Down in a side room in the basement of Hickman High School, two juniors, Connor Byrne and Sam Wills, broadcast their radio show called Dad Rock World Tour. They speak into a small laptop computer about the different songs they are about to play and it echoes through the halls with the students as they make their way to lunch.
The 90s, hipster aesthetic of the high school junior’s radio show matches perfect with the old band posters on the walls and the dimly-lit closet the radio studio is essentially in. Every day during lunch, students can come and sit on the worn down couches as a part of the club, Academy of Rock. They can visit with their friends while they eat, talk about their favorite bands and listen to the DJs.
Brock Boland has been the sponsor of the club since it began in 2005 and helped start the radio station, KWPE, in 2007.
“So it’s cool because we can serve fans, people who don’t necessarily play music but just love music, which is…I’m more of a music fan, I was never a musician, outside of karaoke,” Boland said.
The Academy of Rock goes outside of the four walls a couple times a year to host a district-wide Battle of the Bands in the spring along with other student showcases and fundraisers.
Boland said this club is one way students can connect, because no matter who you are and where you come from, music is something that can bring people together.
“Since music is something most students can agree on, as an interest regardless of what kind they like…you know, it’s one of those, everyone is always trying to figure out what teenagers are interested in, and music is always one of them.”
Jordan Smith, now a teacher at Battle High School, was a member of the Hickman Academy of Rock around the same time the club had started. He played in different bands around mid-Missouri throughout his high school and young adult years.
“A lot of my foundation in music came from the academy of rock,” Smith said. “I can honestly say if I weren’t an Academy of Rock member, if that club didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Starting in 2016, Smith helped establish an after-school recording studio in Battle High School, called Dark Room Records.
“I can honestly say this recording studio probably would not exist without the Academy of Rock and the strengths that it had since the first day I started,” Smith said.
Any student from any school can come to Dark Room Records and record with Smith and his student interns. There are also recording rooms at Hickman High School and at the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club, but creating rooms in Battle High School allowed the ever-growing popularity of the studio to flourish.
Nick Mirielli is one of the audio engineer student interns with Dark Room Records and a senior at Battle. He and his band recorded a song at the beginning of the school year. He says if he did not have the recording studio, he and his band, The Works, would never have released a song.
“Honestly, that first time I came in here I was so nervous. But after messing around with Mr. Smith, it built my confidence in it and I was like ‘ok, I could definitely do this again,’ so without this, I probably wouldn’t even be perusing music the way I am now.”
From folk music groups, rappers, saxophone players and even poetry readers, Dark Room Records has helped produce it all. But Smith says without Hickman Academy of Rock, there would be no such thing.
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