s the reason I stayed at Delta,” he says. 

Jones eventually retired in 2002, and a few short years later most of the program was shut down.

“It’s a big shame,” Jones says. “It saddens me to know that the program, in a sense, died …. I spent 30 years building that program.”

After Jones retired, the radio and TV program began to dwindle. Several factors contributed to this, including less experienced teachers, less dedicated students, and deteriorating equipment. By 2010, the radio and television program was discontinued. Only Eagle Zone News, Delta’s morning announcement video production, carried on. 

Journalism and yearbook are a large part of Delta Student Media. Cleland has taught the Deltonian yearbook and Eagle’s Eye newsmagazine classes for the 22 years he’s been at Delta.

Cleland remembers how his first yearbook class in 1998-99 only had nine students, and six of them were recruited out of their study halls on the first day of school.

Cleland also taught the web design class that created the original Delta High School website. Over the years he has taught creative writing, mythology, and U.S. history.

Yearbook and newspaper classes have evolved with technological advancements. 

“Yearbook has changed dramatically due to digital photography and online book production,” Cleland says. “(When I first started) photographers took photos on 35mm cameras, and then I’d take the film canisters to be developed at Walgreens the next day.”

Now with digital photography, students can take “1,000 or more photos” at a basketball game with much less expense, Cleland explains. 

The yearbook is designed and submitted entirely online using Herff-Jones eDesign technology.

“Technology also has been a big change in newspaper class.  In the early days, the students often hand wrote their stories as computers were less available,” Cleland says. “But even though the technology changes, it still boils down to telling interesting stories by conducting good interviews with a variety of sources.”
Tyson Mathews
Tyson Mathews, assistant director of Athletic Communications at Ball State University, spent four years on the Eagle's Eye newspaper staff at Delta.

Former newspaper student Tyson Mathews, a 2002 graduate, remembers well the busy workdays and hard deadlines of Eagle’s Eye newspaper. 

“During heavy production times, we would write and edit our stories, lay out the upcoming newspaper or sections of the yearbook in (Adobe) PageMaker, manually crop hardcopy photos with a cropping tool and grease pencil (wow, that was a long time ago!) and do everything it took to meet our deadlines,” he says.

Mathews is now Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at Ball State University. He is the primary media contact for men’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf, and a secondary media contact for football. 

Mathews and Cleland alike remember the late night work hours of the newspaper staff. 

“When after-school activities were finished on those days, we would come back into the office in the evenings to finish designing the paper so we could get it to the printer on time (Tim had to drive a disk to the printer!),” Mathews recalls. “We got a lot of work accomplished during those nights, and we had a lot of fun together, too. We would even take breaks in the middle to watch Jeopardy! and see who could correctly answer the most questions (or question the most answers, I suppose). Sometimes we would be there until very late, but we did it because we loved it.”

Cleland remembers it mostly the same: “In the early days of Eagle's Eye newspaper, we would have work nights where we did layout and design, ate pizza, and played against each other in Jeopardy! when it came on TV during the work night.  The kids really enjoyed those work nights and would show up and stay for hours.”
Chris Crabtree
Chris Crabtree, owner of Crabtree Photography, got his start as a freshman on the yearbook staff at Delta.

Former Delta yearbook student Chris Crabtree remembers being in the school’s darkroom and developing film. “I don’t feel that old, but yes, all the pictures were black-and-white because that’s all we had to work with,” he says.

Crabtree was a yearbook student from 1979 to 1982 under former journalism teacher Mary Lou Dickie. He said Mrs. Dickie allowed him to take the yearbook class as a freshman during a time when freshmen weren’t usually allowed in.

 “[She] lit the fire under me to get better. She saw something in me and sent me to a workshop that was really a turning point for me,” he said.

Crabtree recalls how much he loved the freedom and independence that came with being in yearbook. “I would have to say having the hall pass clipped on my camera strap at all times, at my disposal, at any given time was one of the most fun things to get me in and out of classes and all the events I went to,” he says. 

Crabtree has gone on to become a professional photographer with his own business, Crabtree Photography in Muncie.  His business is the official photographer of the school for student photos, athletic photos, dance and graduation photos, and group and organization photos.

Although constantly evolving with new teachers and new technologies, Delta High School Student Media has led to professional careers for many students, and left others with life-long memories. It continues to provide students with important skills and experiences that they can use throughout life.