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Carmel High School radio station puts students on track to success

By Mark Ambrogi

While listening to Indianapolis Colts play-by-play announcer Bob Lamey’s broadcast of the 2006 AFC Championship game, Alex Thomas had a revelation that talking about sports on radio would be a fun career to pursue.

Now a Carmel High School senior, Thomas’ path hasn’t swerved. Thomas serves as the play-by-play announcer for football games on WHJE-91.3 FM, the high school’s radio station. Thomas, the station’s sports director, plans to pursue majoring in communications at either Ball State or Indiana University.

“It’s something I’d loved to do with my life,” Thomas said “I think it would be really exciting. For me, it’s work but it’s fun.”

Same goes for WHJE alum Pat Boylan, who credits his high school experience for his fast start to his broadcasting career.

Boylan, a 2009 Carmel High School graduate, is starting his first year as pregame host and sideline reporter for the Indiana Pacers’ radio broadcasts. He also will be postgame locker room TV reporter for Pacers home games on Fox Sports Indiana. In addition, he will be a fill-in play-by-play announcer for the Indiana Fever. Boylan, who graduated from Ball State in 2013, spent three seasons as Ball State football play-by-play announcer for WCRD, the college’s student radio station. After graduating, he spent a year covering high school sports for Beck Sports in North Dakota.

“WHJE was huge for me in getting a good start early,” Boylan said. “When I went into Ball State, I certainly had a leg up from a preparation and experience standpoint. I was able to call games my sophomore year of high school and that’s something very few schools in the state offer. Of those that do, I would find it hard to believe anyone can do it at the quality and have the opportunities that WHJE provided me. Because of that big leg up, it allowed me to get started right away at Ball State at where I wanted to be and not need any transition period that other students had that weren’t fortunate enough to have a radio station with the resources we had.”

Thomas has followed the success stories of Boylan and other WHJE alums. Thomas is joined by fellow seniors Austin McCracken and Parker Stewart on WHJE’s two-hour sports talk show on Saturday mornings. McCracken provides color commentary on the football games.

Thomas said he favors doing play-by-play because he looked up to Lamey growing up. He frequently puts the radio on and turns the TV audio down when the Colts or Pacers are playing.

McCracken said he prefers doing color on football broadcasts, but would rather do play-by-play for basketball and baseball.

“I’m a big stats guy. I have huge preparation folders for that (color),” McCracken said.

McCracken realized early on that he wouldn’t like to sit down at a desk.

“I love to be able to talk and communicate with people,” McCracken said. “I love being able to present my voice. I think voice is the biggest thing in radio because you are not seen. It’s about how you present yourself. That adds a little more challenge than TV.”

McCracken also does work with CHTV, the high school’s TV station, as many of the students take classes in both. Brian Spilbeler, a teacher and WHJE station manager, said the school is looking into coordinating more so students start with broadcasting and then launch into radio or TV.

WHJE, which started in 1963, broadcasts several different sporting events: volleyball, soccer, football and middle school football during the fall. There are approximately 160 students taking radio classes.

While sports accounts for a good deal of WHJE programming, there are plenty of other opportunities for high school students to hone their radio craft. Spilbeler said there are 10 original live shows from Monday to Friday.

“We mostly have DJ-hosted music programs,” Spilbeler said. “They get to choose their own music. They get to bring in information to discuss. Some of them take it more to a talk format.”

WHJE has 50 staff members, including seven managers. Approximately 110 others are first-year lab students.

“Throughout the school day when we have students in the class, there is a live presence as well,” Spilbeler said.

Spilbeler said there are plans for a pre-produced show with the superintendent. Senior Megan Hayes, WHJE’s news director, said it will be a combined effort with CHTV about things going on in the district.

Hayes, who does some on-air news reports, enjoys writing and producing stories.

“I enjoy researching different groups of people,” Hayes said. “I like getting deeper into topics and finding unique things about it.”

Spilbeler said the station also is looking at adding a show with Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard.

“Most of original programming comes from features or mini-news reports,” Spilbeler said. “They are pre-recorded on a cart and we use them through the day.”

The features or reports are used instead of commercial breaks. The reports are also displayed on the website.

“We try to own storytelling,” Spilbeler said. “That’s what newspapers have always done and that’s what television is now trying to do. We’re getting away from live host mentality and getting more into the pre-produced package story mentality. We have the ability with the equipment we have to send (the students) out remotely and cover different events and create stories. Being able to tell a good story is the name of the game.”

Where are they now?

Here is an update on how some WHJE alums are doing:

Kyle Binder, Horizon League Network Content Producer/host

Brian Bondus, all-media journalist at WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio

Charlie Butcher, Fort Wayne morning host on WOWO

Andrew Chernoff, weekend sports anchor/sports reporter for KFDM-TV in Beaumont, Texas

Dave Dugan, longtime “Bob and Tom Show” contributor, comedian

Steve Inskeep, host of NPR “Morning Edition” (brother Jim, another WHJE alum, is Carmel’s athletic director)

Lance Gose (McAlister), sports talk host on ESPN-1530 AM in Cincinnati

Paul Mendenhall, Indianapolis’ WTTS-92.3 FM personality

Pam Ferrin Rhoades, former WFBQ-95 FM and WNDE-1260 AM personality, now communications director for Sacred Heart Cathedral High School in Knoxville, Tenn.


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