News All the Time
Start of 1st Quarter . . .
The 1987 Letter
The late Adele Smithson left a substantial sum in her will to Oberlin College, with some conditions. A portion was earmarked to operate "the college's radio station, WOBC-FM, as an all-news station." Of course, WOBC is owned not by the college but by the Oberlin College Student Network. But after discussion with attorneys, the OCSN Trustees decided to comply with the all-news stipulation so that all parties, especially the college, would receive their allotted funds.
The Trustees have named me Station Manager. A Chief Engineer has also been hired. This memo outlines our plans.
From its beginnings, WOBC has been proud to be a student-operated station. I remember well the attractions of being able to choose our own format. It is with reluctance, therefore, that I oversee the conversion of WOBC to a professionally-operated station with a specified format.
There have been all-news stations before. The new WOBC will be different, because of our special situation.
We rely on unpaid students who work a few hours per week, so we must keep procedures simple. We must minimize the drudgery and maximize the creativity, both to keep you happy and to get as much as possible out of limited hours.
One advantage is that we aren't dependent on advertising. Instead of scheduling commercials, we can run public service announcements at our convenience. Nor are we dependent on ratings. We don't have to present the same news in different words every half-hour to keep listeners from tuning out. Once we've given the news, we can invite them to tune out and to rejoin us a few hours later when we have fresh news.
Another advantage is Oberlin College. For national news, we can interview Oberlin professors to get their insights. For local news, college activities provide a rich source of stories and features.
Each member of the WOBC staff will be an Oberlin student willing to spend a minimum of eight hours per week. Normally, this will be in two four-hour shifts chosen from news-gathering, news-presenting, and administrative functions.
Staff members who are assigned to reporting duties will cover either a Beat or a Time Period.
Beats can include Student Senate, the fencing team, Oberlin City Hall, Buildings & Grounds, new faculty members, or almost any other subject deemed appropriate by the Assignments Editor. Events are predictable, with meetings and games scheduled in advance and only the outcome in doubt.
Time Periods will be for another set of reporters. For example, suppose that something unexpected happens on Tuesday afternoon. In many cases the appropriate beat reporter will be in class or otherwise occupied, but the reporter assigned to the time period of Tuesday afternoon will be on call and able to cover the story.
Other staffers, directed by the Features Editor, will contribute four-minute pieces for the final segment of each half hour. Present plans call for seven different features daily, such as events happening that day, a biography of a retiring instructor, or a description of plans for a new college building.
The Public Service Editor will keep current a stock of 30-second PSA's. Many will simply promote events on the college calendar.
Once these news stories, features, and PSA's have been written and recorded, other staff members will present them on the air. There will be only one or two "presenters" on duty at a time. We plan to be on the air seven days a week from 5:30 AM to 2:30 AM. Shifts include 5-9, 8-12, 11-3, and 2-6. (There is no 2 AM to 6 AM shift.)
We'll record the news once every three hours, and we'll air that edition six times, updating it only as necessary. Each staffer thus will prepare one 30-minute newscast during his four-hour shift. This should not be difficult. Since you don't have to read the same stories over and over again (they're on tape once and for all), you can concentrate on the more creative aspects.
For convenience, the newscast is not recorded as one 30-minute block but rather as a group of shorter segments, each on its own cart. Every five minutes has the same pattern: a four-minute segment, a 30-second PSA, a 27-second headline or weather segment, and a three-second automated clock. This pattern is repeated six times to make up the half hour.
This automated format will serve us well for most of our 147 hours a week. But there will be long-form programming as well. There will be live remotes: sports play-by-play, concerts, conferences. There will be live studio programs: roundtable discussions, telephone talk shows, election returns. There will be recorded documentaries. The Program Director is in charge of all these. The only rule is that we will try to maintain our Minimum Time: there will be "capsules," approximately a minute of headlines, presented about every 15 minutes in natural breaks in the program.
Finally, when will all these changes be accomplished? I favor going slow. For the rest of this semester, all the present disk jockeys can continue.
Next semester will be the final one for existing shows. We'll institute a ten-minute newscast every three hours during the afternoon and evening. Several weeks later, we'll expand it to a half hour. Then we'll add a short, frequent newscast in the morning. All the while, we'll be building our staff capabilities in reporting, feature editing, and so on.
Finally, at the beginning of the next semester (nearly a year from now), WOBC will become an all-news station, and the new era will have begun.
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