Nearly a dozen high school students cram inside a booth at Carter Broadcast Group’s studio near the border of Kansas City and Grandview.
They take turns on the mic introducing themselves live on air.
It’s a Saturday morning, and while most high school students have yet to rise from their beds, these determined youths are moving at full speed.
All are current members of 103.3 KPRS-FM’s Generation Rap show, a weekly radio show produced by teens from all across the metro area. At 8 a.m. every Saturday since Dec. 12, 1987, Generation Rap has aired on KPRS. Teens discuss topics ranging from peer pressure to prom tips; politics to crime; things that are pertinent to their demographic. Student producers book guests, research topics of discussions and write and distribute weekly news releases detailing that week’s show.
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Students attend such schools as Bishop Miege and Shawnee Mission Northwest high schools in Kansas and African-Centered College Preparatory Academy, Central Academy of Excellence and Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City; Blue Springs South, Grandview, Raytown South and Lee’s Summit West high schools.
Their personalities run from studious to serious to driven and determined. All are excited about the day’s show — they have an area singer in the studio as on-air guest, as well as a music producer and his sometimes collaborator.
The vocalist, Chavonna Adams of Kansas City, talks about making headway on the independent grind, while the music producer, Joe Fountain, speaks about some of the hip-hop artists he has worked with. One such artist is his cohort, who has accompanied him after a 31/2-hour drive from St. Louis, where they performed the previous night before jumping on the highway at 4 a.m. to make it in time for the in-studio visit.
The Generation Rap crew members have an extra bounce in their steps because as adviser and mentor India Williams says, they are familiar with the producer’s work on a few popular “twerk music” songs that have populated 103.3’s radio dial in recent months.
The students, led by show producer Kayla Henderson of Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Tania Taylor of African-Centered College Preparatory Academy, shoot out questions at a rapid-fire pace.
They question Adams about her career, how she manages performing while holding a full-time job and how she connects with other artists from out of town.
Fountain, a 27-year-old Kansas City man known in the industry as Pretty Boi Beats, can barely keep his eyes open, but the teen hosts won’t be disappointed. The producer’s pal, 29-year-old rapper, singer and dancer Vincent Wesley, who goes by Vyndu, brings energy to the show, which in turns coaxes energy from Fountain.
From there, the interview takes off, and for the next 30 minutes or so, the Generation Rap crew has its guest in full showmanship mode.
Another guest scheduled for the show, a local rapper, is a no-show. It seems he thought the interview was for 8 p.m. and misses it altogether.
Williams, Jackson County 10th Ward committeewoman and a former G-Rap cast member, is impressed by the students’ ability to overcome the slight setback.
“You have to expect the unexpected,” Williams says.
Generation Rap has aired on Saturdays since late 1987 on KPRS.
The show was created by education consultant Carl Boyd. Mentors include Williams, former G-Rap member Erika Brice, KPRS’ Dyan Devereaux and Jim “Grand Dad” Nunnelly.
Alumni include current Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed, and WDAF Fox 4 movie critic Shawn Edwards, who once served as host after Boyd’s departure in the late 1990s.
“I took over as host after Carl Boyd and put the contemporary dope spin you hear on the show now,” Edwards said. “I incorporated music, the rah-rah attitude, hip catchphrases and an engaging interview style that didn’t exist before I took over.”
Edwards says Generation Rap allowed him to develop his communications skills, which he says came in handy when he started working at Fox 4 News.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Edwards said. “I still connect and engage with a lot of the students that were in the show during my time as host from 1998 to 2003.”
Much like Brice, Reed says the show gave him a voice. Reed appeared on the show from 1998 until he graduated from Northeast High School in 2002. He occasionally made appearances on air in 2003 and 2004 as well.
“It was a remarkable opportunity for me to have a voice at a very young age,” Reed said. “We talked about issues relating to everything. Education, politics, teen pregnancy, sports, whatever; it allowed for us to have that voice.”
Reed added that he visits the revolving crew at the beginning of each year to recount his experiences on the show.
“They do a good job of making sure we remain connected with the program,” he said.
Boyd says distinguished alumni can be found in those who have found high-achieving careers throughout the country.
“On Dec. 12, it will be 28 years of consecutive Saturdays of teenagers on the air,” he said as he perused a box of keepsakes he’s collected through the years. Items include press clippings, photos and recorded shows stored on cassette tapes. “That’s delightful to me.”
The show “gave me a voice,” said Brice, a manager of national real estate practices for NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit housing program. She started on the show at age 15 before graduating from Raytown South in 1998. “What I said actually made a difference. As an adult now everything that I do I know my voice matters. That is one of the things I got from the show.”
