While on a conference call with the Rocky Mountain Community Radio Association, KGNU Denver program director Dave Ashton heard about some small radio stations around the state doing profiles on high school seniors. He thought about how senior prom is a ritual, a sort of coming-of-age celebration, that students go through. Since the proms have been canceled statewide due to the coronavirus, he thought about organizing a virtual prom.
"You want people to be able to mark that moment in their lives," Ashton says.
Ashton, who will celebrate his thirtieth high school reunion in two years, will host the GNU Prom from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 2, via Zoom Meetings, and will be broadcast live on KGNU’s two frequencies, 88.5 FM and 1390 AM. The event is open to public-school students across the Front Range, who can register using their official school district email address. The video guest list will comprise fifty twelfth-grade couples in their prom-night best.
Initially, Ashton says, organizers planned to accept nominations for a prom king and queen, but last week he received a letter from Out Boulder County, a nonprofit that supports the area's LGBTQ communities, saying that the gendered language could be harmful to kids who can’t check either one of those boxes. Ashton then changed the nominations to the inclusive term “prom royalty.”
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DJ Erin Stereo, who has won Westword awards for Best House DJ and Best Eclectic DJ, will spin the current pop associated with school dances, but Ashton says KGNU’s non-commercial mission allows them the flexibility to do whatever they want when the time is right. He says requests have been coming in from kids that range from Franki Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” to German dance act Cascada.
“It will be a mix,” Ashton says. “We'll try to follow a kind of prom timeline with general dancing interspersed with slow dances with dedications. I've been asking kids for some general information about their time in school, who's their favorite teacher, what's their favorite subject or memory we could share — so I'll be doing that.”
While Ashton will host the event, he’ll also act as chaperone and promises to make sure that any lewd or inappropriate behavior is summarily dismissed from the Zoom call.
“I had to put that in my initial email back to the kids,” he says. “A mom of a teenager made sure that I put that in there.”