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RADIO: FILLING THE AIR WITH WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR

Young DJs and reporters keep the music flowing and the news happening at the radio station DAS DING. Adults stay in the background and off the mics.

Elena puts on her headphones and pulls the microphone closer, looking around at the visitors crowding into the 10-square-meter studio. »Attention, we're on any second now!« she warns them, drawing their attention away from the sophisticated equipment: The sound board looks like something dreamed up by high-tech freaks, with countless buttons, switches, faders and computer monitors.

The 19-year-old presenter pulls down one of the switches, fading out the music while a red light flashes in front of the door: »On air! Do not enter under any circumstances!« The high school student moves closer to the mic. »Servus hombres, I am Elena from Das Ding. To warm you up, the Fantastischen Vier will tantalize your ears.« She pushes another switch, and the sounds of the German hip-hop stars fill the room. Elena leans back and begins twitching to the beat, waiting for her next presentation. That one will probably be longer, since »I absolutely love talking,« the student explains.

That interest drew petite and bubbly Elena Raddatz to the youth-run station two years ago. Now, she heads to the Baden-Baden studios of the Südwestrundfunk, one of Germany's state radio stations, at least twice a week. Side by side with the »grown-up« station stands the colorfully graffitied studio of Das Ding, sending out its signal to all of southwest Germany.

Das Ding - The Thing - is only two years and couple of months old. Aim-ing to be »young, fresh and groovy,« its programming is done by workers between the ages of 15 and 25. The oldest people here are the bosses, Marcus Schuler and Wolfgang Gushurst, both 30 years old. They're responsible for training and making sure the programs run smoothly, but work more as consultants. The station isn't looking for older people who are trying to stay trendy, Schuler says. »The kids here do things on their own first of all.«

And that means everything: topics, research, interviews, editing, presentation, music selection - all the stuff that goes on at a radio station. But the roughly one hundred contributors of Das Ding do not occupy themselves with just anything. »We are not an open channel on which everyone is allowed to blab on about their feelings,« Schuler said. And because the program is not financed by ads, »we do not have to do commercial crap either.«

Instead, the 12 hours Das Ding broadcasts each day are filled with a variety of features worked on by the young people. Elena, for example, presents a colorful program, dishes out a little gossip, plays cool music and fields phone calls from her listeners.

On the other hand, Alexander Franke - DJ code name: Sandy - is a hip-hop fan. The 17-year old from Stuttgart is a specialist in his field and presents a weekly broadcast on the topic. In his »consultation hour,« local hip-hop giants - and sometimes real big shots - take the mic. »I once interviewed LL Cool J,« he proudly remembers. »MTV wanted him in front of their mic as well, but they didn't get him.«

Sandy saw the head of Cool J's German record company at a concert and approached him about an interview. Although the guy said, »No way,« the DJ continued to bug him for the rest of the evening. By the end of the night, the executive gave in. »Here I was, just a little fish, and I was allowed to interview LL Cool J for 20 minutes - and MTV wasn't,« Sandy said. »I was so excited that I barely could speak English at the beginning.«

The 17-year-old isn't generally shy, though, and usually feels more like a medium-sized fish than a little one. Part of that might be because of his fans, especially the girls who call the studio, write him emails and seem enthralled by Sandy. »To someone who is such a little sausage like me, this is great. But you have to be careful with the 14-year-old girls. They tend to be hysterical.«

Being a Das Ding DJ isn't all about adoration, though: There's also plenty of work. At the 1:30 p.m. conference, the 30 contributors who have been searching for stories, doing research and producing segments turn up to discuss their work. »What did you prepare?« Franziska Storze, the editor in chief on duty, asks each team. They talk about their work: »They started a graffiti hunt in London. Spray cans are prohibited now,« says one reporter, looking around to see what the others think. A short, affirmative murmur shows that everybody is interested. Franziska gives her O.K. Someone else talks about a 22-year old who has pedalled on a tandem bike across South America, always looking for people who wanted to join him for a while. This is also considered a worthwhile story.

Then they talk about the »Thing of the Week.« This week, the focus is on the law. A survey about who should be put on trial has finally been edited. »There is a messy cut in there,« someone states immediately. »Yes, this part should be redone,« Franziska confirms. »And the vox pop about Chancellor Schröder has to go« because there is too much random noise.

Twenty minutes later, the conference is over and everyone goes back to work. Elena grabs a free spot in the office and prepares her next broadcast. »I have to make a playlist of the music I want to put on,« she says. Sandy has free time today and just hangs around the studio, seeing what his colleagues are up to. »I prepare my programs mostly at home in Stuttgart, either at my own computer or in the studio of the Südwestrundfunk,« he explains.

On the day of his broadcast he takes a mid-day train directly from school to Baden-Baden, leaving him time to give the whole thing a last polish before his show starts at 6 p.m. The four-hour trip doesn't bother him: Radio is his life. »We are young and we're profes-sional,« he says, a sentiment echoed by others. Recently, a big Internet site put Das Ding on their list of the best youth radio stations in the world.

Ulrike Adams, 35, from Tübingen also loves talking, but she likes writing even more.

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