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April Twenty-Four
Written February 7, 2018

 

The North American Philips Company introduced an easy-to-handle “compact cassette” recorder in 1964.  I purchased one of these newfangled Norelcos in March of 1967.

At the time, I was an Oberlin College sophomore.  Because I was the sports director of the campus radio station, I attached the letters WOBC to the microphone.

You can hear some early recordings elsewhere on this website, because my colleagues in North Hall borrowed the recorder with the intent of covering an April baseball game. When I retrieved the machine, I discovered they'd taped other sounds, including the vocal stylings of the Armenian Nightingale.

 

Audio Link

2:02

 

I also found a couple minutes of a dorm “bull session” about how current grade averages might affect future earnings.  This was the 1960s, remember, and college graduates who made $50,000 a year were rich.  “Certainly they, you know, they're very very well off.”

That's one of ten MP3 sound bites incorporated into the present article.  Notice the “Audio Link” button in the left margin.  If you right-click on it and choose Open Link in New Tab, you can continue reading this page while the audio plays.

 

 

The next month, one of our news reporters borrowed the recorder to document a noisy campus demonstration.

But the present article is dedicated to detailing a few hours of my activities a year later, when I myself covered a demonstration.  By then I was WOBC's program director, soon to become the station director.  The date was most likely April 24, 1968.

 

Since September of 1966, students and townspeople had been gathering at noon every Wednesday for an hour-long silent vigil against the ongoing war in Southeast Asia.  The purpose was “to express sorrow and protest over the loss of lives in Vietnam.”  The photo below appeared in the 1967 college yearbook.

For some reason, the vigil on April 24, 1968, was expected to be more newsworthy than usual.

Perhaps it was due to the reports coming in from New York City.  Only the day before, students at Columbia University had taken over five buildings, including Hamilton Hall (right).  A dean was briefly held  hostage.  The students wanted the university to cut its ties to military research.

I seem to recall that at Oberlin, activists were urging a boycott of classes.  I decided to cover the events for WOBC — not live but on tape.  I'd file a one-minute report to be played during our newscasts.

However, the vigil was a silent protest.

PROBLEM:  If no one spoke, that would be less than compelling radio.

Perhaps I could speak myself, describing what I saw.

PROBLEM:  My talking would disturb the quiet.

Therefore I decided to record only the ambient sounds.  Later I could add a commentary as if I were reporting from the scene.

This would be the audio version of a technique you've seen on television.  Someone pretends to be where he's not by standing in front of a blank green screen in the studio, while his image is electronically inserted over a wide shot of the remote location.

 

Audio Link

0:37

 

I started recording at 11:48 AM on Tappan Square.  Protesters had already started gathering, 20 of them so far, standing somberly on the corner across from Talcott Hall.  Here's part of the sound of silence.

 

Audio Link

0:59

Next, I crossed Professor Street and walked through the King classroom building, taping the ambience of the hallway.  The far end of the hall was not completely devoid of students, so if there was a boycott, it was only partly successful.

And then it was time for lunch.

 

Audio Link

0:30

 

Afterwards, around 12:58 PM, I stationed myself next to the Finney Chapel bell tower to record the hourly chimes.  I needn't have gotten so close, as the bells were loud enough to be heard all across campus.

 

Most of my afternoon, from 1:30 until almost 4:00, would be spent in the Wright physics building.  There I was measuring microwaves with my lab partner Jan Olson.

I was Jan's partner and friend, but I was not her boyfriend.  The guy she was officially “going with” was a senior.  And he had suggested a fun activity for that spring:  skydiving!

Naturally, Jan had misgivings about jumping out of an airplane.  She had explained her reluctance to me.

In particular, she was worried that her parents wouldn't want her to take the risk.  We discussed the conundrum.

Audio Link

0:02

When our experimentation was over for the day, we shut off the equipment and packed up our notes.  The recorder was still in my briefcase, so I pulled out the microphone and asked my partner whether she would like to say a few words.

 

Audio Link

0:52

 
She inquired whether the device belonged to me or to WOBC.  Both names were on it.

I confessed that I planned to report “from the scene” of the vigil, even though I was no longer actually present.  However, I insisted, this would not amount to misrepresenting the event itself.

 

Three weeks earlier, when we aimed a laser through a pinhole for our lab experiment, we had needed several sheets of photo paper of the kind used for making 8" x 10" black-and-white prints.

As I recall, I went out and bought 25 sheets in a packet something like this.  It was rather expensive, about $10, so Jan owed me $5 for her share.

 

 

Audio Link

0:44

 
A few days later I was sitting with some other male students at lunch when Jan walked past and handed me a five-dollar bill without explanation, thereby causing the guys to raise their eyebrows, thereby causing her to grin mischievously.

The lab exercise had required only a few sheets, so we offered to sell the rest to classmates who were going to conduct the same experiment later in the semester.  But we got no takers.  We also misplaced the packet.

 

Audio Link

0:29

As we walked down the stairs to leave the Wright Physics Building, we encountered some students in baggy clothing.  I looked at Jan.  She looked at me.  We shrugged.  Then we laughed.

Maybe, she suggested, those folks were promoting the musical which would be opening that night in Hall Auditorium.

 

 

 

Audio Link

1:15

 




 
Outside, we further examined the lettering on my microphone.  Jan unlocked her squeaky bicycle, preparing to ride back to her dorm, South Hall, 2,000 feet away.

The temperature that afternoon was only 50° — yes, I've looked up the weather records — so I buttoned my coat.



Picking up my briefcase again, I walked beside Jan as we headed south, past the Kettering chemistry building.  (This entrance isn't there any more.)

I was merely going to walk 700 feet southwest to Wilder Hall, as depicted by the gold line.  For that short distance, Jan accompanied me, bicycling slowly alongside as in the later photo below.

 

Audio Link

1:42

 

 
Crossing West Lorain Street, we alluded again to the skydiving question.  The sound is obscured, but apparently I opined that her parents weren't concerned about the parachute jumping per se; they just didn't approve her making such a big decision on her own, “even though they said they did.”

“Well, you know how it is” with families, she replied.  Actually, as an only child, I didn't.  Apparently Jan, instead of her siblings, had become the current subject of her parents' botheration.

Her bike was well-used.  I think she had picked it up the preceding September on the steps of Wilder Hall, where the Consolidated Relief Fund held its annual auction of dozens of bicycles.  Some had been donated by graduating seniors who no longer needed them; others had been discovered abandoned on campus.

Now her two-wheeler was becoming troublesome.  She feared she was going to have to rely on it all the way through the rest of college and medical school.

She figured that she certainly couldn't afford to buy a car.  (As it turned out, there was a car in her future, although it would be another four years before she received the news.)

When we reached those Wilder steps, we went our separate ways.  Jan instructed me to have fun, and I headed upstairs to do so.

At the radio studios, I wrote my script and assembled my report to air on the 5:30 newscast.  Sadly, that audio clip no longer exists.

I hoped WOBC's listeners would visualize me as a well-dressed correspondent standing right there on the front lines.

 

TBT

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