Four young people huddle over a couple of portable microphones, discussing the big question they’ll be asking passersby at the annual toy fair in Bern.
“What do you want for Christmas?” they want to know on this early autumn day. Despite the huge variety of playthings on offer, it’s an easy question compared to the ones they were posing during 2009 – the United Nations Year of Reconciliation.
RadioChico, a youth radio station based in canton Bern, dedicated months to interviewing dozens of people about coping with and settling conflicts.
They approached random strangers as well as prominent society members, including local politicians, business leaders and clergy members. They asked questions like “What is a good way to reconcile? Who should reconcile? How do you feel after reconciling?”
In addition to airing their findings from their studio in the Emmental region, the young radio crew produced a CD in German and later translated it into English.
Their efforts paid off; RadioChico received an international award for the project in August.
At the start of 2009, the Foundation for Subjective Experience and Research called for entries in its competition for student projects related to the UN Year of Reconciliation. Of the 157 projects from 22 nations entered, RadioChico was one of a dozen to be honoured.
“We were hoping to turn in a good project, but we never thought we’d land in the top 12,” director Annemarie Koch told swissinfo.ch. In addition to accolades, the prize included €600 ($820) in cash.
In 2008, RadioChico received a local award – the Bärner JugendTag prize, which supports educational projects in canton Bern. It came with prize money amounting to SFr5,000 ($5,145).
Both honours are votes of confidence for RadioChico, which also aims to boost the self-esteem of the children involved.
RadioChico, which broadcasts via the internet, was born in 2007. One of its goals is to help young people to develop media competence.
“The students need media competence to get self-confident and also to see what’s happening in society, Koch said.
“ We chose radio and internet to give them the possibility to use this media for something very good. So they’re not just playing computer games or going on Facebook, but rather, they are really producing something.“
RadioChico has a permanent studio in Goldbach, and will soon open a second in the city of Bern. According to Koch, there are about 20 students involved in Goldbach, and other ten in Bern.
In addition, RadioChico has a mobile studio that travels to events and classrooms all over Switzerland. Many schools opt to have a radio week; when that’s the case, RadioChico apprentices accompany Koch and help show the students how to operate the equipment.
“When we go into a school on a Monday, we start at 8:30 and by 9am, each one is stating his name and hobbies. By 10 o’clock the first news comes, and then they start interviewing people around town – business people, politicians, housewives,” Koch said.
She added that it’s a good opportunity for children to learn to communicate and cooperate.
Fourteen-year-old Nicolas Abbühl has been a part of the RadioChico team for two years now. He especially enjoys hosting programmes.
“I have to concentrate on everything at once – the levels, speaking, the programme – it’s cool,” Abbühl said while working at the RadioChico booth at the Suisse Toy fair.
He likes the challenge of presenting live shows as well, though he admits that he was pretty nervous at the beginning.
“After you’ve been doing it a while, you have kind of a routine. But there are always new things you can learn,” Abbühl told swissinfo.ch. He added that he definitely wants to pursue a career in radio.
Prisca Lehmann has been at it for four months and she’s already hooked.
“There’s a virus going around RadioChico, and when you work for them, you get infected,” joked the 17-year-old, who was also on duty at the toy fair.
She said that although she’s a bit shy sometimes, she finds it interesting to approach people and ask them questions.
“I like all the technical aspects and cutting the interviews,” added Lehmann, who plans to study biology and chemistry.
Besides the fact that it’s staffed by 12-to-25-year-olds, there’s something else that makes RadioChico special: it only reports good news.
Koch says that this is to counteract the barrage of bad news reported by the mass media.
“After one week of working with children with only good news, they change. Suddenly they are less fearful, and they have the feeling that the world isn’t just full of accidents and other catastrophes – that life is worth living,” said Koch, who is a yoga instructor when she’s not doing radio with her young charges.
In addition to reporting good news, the children have to be good as well.
“Each one has to sign a code of ethics saying that they won’t use bad words, that they’ll do thorough research and that they will always state where they’re getting their facts,” Koch said.
According to Koch, “At the moment we have six who plan to go into journalism. Nicolas wants to work at [Swiss public radio] DRS 3 – that’s his dream.”
Established in 2007, RadioChico is based in Goldbach in the Emmental region. A second studio will soon open in Bern, and there is also a mobile studio that travels around the country.
Adult volunteers train and supervise the youths who staff RadioChico, which broadcasts online.
In addition to reporting good news, RadioChico runs programmes related to animals, sports, music and other seasonal topics.
There are two French-speaking correspondents in western Switzerland, as well as a Swiss teen reporting on her experiences while living in Brazil.
The project depends on donations and has a booster club to help raise the necessary funds.