Parental involvement is key to the success of the show.
Some students drive, but most are chaperoned to and from the studio twice per week; the staff meets on Wednesday evenings for a preproduction meeting that includes upcoming guests.
On this Saturday, Frances Spearman and Jessica McClellan are just a couple of the parents who are in studio. Parents park on the other side of the sound-proof glass where students conduct interviews.
Spearman, mother of that day’s producer, Henderson, says her support is unwavering.
“This is what (Henderson) wants to do,” the Shawnee resident says. “She sought out for it. I didn’t ask her to do it; she wanted this for herself. I’m just being supportive in what she wants to do because I know this is one of her callings.”
The show was Henderson’s first as a producer. Each student gets a chance to not only produce the show, but serve as host. Spearman says she was nervous for her daughter.
“Not too bad for the first time,” Spearman says. “I don’t know how she got it, but she got it. This is what she does.”
McClellan’s son, Halston, is a 16-year-old junior at Lee’s Summit West. He’s a dancer, musician and artist. She urges him to speak up into the microphone and be more assertive throughout the show.
A series of hand gestures only a mother and child can understand serves its purpose as Halston McClellan comes to life during the second half of the one-hour show.
“I’m excited about the opportunity for Halston,” Jessica McClellan says. “This is an opportunity for him to meet with other like-minded youth and guests that have interests like his. It’s a great experience. As a parent, I think it’s phenomenal to support him.”
Halston McClellan started on the show last August. He categorizes the experience as great.
“I mostly like when I leave and people say, ‘I heard you on the radio,’” he says. “I tell them, ‘I may give you a shoutout if you tune in and listen.’ It’s a good opportunity to speak your mind.”
Students sit around an enlarged table inside a meeting room at Carter Broadcast Group. It’s a Wednesday evening, and Generation Rap staff have a preproduction meeting led by Williams and Devereaux, a longtime employee at KPRS. They are joined by mentor Nunnelly, a retired administrator of Jackson County’s COMBAT program.
Nunnelly is best known for his role in creating the Jackson County Drug Court 20 years ago. Two years ago, the Jackson County Legislature established the James T. Nunnelly Award in his honor.
The award recognizes the outstanding dedication and perseverance of a graduating member of the Jackson County Drug Court.
Affectionately known as “Grand Dad,” Nunnelly first joined Generation Rap as an on-air segment host with Boyd in the early 1990s. He then joined Boyd on air. After Boyd left the area, Nunnelly took on more responsibility with the show.
He is retired now, but each year, participants are well-versed in the role Nunnelly has played.
“I didn’t know much before I joined the show, but I knew it had been around a long time,” says 15-year-old Blue Springs South student Isaiah Jackson, a member now in his third year on the crew. “Mr. Carl Boyd, I met him before, but then I didn’t know it was just him. Then once I joined the show, I found out about Grand Dad and how he turned the table.”
Taylor says she knew of Nunnelly before she joined the show.
“I was driving around with my grandma one day listening to Generation Rap,” she says. “My grandma, she knows Grand Dad, so I would see him out and be like, ‘Yo that’s Grand Dad.’ My grandma was like, ‘You’re always talking about Generation Rap, you need to go over there and make a connection.’
“I saw him out like three times, and he told me to go ahead and make it happen. So I emailed Miss Dyan” Devereaux.
For his part, Nunnelly is humble.
“My greatest show at 73 years old is walking around and somebody comes up to me and says, ‘I was on Generation Rap,’” he says. “They’re adults now, but it all started right here.”
Nunnelly adds he still listens to the show.
“Every Saturday,” he says as he plays the background role, sitting in a chair off to the side. “Our children don’t know how proud that makes me.”
Devereaux, who actively recruits and trains the student-led crew, says she often reminds students that at 8 a.m. most of their peers are not listening to them. It is adults whose attention they hold.
“We instill that in them, and they take it to (a) higher level,” she says. “I’m impressed with that.”
Jasmin Robinson says giving up two hours per week of her time is good for the future.
“This is what I want to do,” she says. “Waking up (on Saturdays) is the hardest part, but once I’m here I’m good.”
Robinson adds she sees Generation Rap as a gateway into a career as a broadcast journalist.
“I just want a lot of practice,” she says. “I just want the chance to be able to have those skills and hold my own.”
The current Generation Rap members include Marlon Jones and Tania Taylor of African-Centered College Preparatory Academy; Ogechi Ofodu, TaLeah Richards, Jasmin Robinson and Sydney Brooks of Lee’s Summit West; and Raytown South’s Jai Williams, among others.