Voices Carry

Why You Should Listen to the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program's DJs

This nonprofit lets local kids master the airwaves on KDNK while teaching them a whole lot more.

By Allison Johnson February 19, 2019 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

From left, DJs Super H and Cynthia


Tune into Carbondale’s KDNK on any day of the week and chances are good that you’ll hear something unexpected: kids. For 18 years, the radio station has partnered with the nonprofit Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP) to teach students from third grade through high school the basics of broadcasting.

Founded by Annemarie Zanca in honor of her late brother, Andy, who began volunteering as a DJ at KDNK when he was 9, the program has mushroomed from a weekly half hour to six hours of live music programming per week. That allows around 60 regular youth DJs each year to host hour-long shows, while a peer mentoring program helps train younger DJs. 

In addition, AZYEP collaborates with 22 area schools to create short segments and public service announcements, also aired regularly on KDNK, that cover topics from poetry to science to health. The most recent component is a youth news program that meets weekly after school to plan a monthly broadcast. All told, AZYEP airs the voices of more than 1,250 students annually from Aspen to Parachute.

That’s a lot of youth energy on the radio. 

Charlee, a.k.a. DJ Cheeto

“To our knowledge, there’s no one in the country that’s giving this amount of airtime to kids,” says AZYEP Executive Director Beth Wysong, the program’s only full-time staff member. “Other organizations put kids on, but KDNK is unique in giving six hours a week to youth DJs plus ample airtime for classroom projects.”

Better yet, the impact on kids is substantial. “The kids walk out from being on the radio feeling confident and like they’ve been a leader in the community,” says Wysong.

Parents agree. Former board member Ricardo Zavala has watched his once-shy 12-year-old blossom over the four years he’s been involved with the program. “AZYEP has given him confidence to be himself and to overcome obstacles,” he says. The family moved to the US in 2012, and the son’s bilingual show also allows relatives in Mexico to listen online and stay connected. In fact, Wysong encourages Spanish speakers to do their show in two languages, seeing such programming as an important bridge with the bilingual community. 

(from left) Vanessa, Erika, Liliana, and Esther, a.k.a. the Sisters

The DJ program also helps students develop soft skills like public speaking and gain real-world experience. Parent Ami Maes, who attended school with Andy Zanca, has watched her son Mountain master important life skills. “He’s learning responsibility, commitment, organization, using a calendar, sending emails,” she notes. “He’s very professional for being only 12, and he’s become confident and comfortable with adults.” 

Mountain has also parlayed his AZYEP experience into other DJ gigs and jobs with Carbondale’s annual Mountain Fair. “School can be tough for some kids,” adds Maes. “AZYEP gives them something to be successful at outside of school or sports.”

Adult listeners benefit, too. “They’re able to get insight into youth culture,” says Wysong. “That’s really important in today’s society.”

Live radio shows air Sunday and Monday afternoons and Thursday evenings, with news programs the third Wednesday of each month. Ultimately, AZYEP’s impact goes well beyond getting youth on the radio. “When kids are empowered, they feel good about themselves,” Wysong says. “And they can bring that back into other parts of their lives.” 

DJs Mountain, Quinn, Maija, Charlee, and Miles

And the Beat Goes On

When you tune into an AZYEP show, don’t expect just a retread of the latest hits. “Adults love hearing the eclectic music that the kids pick out,” says Wysong. “They always ask me, do the kids really choose that music or do you influence them? I give them suggestions, but they pretty much come up with the idea.” 

Here’s what DJs Jace, Elan, and Tanner—all from Bridges High School in Glenwood Springs—played during a recent show: 

“Beat It,” Michael Jackson 

“Buddy Holly,” Weezer

“All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi Hendrix

“Landslide,” Dixie Chicks

“Life Is a Highway,” Chris Ledoux

“Grinder (Live),” Gary Clark Jr.

“The Man Who Sold the World,” Nirvana

“Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin

“Erase/Replace,” Foo Fighters

“Lodi,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” Talking Heads

“Jealous Guy,” Donny Hathaway

“It Won’t Be Long,” The Beatles

“Written in the Stars,” Elton John

“Night and Day,” Frank Sinatra 

“Place out on the Ocean,” Jamey Johnson

“Someone Like You,” Adele

“Wait Until Tomorrow,” Jimi Hendrix Experience

“Clouds and Stars,” Knitting by Twilight

“Nightingale,” Eagles

“Night Fever,” Bee Gees

“Grey Seal,” Elton John

“Dreams,” Beck

“Ocean or a Teardrop,” David Jacobs-Strain

“Indian Ocean,” Frazey Ford

“Sea of Stories,” Andy Narell

“Ragtime Annie,” Chet Atkins & Doc Watson

“Tanbou Lou,” The Souljazz Orchestra

“In My Life,” Bill Frisell

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