Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Viking Broadcasting Company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of WHFH radio and the many successes of the thousands of students who spent time in front of a microphone or TV camera.
Retired teacher Bob Comstock, who directed the program from 1979 until 2013, says every student “is a star, as far as I’m concerned. I never considered this to be a vocational program. It was a student run/student managed facility and the skills that the kids established here they took with them wherever they went.”
More than 200 graduates and friends celebrated the successes of the broadcast program at a Saturday evening party at Idlewild Country Club.
Comstock, H-F class of 1972, said for those who have gone on to name recognition, including Ben Bradley of ABC7-TV in Chicago, Chuck Garfein of Comcast SportsNet, Dave Mitchell, a reporter for WBBM-AM radio, and Sean Powers working at the National Public Radio affiliate at Georgia Public Broadcasting, there are hundreds more who work in every profession. At a Saturday open house at H-F, Comstock talked with graduates who are in banking, information technology and dozens of other fields.
The topic of conversation for many was the dreaded 55-minute radio documentary that was a mandated project sophomore year. Comstock offered some direction but the students were left to their own devices to get the piece done.
“Customer Satisfaction in the Airline Industry” was 2011 graduate Keenan McCarthy’s topic.
“I spoke with people from the airlines, some pilots and back in the day of the documentary I was a socially awkward kid and I really didn’t talk to many people, so just ringing those people on the phone was like one of the scariest things that I could possibly imagine doing at that age,” McCarthy said.
“But that’s kind of like the thing that the documentary and broadcasting in general forced you to do: go outside your comfort zone. It makes you a better person because you’re about to do that. And you wanted to succeed. Nobody wanted to be the one to go over that 55-minute mark,” he stressed.
The documentary was an individual project, but 2011 graduate Aidan Meeks said he probably has 30 people to thank for help on his documentary “Examination of the Affects of Bullying and Violence in Schools.”
“There’s a lot I learned in making that documentary: how do I work best, what are my strengths personally, what are some of the things I can improve upon and how do I work well with others — how can I be cooperative and how can we get things done,” Meeks said.
In 1962, starting a radio station at Homewood-Flossmoor High School was a dream of then-sophomore Tom Harlan. He’d read about New Trier High School starting a station. Harlan pushed the idea at H-F. He recalls a core group of between 20 and 30 working on the radio station project with great support from teacher Jerry Weeks, the school board and the PTA. Harlan said it took Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) to secure the station’s Federal Communications Commission license.
Radio classes were taught by Jerry Garber until 1979 when Comstock took his spot. Comstock’s long-time teaching partner was Meg Tipton.
Michael Volk, class of 1981, who was WHFH station manager his senior year, remembers splicing audio tape to cut out extemporaneous sound and queuing up records. Today that’s all done with computers, said H-F junior Erica Siliezar, the current station manager.
Over his more than three decades at H-F, Comstock brought in consultants to help develop the television studio. John Freberg, whose sons graduated from H-F, shared his 40 years as a broadcast engineer to help H-F design the latest generation audio studio about three years ago. Over the years, the school board has continued to invest in state-of-the-art equipment to keep H-F’s program current.
Today more than 225 students are part of the broadcasting program, said director and teacher Mark Ciesielski. He’s expanded it to include an industry of music class and a film class, in addition to WHFH and TV classes.
“The way it is now, video is just taking over the Internet and everything else. It’s fun to be part of that push,” he said.
Photos by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle.