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February 02, 2012 9:16 am

‘Dancing Pajamas’ reminds children of wonders around them

Written by Ilene Olson

Children’s radio show on KNWT delights adults as well

On Saturday mornings, just as many children are heading to the television to watch cartoons, local kids have the choice of turning on the radio instead.

At 8 a.m., “Dancing Pajamas” airs on KNWT, Northwest College’s radio station at 89.1 FM. The two-hour show is filled with music, conversation and stories, all aimed at children. It is the only children’s radio program in Wyoming.

Behind the microphone as she announces the programming and talks about the subject each week is Lisa O’Connor, a political science major at Northwest College. And backing her up with his broadcasting savvy is her husband, Brendan O’Connor, who puts the shows together.

A lunar eclipse and a meteor show one week prompted a show filled with music and stories about space and science. Lisa talked about the solar system and scientists’ recent conclusion that Pluto is not a planet. Music included excerpts from theme songs for “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” and fun songs talk about science and space. A recorded dramatized story explained the distances and differences between the planets in the solar system.

Another show featured music and stories about wild animals. Lisa talked about the wild animals that live in Wyoming, and those in other places and continents. She described her childhood disappointment when she learned that she couldn’t have a tiger for a pet.

Songs included in that show included, “Please, Can I keep It?,” “Rita the Cheeta,” and songs about jungle animals, dragons, dinosaurs, lions, a flamingo, a manatee and even a yeti — and many more.

The show also featured a dramatized recording of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and Lisa read her own story, “Sleepy Black Bear,” about a bear that went searching for peace and quiet while people romped in his forest home. The children’s story was the initial inspiration for the show.

“I was in a college class when I got a little sarcastic in one of my assignments in writing,” she recalled. “I ended up writing a children’s story for my nieces and nephews. I turned it in, and the idea came up that it should be read to children somewhere; somehow, that needed to be put out for kids to hear.”

Dennis Davis, NWC assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, provided an opportunity to do that and much more by offering the O’Connors a two-hour show.

Davis said he’s thrilled with the results.

“It’s terrific,” he said. “It’s entirely Lisa O’Connor. She contacted me and said she had an idea for a show, and would it be possible to do it? I immediately said yes.”

With the show now in its second semester, “We’re absolutely delighted,” Davis said, and public reaction has been positive as well.

“A lot of good children’s literature appeals to a wide variety of ages, not just children,” he said.

Davis said the O’Connors volunteer their time, and KNWT provides an outlet for them and others like them to bring a variety of original programming to the area that normally would not be available.

“It’s extremely local, and something you wouldn’t typically get to hear in the area, not even in commercial stations.”

The show’s name, “Dancing Pajamas,” came from the title of another children’s book written by Lisa.

“We talked about lots of names,” she said, but most were eliminated for one reason or another.

“One was the name of a children’s store in Laramie; one was an East Coast radio show,” she said. “For two weeks, we walked around the house going, ‘The Tea Pot.’ ‘Laughing Cow.’ We would just blurt these names out. Anybody else would have thought we were crazy.”

Eventually, “Brendan said, ‘What about ‘Dancing Pajamas?’” and, after they tried it out for awhile, the name stuck.

“It’s silly enough, but it’s not too young,” Lisa said.

That was just the first hurdle.

“I had zero experience,” she said. “I never had any intention of doing this.”

Realizing she needed help, Lisa reached out to others for resources and suggestions. Among them was a deejay in the Midwest who also does a children’s music show.

“I asked her, ‘Hey, could  you give me any advice?’ She has quite a collection she shared with me, and she put me in contact with a music publicist,” who provided more children’s music and stories.

The first show aired in September.

The learning curve has been fairly steep, Lisa said, but it is made easier by Brendan, who Lisa calls “the genie in the bottle.”

“He helps pick out programming and songs, and he helps me process out loud,” she said. “He does the computer work, microphone and he edits out all my pauses — ‘Um,’ ‘Uh,’ or ‘How do you say the right word?’

“His experience makes it easy ... I couldn’t do this without him. ”

These days, it usually takes about four hours to put together a two-hour show. But in the early days, it could take up to eight hours, especially for shows with difficult subjects.

“It can be hard,” she said. “Not because there’s not enough content, but sometimes, how do you explain to them in terms they can understand? Kids’ hearts get heavy; they take responsibility for things that are way beyond them, but still, they’re not stupid. Sometimes I will be in the middle of recording, and I will tell my husband, ‘Just cut it. Is this phrase too complicated? Too simple?”

What do the O’Connors get for their efforts?

“A whole lot of fun,” Lisa said, and some good feedback as well. Interestingly, though, “so far, the only response we’ve had is from grownups. Grownups apparently love it,” even if they don’t have children at home.

Lisa said she aims the program’s content at children in upper elementary school.

“I find something interesting to read to them and talk to them about,” said Lisa, who has a 16-year-old son. “I try to think of it as if I had one of my nieces or nephews sitting in the studio with me. I explain to them why they should listen to this, and talk about it that way.

“I step out of the very adult concerns of the political world and look at a caterpillar with a magnifying glass. If you get them turned just right, you can see his feet.

“The world is a wonderful place, and we as adults forget that. We forget that just a regular river rock can have the minerals that make it sparkle. Children are just discovering that.

“I want them to see the amazing of little things ... But if you don’t stop to look, you’ll never see the toes on a caterpillar, and you’ll never see a prism on a beetle.”

If she can help children keep their minds and imaginations strong, if they can look for the small things of beauty and amazement in the world, “then they will see the things in the people around them,” Lisa said.

Lisa said she would like to involve children in the show. They could read their own stories, or read books by children’s authors, such as Dr. Seuss.

This is Lisa’s last semester at Northwest College, and, therefore, the last semester she and Brendan plan to do “Dancing Pajamas.” But she doesn’t want the radio program to end there, and she is actively looking for someone — or a group of people — to take it over when she leaves.

“Then I can bestow my 300 some-odd CDs on to them and have them continue it,” she said.

While Lisa could take her radio show resources with her to the University of Washington, she’d rather keep the program here in the Big Horn Basin.

“People look at Wyoming and say, ‘Why bother?’ But I think our kids deserve a good experience. They deserve quality entertainment.”

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