Sunday, April 25, 1999

Kids campaign for wholesome shows




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARDINIA, Ohio — The name of their after-school club says it all: Kids Insist on Decent Shows.

        A couple of dozen students at Sardinia Elementary School, about 50 miles east of Cincinnati in Brown County, have written more than 200 letters of protest and praise to broadcasters, TV personalities and politicians.

        “We want to make a difference,” says Randal Purdy, 10, one of the founding members.

        “We want to watch TV and listen to the radio without bad language and seeing violence,” says Barbie Dugan, also 10.

REACHING K.I.D.S.
  People may reach Kids Insist on Decent Shows (K.I.D.S.) several ways:
  • Web site: www.browncounty.net/kids4decency
  • E-mail: kids4decency@yahoo.com or kids4decency@hotmail.com
  • Mail: KIDS, Box 35, Mowrystown, OH 45155
        So these K.I.D.S. are taking their complaints globally. They've recently launched a Web site.

        “We want to get kids all around the country, through our group, doing the same thing we are,” Randal explains.

        K.I.D.S. club started a year ago with third-grade teacher Sondra K. Stratton. To date, they have complained about WVMX-FM's TV commercials with a naked man carrying a boom box, WEBN-FM's “What a Pair!” cleavage billboards and DJs on “Young Country” WYGY-FM. They sent a complaint letter last week to the Federal Communications Commission about the “MIX94.1” naked man commercial.

        Next on their radar: The Jerry Springer talk show and ABC for replacing the Olsen twins' Two of a Kind with the more adult Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place.

        They also have mailed a “certificate of appreciation” to Touched by an Angel, Promised Land, Rosie O'Donnell,Donny & Marie (Osmond) and five Tristate radio stations (WGRR-FM, WRRM-FM, WAKW-FM, Dayton's WHKO-FM and West Union's WRAC-FM.)

        “What we want are really good shows for kids of all ages, and for families,” says Ashley Harris, 10.

        On the Web site are their goals for TV and radio programmers: Clean jokes and language, non-violent programming and “good music with clean language.”

        They're also upset about three prime-time cartoons: Comedy Central's South Park,Fox's Family Guy and reruns of MTV's Beavis and Butt-head. More than half of the members said they've seen South Park, a 10 p.m. show rated TV-MA (for mature audience only; unsuitable for children under 17).

        “Some parents think it is funny or cool for children to watch programs like wrestling, South Park or other shows like these. I guess they don't realize what these shows are teaching children,” one 12-year-old Sardinia sixth-grader wrote on the Web sites' “K.I.D.S. Komments” page.

        “They say South Park isn't for kids, but they make the South Park Nintendo games for kids to play,” Ms. Stratton notes.

Taking a stand
        K.I.D.S. grew out of Ms. Stratton's class letter-writing campaign last school year protesting what they considered off-color comments on “Young Country” WYGY-FM (96.5), which they had heard in the classroom before school started.

        They wrote letters to elected officials, the FCC and WYGY-FM, with little response. They finally heard from the station — over the air — when the Enquirer published a letter to the editor from Ms. Stratton last July.

        “They called us "hicks,'” Barbie says.

        “This is just a bunch of little kids who were really angry, and wanted to take a stand,” says Ms. Stratton, a teacher here since 1974.

K.I.D.S. CONCERNS
  Kids Insist on Decent Shows (KIDS) list these “concerns” about television and radio on their Web site:
  • Clean jokes.
  • Clean language.
  • Non-embarrassing talk or conversations.
  • Good music with clean lyrics.
  • Non-violent programming.
  • Appropriate programming suitable for all ages.
  • New Federal Communications Commission department to monitor programs on a surprise basis, especially those stations/programs receiving complaints.
  • Harsher penalties and bigger fines for FCC infractions.
  • Require the FCC and broadcasters to respond to all written complaints. (Otherwise, nobody knows if a complaint was received or acted upon.)
        A handful of the children met with Ms. Stratton last summer and decided to form K.I.D.S. Membership is open to all 344 students in the school.

        At least once a month, the children gather in Ms. Stratton's classroom to talk about the shows they like or dislike. Then they break into groups of four around the computers and write letters. Every member signs each letter.

        So far, the letters have generated only a handful of responses. The club's prized possession is an autographed photo from Rosie O'Donnell, whose daytime talk show they enjoyed watching during summer vacation.

To the Supreme Court
        Not everyone agrees with their mission.

        U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter politely declined to help Paige Davidson, a sixth-grader, who wrote him about Jerry Springer and the “bad language and nasty jokes” on WEBN-FM (102.7).

        “Judges in our country have no business telling other people what they may or may not say or hear. And that's the way I think it should be,” Justice Souter wrote in October.

        “I don't believe I or any other judge would do a very good job of deciding what is best for the minds of other people,” he wrote.

        Ms. Stratton stresses that she's not encouraging K.I.D.S. “to do away with freedom of speech. We just want people to be responsible,” she says.

        In “A Word from the K.I.D.S. Leader” on the Internet site, she writes:

        “The purpose of K.I.D.S. is to make the media aware that young people are listening, and that what the media does definitely affects them. The effects can be positive or negative!

        “K.I.D.S. want the media to take a good look at itself and be responsible for the material it broadcasts. We call it "Freedom of Speech With Responsibility.' K.I.D.S. asks that the media participate in responsible broadcasting during 6 a.m.-10 p.m., and set a positive example for everyone!”

        Several parents volunteer to help the students' letter-writing campaigns. “These are their ideas. We just help put them down in the right context, and make sure they're sent to the right people,” says Tammy Dugan, mother of two members, Barbie and Rachel, 8.

        Although Mrs. Dugan doesn't let her children watch South Park or professional wrestling, “the kids know all about it. They hear about it from kids at school. You can't guard your kids forever,” she says.

        After Ms. Stratton had exhausted $100 in stamps donated to the organization, a local youth minister designed a Web site for K.I.D.S.

        The home page also includes information about how to complain to the FCC, and links to 75 other Internet sites. Just a click away is homework help in math, science, geography; references and research; parenting advice; TV networks; and sites for Cincinnati TV stations and newspapers.

Vist Web site
        Club members want other kids — and adults — to visit their Web site and e-mail their “Komments.” (People without Internet access may write K.I.D.S., P.O. Box 35, Mowrystown, OH 45155.)

        K.I.D.S. will collect the programming complaints and then send them to TV network presidents or station managers along with their own critiques, Ms. Stratton says.

        WRRM-FM General Manager Dennis Swensson says he didn't know anything about K.I.D.S. when “WARM98” received its certificate last year. “We weren't sure what the organization was all about,” he says.

        So “WARM98” DJ Jim Smith drove out to meet the group — and came home very impressed.

        “I was struck by how sincerely the kids were involved with this effort — and not just because the teacher told them to do so — to promote wholesome family programs,” Mr. Smith says.

        Even if these kids don't change the world, the K.I.D.S. club has taught them grammar, letter-writing skills, computer literacy, community involvement and empowerment, Mrs. Dugan says.

        “I'm just trying to teach them to stand up for their rights,” Ms. Stratton says, “and that one person can make a difference.”



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