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Hibbing students’ podcast covers local sports, news

Teens host weekly “Anchor Down” on Hibbing Public Access Television.

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Kalin Menara, from left, Ayden McDonald, and Harrison Law talk about sports during the weekly production of “Anchor Down” a student created video podcast, on May 11 at the Hibbing Public Access Television studios.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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HIBBING — In a few short weeks, teenage podcast host Ayden McDonald noted, he and fellow hosts Kalin Menara and Harrison Law are set to graduate from Hibbing High School.

“You getting sick of school?” McDonald asked.

“Oh yeah,” Menara deadpanned. “I’ve been sick since, like” — he checked a nonexistent watch on his wrist — “seventh grade. At least.”

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Hibbing High School students Kalin Menara, left, and Harrison Law look through an outline of the show during the weekly production of “Anchor Down,” a student-created video podcast, on May 11 at the Hibbing Public Access Television studios.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The other two chuckled. McDonald and Law agreed that they’d miss the people at their school, and Law said he’d miss the good times he had there.

“Not the bad?” McDonald said with a laugh. “I’m glad you won’t miss any bad times.”

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Chop-busting, ironic banter like that typifies the trio’s “Anchor Down” podcast, which they host weekly at Hibbing Public Access Television under the banner of the high school’s Bluejacket Career Academies. Public Access staff run the boards behind the scenes, but the show’s content is dictated by Law, McDonald and Menara with the occasional nudge from Mikal Brown, who directs the academies, or Ron Wirkkula, the TV station’s president.

In front of a green-screen image of one of the school’s hallways, their podcast runs through school announcements and other Hibbing-area news. It’s broadcast on two of the public access station’s three cable channels; streamable from its website or via a few streaming services; and recordings are posted on Facebook, YouTube and other social media.

Episode 35

For their 35th episode May 11 , the hosts chatted about their high school’s narrow baseball victory over Duluth East, went over the results of recent track meets and softball games, and wondered if they were prepared enough for an upcoming choir concert. Hibbing Community College’s commencement, they realized with mock alarm, was scheduled for Friday the 13th.

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Kalin Menara and Ayden McDonald seen through the viewfinder of a video camera during the weekly production of “Anchor Down."
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

But that sort of high school goofiness belies their knowledge of the region and astute pro sports insights. Law noted, for instance, that Hibbing hockey product Scott Perunovich’s St. Louis Blues were on the cusp of eliminating the Minnesota Wild from the NHL playoffs while, in the NBA, Tyus Jones, an Apple Valley High School alumnus who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, had recently helped do the same to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Minnesota guys,” Law said with a rueful shake of his head, “knocking out Minnesota teams.”

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Harrison Law reacts to a question during the weekly production of “Anchor Down."
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Other than a brief talkaround earlier this year about a Lego figurine designed to look like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the hosts have steered clear of politics or politically charged topics. (Still, Menara said he’d buy the Zelenskyy Lego if it was cheap enough.)

And some episodes feature a guest, such as their school’s choir director or members of its softball and basketball teams.

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The value the podcast offers its audience, which is mostly Hibbing High School students and their families, is the news and sports bulletins, the hosts said.

“I think we’re just trying to build the community up,” Menara said. “Get everybody involved.”

A chance to sample

They’ve been recording the podcast for about a year. Early episodes were heavily scripted but, as the hosts have grown more comfortable, they’ve moved to looser outlines.

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Kivana Hill, of Hibbing, runs the control board during the weekly production of “Anchor Down,” a student-created video podcast, on May 11 at the Hibbing Public Access Television studios.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The idea for the podcast came after Brown, the career academies’ director, wanted to find a better outlet for Law and Menara, who Brown said were doing a “terrible” job running the program’s social media accounts last year despite being adept at those platforms generally. Law even runs the accounts for the amateur soccer club Duluth FC.

“I wanted to find them something that they were a little more excited about,” said Brown, who joked that he “fired” — or at least “school-fired” — the pair twice. “You can just tell when a kid isn’t interested in something.”

So he and Wirkkula, the station president, pitched a podcast to Law and Menara late last school year, and they in turn approached McDonald about it. The academies aim to help Hibbing High School students check out future careers before they graduate.

“That’s where its beginnings came from … how do we find a spot for these guys to kind of do their thing and also get the word out about what our program is?” Brown said.

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
The students wear shorts and athletic shoes during the weekly production of “Anchor Down."
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

All three hosts are avid soccer fans. Menara and Law both rattled off a handful of soccer-centric podcasts they were into before they started their own. Law liked the idea of a show intended for the people in their school. Menara was drawn to the thought of people watching them on YouTube and other outlets.

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“And we would get out of class,” he joked. “So that’s kind of what brought it all together.”

Law, who spent the first few episodes doing behind-the-scenes work on the podcast, said he appreciated the chance to try his hand at it before moving in front of the cameras. McDonald believes the podcast helps his speaking and people skills and offers experience that could help in broadcasting — it was part of what appealed to him about the podcast in the first place.

McDonald laughed, though, when asked if any of them had been recognized on the street.

“Not really,” he said.

Hibbing High School students receive on-air media experience thorough an opportunity with   Bluejacket Career Academies
Kalin Menara, from left, Ayden McDonald and Harrison Law on the set during the weekly production of “Anchor Down."
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
READ MORE EDUCATION COVERAGE

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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