It is just past four on a Tuesday afternoon. At the KUCI radio broadcasting room, a debate between a program guest and a caller is taking shape. The topic is homosexuality. In the course of an hour, the discussion moves on to religion, self-confidence and building respect for differences in communities.
"The first and most important thing in combatting the problem of closed-mindedness is education, because there are a lot of myths about people who are homosexual--such as that they are bad or evil or that something is wrong with them and a great deal of other stereotypes," says the in-studio guest, brainstorming with a caller.
"And if these misconceptions hopefully can be addressed and proven to be false or unfounded myths more than anything, then people will be able to get past their fear of homosexuals and learn to accept them also as people."
Once again the airwaves have become a conduit of opinion and education, this time on 88.9 FM, the college radio station at UC Irvine.
This difference this time--and every Tuesday from 4 to 5 p.m.--is that the studio is being run by high school students, and the callers are teens from throughout Orange County.
Host of the "Irvine Goes Local" radio program is Neil Seghal, a junior at University High School in Irvine. Every week he is at the studio switchboard, speaking to callers, debating with in-studio guests, playing music during downtime and repeatedly urging students to call in.
Seghal has been running the show since last spring and has seen the format expanded from 30 minutes to one hour.
The show was begun two years ago by an Irvine High School student who had just completed an FCC certification class at UCI to deal with topics and issues of interest to high-schoolers in Orange County.
Seghal has also taken the eight-week certification class, with one hour of instruction each week.
It is a primer, with information about FCC laws, fines and penalties for unfit acts, "basically what one can or cannot do," Seghal said.
Once on the air, the responsibility lies in the hands of the individual.
"We run a disclaimer at the beginning and end of the program, but other than that, there is no censorship at all," Seghal said.
With microphone in hand, Seghal has the power to provide students with the medium to express their opinions and learn about what others have to say as well.
"As a student journalist, my responsibility lies mainly in informing students and providing a forum for discussion of important issues that are often not discussed anywhere else," he said.
Seghal says he likes to have in-studio guests on each program to provide other views. Sometimes he has trouble finding a willing participant if the subject is controversial. Other times students approach him about being on an upcoming show.
University High senior Roger Kim assists Seghal, answering calls and throwing in his two cents' worth on topics.
One week Seghal focused on college applications, and Kim offered tips to juniors and seniors on the process. "Roger really was able to help out those students in the community who may begin planning now for the future--he spoke about the pitfalls and what a junior can do to be prepared," Seghal said.
Call-in subjects have ranged from AIDS, racism and stereotyping to school restructuring, the county budget crisis and dating. Suicide was a recent topic, with a student guest telling about his aunt, who had taken her own life.
How does he prepare for such varied topics? "I do a fair amount of reading--newspapers, magazines, articles," said Seghal, adding that he likes to talk about things he feels strongly about.
As host, he reassures callers and in-studio guests to help them relax, feel comfortable and speak their minds.
It is past 4:30, and the phone line has not stopped flashing since the discussion on homosexuality began. A girl from University High School calls to share confusion she is feeling: Her religion perceives homosexuality as evil, yet she strives to be open-minded and accept people for who they are.
A guest on the program says, "I am a Southern Baptist, but as I have examined and re-evaluated my religion, I have formulated a number of questions that I am still attempting to mull over."
The caller agrees that a questioning of one's beliefs is healthy and encourages those listening to think of the individuals who are often grouped and labeled.
Another teen caller asks why schools "waste money on educating people about homosexuality and gay rights when it only affects a small group of people."
In a time of controversial issues, when intolerance seems prevalent, Seghal's program provides an environment in which all opinions can be heard and everyone is an equal in discussion.
"After doing shows focused on homosexuality . . . I've already seen some success in opening people's eyes to the issues, which pleases me," Seghal said.
"I've seen people who had been very negative toward particular groups of the populace change their view (partly) because of what they hear on 'Irvine Goes Local.' "
At the end of the broadcast, "Irvine Goes Local" gets one final call. The nervous but grateful caller thanks Seghal for handling the topic. "It helped me a lot," the caller says.
"Needless to say," Seghal said later, "this made my day and is really why I love doing 'Irvine Goes Local.' "