MIAMI (AP) — Nestled in the heart of Little Havana, just a few blocks from Marlins Park, is one of the most unique radio stations in America.
SLAM Radio is the first and only satellite radio station in the nation run by high school students. Broadcasting on Sirius XM-Channel 145, SLAM is on air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and features content produced and presented by 80 to 100 local high school students. The programming — much of it prerecorded — focuses on sports talk, current events, entertainment, and journalism, with some music mixed in.
The station, launched in December 2018, is part of the Sports Leadership Arts and Management (SLAM) charter school network, which was co-founded by rapper Pitbull (aka Armando Christian Perez) and has grown to 11 campuses nationwide. It is a public charter school for grades 6-12 and its curriculum is geared for students interested in sports leadership and management.
SLAM’s 3,000 square-foot radio studio is on the school campus at 542 N.W. 12 Ave. It is equipped with 12 voiceover booths. Most of the students involved are Hispanic-American and Black.
“It’s given kids in Little Havana a voice and confidence they never knew they had,” said veteran radio host Larry “El Amigo” Milian, who serves as the station general manager and is a beloved mentor for the students, as is executive producer Frank Fernandez. “Some of these kids were afraid to put two sentences together, and now we can’t shut them up.”
Some of the shows — such as Slam Rundowns, The Youth, and Sports Slam — feature student hosts. Others are produced and edited by students, but have professional hosts, like “Good Morning Amigo”, a four-hour show led by Milian, best known for his “Dos Amigos” and “Desayuno Deportivo” bilingual sports talk shows that ran on AM-790 and ESPN Deportes.
The station’s latest project is a partnership is with the Miami Herald, which will have its sports podcasts — hosted by Herald sports reporters — produced and promoted by SLAM students and aired on SLAM Radio.
The Miami Herald Sports Hour will run at drive time — 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning March 8. The podcasts include: The Greg Cote Show, Fish Bytes, Dolphins in Depth, Heat Check and Eye on the U.
SLAM Radio has garnered national attention, and was featured on “Good Morning America” during the 2020 Super Bowl, when students spent two days on the Sirius XM stage on Radio Row at the Miami Beach Convention Center, interviewing the likes of NFL stars Dan Marino, Lawrence Taylor, Michael Irvin, Frank Gore, Dak Prescott, and Tua Tagovailoa. They also rubbed elbows with WWE wrestler The Big Show, radio personality Sway Calloway and MMA star Jorge Masvidal.
“It was such a once in a lifetime experience seeing all the NFL players walking around, being shoulder to shoulder with Dan Marino and The Big Show,” said Mario Gonzalez, 16, one of SLAM’s sports broadcasters. “That was amazing. It is indescribable, doing it at such a young age. I could not be more thankful for this program. We were running around hunting down celebrities for the show, just like professional radio hosts.”
Anthony Milian, 16, son of Larry Milian, and SLAM’s sports director, added: “The night before we went on Super Bowl Radio Row I didn’t sleep much. I was really nervous and intimidated, especially when we walked into those double doors. It was massive. I was really scared. But I began to settle in. It was a great learning experience.”
It was the first time high school students were on the air from Radio Row.
“That was our proudest moment,” Larry Milian said. “People were looking at those kids, on the biggest stage right next to Sway Calloway and Mad Dog Russo. Forget about living out dreams, this was the improbable. The best part about it, they acted so professionally. Some of the programming isn’t perfect because they’re kids, but they’re learning and we’re teaching on the back end.”
Catering to high schooler’s listening habits, SLAM Radio programming is available on the Sirius platform, online at siriusxm.com, and on the SiriusXM Radio phone App.
David Webb, a veteran host on conservative Sirius XM Patriot channel 125, has been impressed with the SLAM Radio students and their shows.
“I think it is a phenomenal program, and the why is the fact that kids are using their voice, their talent, testing their limits, and are free to express themselves, which is really what broadcasting is all about,” Webb said. “What I hear is professionalism. These kids are better than some of the hosts I’ve heard over my career who have been on the air. They’re learning routine, format, learning to prep and create, so they’re learning about thinking and process, which is what will make you a success in radio. And that leads to success in life.”
“Being behind that microphone after you get over those jitters, which we all have had, the minute you do that and let yourself get into it, you gain a lot of confidence that you don’t recognize you have.”
That certainly was the case for SLAM sophomore Nicole Martinez, host of The Youth show, and station student manager Idania Perez.
“When I first joined in, people described me as being afraid of my own shadow, not being able to speak, not having confidence in my voice or opinions,” said Martinez, whose grandfather worked in the media business in Cuba. “Now, they can’t get me to shut up. With SLAM radio, you’re constantly growing and being supported in that growth. You learn not to be afraid to face those fears so you can find a new comfort zone.”
Perez has always been interested in media and worked on the daily news show at her elementary school, but preferred being on the production side, behind the scenes. That changed when she joined SLAM Radio.
“I have so much more courage to express myself now,” Perez said. “I didn’t even tell my parents at first when I signed up for radio, but then I did a piece where I spoke up about Nicaragua, which is where my family is from, and my parents couldn’t believe how I opened up.”
Perez said if it weren’t for SLAM Radio and Milian, she probably would have left the school.
“I had some real-world issues hit me like a truck, including some deaths that were close to me,” Perez said. “I was struggling with my life, but SLAM Radio was my outlet, my safe space. No matter what was happening in my life, when I got to the studio I felt like we’re in a bubble. It’s not just about radio. It’s about life.”
Milian has made it his personal mission to be a father figure to all his students. They come to him with their problems and seek his guidance.
“We find their strengths, whether it’s running a board or producing a show, or podcasting, we get the most out of them and build their confidence, too,” Milian said. “And at the same time, they learn a little bit about research, knowing what you’re talking about before you say something, some real intangibles that aren’t in many textbooks. You have a voice, this is your American right, you can speak up, but you have to be respectful. If you have do things with dignity, you can proudly use that voice.”
Hanging on a wall in the studio is a “W” flag from the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. The “W” flag is used to indicate that the Cubs won the game. Milian uses it to motivate his students.
“I tell them that their goal each day is to `Win the Day’,’’ Milian explained. “It can be a very small victory on some days, but you have to find that win every single day. It may sound corny or cheesy, but it works for them.”
The W’s keep coming at SLAM Radio.