Your kids have their favorite music, TV programs and video games. But how about a favorite radio station? These days, program managers target drivers. In non-car-cultures like NYC, most families are unaware that radio still broadcasts shows for young listeners. Which means they’re missing out on free home (and mobile) entertainment that stirs more imagination than the boob tube. Recently, my sons, ages four and eight, and I sampled three programs plus a national competitor: Sirius’ Kids Place Live.
The Imagination Parade
For 24 years, Paul Butler has been broadcasting this Sunday morning kids’ show from New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University. His program has an endearing homegrown style, and Butler often invites his grandchildren (ages six and eight) to introduce tunes or belt out familiar melodies. The playlist overflows with “different rhythms and different types of songs,” my elder son volunteered. The danceable “I Like to Move It, Move It” (from the movie Madagascar) preceded Alvin and the Chipmunks’ rousing “We Are the Worms” (a spoof of the 1985 USA for Africa song “We Are the World”). The juvenile jokes resonated with my elementary-school-aged son but flew over my four-year-old’s head. Sundays 9--10am. Listen now: WFDU-FM 89.1. Ages 4 to 12.
DJ Patrick O’Shea, who goes by “Paddy” on the airwaves, kicked off the show with an animated chat with his squeaky-voiced sidekick, “Eddap,” about parades. (The odd name is a hint to this mystery creature’s true identity.) After bantering about the likelihood of a parade’s entering the studio, Paddy announced that a festive procession was indeed on its way. A slew of songs followed about baton twirlers, floats and merry cavalcades. The shtick didn’t impress my brood, but Paddy’s contemporary kid-rock playlist sure did. A ditty by Milkshake inspired my younger boy to march excitedly around the room. Saturdays noon--1:30pm. Listen now: WPRB-FM 103.3. Ages 3 to 11.
Heavy on talk, this program is hosted by Queens native Kathy O’Connell, who gabs earnestly about tween issues with guest experts between toe-tapping grooves. In a segment on bullying, O’Connell invited kids to call in and discuss their experiences as victim or tormenter. I love talk radio, but my sons don’t: My elder listened politely but later ranked this part of the show his least favorite, preferring to listen to the stellar tunes O’Connell selected instead. Dance-happy melodies from Grammy nominees Trout Fishing in America were a big hit, as were the more entertaining subjects featured on other days, like a Wednesday segment on odd home remedies, where children called in to discuss the crazy concoctions they create when feeling under the weather. Parent-targeted topics are mostly relegated to Tuesdays, so I suggest your kids spend another night in the Corner. Mon--Thu 7--8pm. Listen now: WXPN-FM 88.5. Ages 6 to 12.
Kids Place Live
This channel blasts kids’ tunes 24/7. We heard chart-topping Disney artists (Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale), along with tunes by illustrious indie groups, like piano-pop band Seth Decker & the Missing Piece. The music-to-talk ratio depends on the DJ. At 7am, Animal Farm host Kenny Curtis takes calls from little ones, breaking up the babble with just a few beats (think Z100’s Morning Zoo for the under-five set). Mindy Thomas, of the 3pm Absolutely Mindy Show, is given to long monologues (a recent post-vacation routine in which she “forgot” how to deejay seemed endless), but she’s cheerful and energetic and often plays songs back-to-back. Listen or subscribe now: Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. Ages 3 to 12.
The Winner: Kids Place Live.
It wasn’t quite a fair competition. Because the station broadcasts 24 hours a day, my boys reasoned, they’re bound to hear more of what they like: music. Are you listening, program managers?