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Developing a Sports Show
Written 1966

 

Background:  At the end of my freshman year in May of 1966, having served as the radio play-by-play announcer for several Oberlin College basketball games, I earned a promotion.  I became the sports director of student-operated WOBC.

Athletics were not a major part of campus life at Oberlin, a Division III school with high academic standards.  And WOBC was only a ten-watt station.  But I took my new responsibilities seriously . . . well, fairly seriously.

Part of my job was preparing for our live broadcasts of Yeoman away games.  Click here for more of that story.  Later my colleagues and I would experiment with hockey and soccer broadcasts as well.

But we also had responsibilities for Oberlin Digest, which would return to its 11:00 pm time slot when classes resumed in September.

A half-hour nightly program, Digest began with a ten-minute newscast and concluded with a feature.  I had agreed to produce this feature one night a week.  Now I had to decide how to use the talents of various people who had expressed interest in volunteering as sports reporters.

We begin with the draft of a letter that I wrote to Robert S. Weiner, as nearly as I can determine, in June of 1966.

Bob was a classmate of mine who would eventually reach the White House, handling media relations for the Clinton administration's drug program.  That's him below, from our freshman yearbook and from his current website.

Dear Bob,

If I recall correctly, when I talked to you last month I think I said something about the sports department "stumbling around" with this weekly sports show next semester.

You probably wondered what sort of a sports director I was when you heard that comment.  The answer is a rather uncertain sports director.  Let me fill you in on the background.

The sports department at WOBC is concerned mainly (last year, exclusively) with broadcasting the away football and basketball games, which isn't a small job.  What with telephone line rental, transportation and food, and the various other complications of doing "remotes" from 50 or 100 miles away, these games are the most expensive and among the most complex programs the station produces.

As recently as two years ago, the department also had a five-minute daily sports show, which was tacked onto one of the news programs.  However, it seems this show consisted of little more than reading what came in off the UPI teletype, and it was decided it wasn't worth the effort.  The regular newscaster could read the sports news as well as the regular news, and then no one would have to worry about getting a separate "reader" for sports.  So the program was dropped.

When I was appointed sports director, then, I thought my job would be just to get about a dozen games a year on the air, plus a couple of Oberlin Digest interview shows.  This was fine with me, since I've got fairly good basketball-broadcasting experience but still have to learn the tricks of football play-by-play and also have to break in a few new assistant broadcasters who have even less experience.  I had a few things in mind for the future, such as live broadcasts of other sports besides these two, but wasn't planning to take on too much new at once.

However, our new station director, Ted Gest (who started out in the news department, I understand), was interested in having interviews of campus sports figures on a fairly regular basis.  Oberlin Digest is having its troubles; no one seems to be interested enough in college news to make it what it could be.  Sports interviews would help out this situation.

Now this sounded fine to me . . . except that I'm not a reporter type who enjoys going around talking to people and digging up information, but rather a sportscaster type who prefers watching a game and converting what he sees into a verbal description.  I knew I'd need some help on these programs if in fact we were to do them.  Ted mentioned you, and not long after that, he told me that we were set up for Friday nights at 11:00 on a sharing basis with the fine-arts department, which lets us take every Friday night if we want it.

So that's how the program came about.  The problem now was what to do with it.

Each semester, Oberlin students were required to attend at least eight of the weekly Assembly programs at Finney Chapel. 


I recall the time Ralph Nader was the guest speaker, as shown in the photo below from the Oberlin College Archives.  Afterwards, he came up to our WOBC studios to be interviewed.

Thursday's Oberlin Digest spends twenty minutes talking to that noon's Assembly speaker, and I think that's the general sort of thing Ted had in mind for the Friday show — a different coach every week.

My first reaction was "Twenty minutes for one interview?  How could you ever find enough to talk about?"  But other people assured me that it would be no problem, that our coaches are talkative enough to keep such a thing going for quite a while.

So I went ahead and set up our beginning-of-the-year talks with the coaches for two Digests (rather than trying to squeeze them all into one):  football on Friday, and soccer and cross-country on a special Thursday program.  And I even sketched out a possible weekly rotation schedule for the rest of the year, trying to schedule the various sports for the Fridays when there'd be the most to talk about.  The purpose of this was just to see how it would all work out — whether it would be possible for us to keep producing a show every week.  (It would.)  After doing this much preliminary work, I finally got around to talking to you.

Now, I have to admit your idea sounds a lot more flexible; it would make it possible to spend as much time on each sport as was thought appropriate each week, rather than concentrating on, say, tennis because that's what's scheduled when something very interesting is going on in baseball.  One reason I didn't plan it this way in the beginning was that I wasn't sure we'd have anyone interested enough to do a good job of coordinating a full-fledged program, as opposed to a series of interviews.  But now you seem to be.

However, I still think we should concentrate on Oberlin sports.  Ted doesn't seem to care too much for the idea of talking about national collegiate action, since this is supposed to be a campus news program and there are other sources for information about the Big Ten and that sort of thing.

The Ohio Conference might be a different matter, though.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer is supposed to cover it but doesn't do a particularly good job, and the only present news medium that relates Yeoman fortunes to the rest of the conference is the student newspaper, the Oberlin Review.  Here, then, would be an opportunity.

I'm enclosing one of the weekly reports we got from the Ohio Conference during the baseball season.  As you can see, this report is mainly statistics:  raw figures on the second page and an analysis on the first, written in a journalistic style more suited for newspapers than radio.  You wouldn't want merely to read this first page on the air; for one thing, it tends to neglect Oberlin if the Yeomen aren't doing so hot.  But it would be a useful guide to start with.

So now to the stumbling.  I've never produced a weekly 20-minute Oberlin College radio sports program before, and with no experience it's rather hard to predict exactly what format would be the best.  I don't know how well our interviews with coaches or other sports figures might turn out; I don't know how talented you are at doing what you're interested in doing.  The only way to find out is to try it and see.  If one is good and the other isn't, we can make the necessary adjustments as we go along.

The best starting point, though — and I think you'll agree here — is a combination of both plans.  As long as we're going to be a little unsteady on our feet, we'd best not make our first step too far either to the right or to the left.  Sample format:

0:30

OPENING LINE, giving a preview of what we're going to talk about

10:00

NEWS, not our responsibility

3:30

OHIO CONFERENCE review

5:00

OBERLIN sports news

7:30

INTERVIEW, dealing with some one sport

3:30

COMMENTARY and closing

All of these times, of course, are adjustable.  If we decide to do this sort of show, the question remaining is whether you would be interested in arranging the interviews as well as in doing the twelve minutes or so of talking.  If not, no problem; I think there are several other qualified interviewers around who could be pressed into service.  At any rate, the interviews would most probably be recorded Thursday or Friday, and the main part of the show (except the news) early Friday evening if that's more convenient than doing it live.

Your turn, Robert.  That's about as far as I can go for right now; let's hear what you have to say on the matter.  Meanwhile, I think I'll start studying up on last year's football statistics to get ready for this season, which hopefully will be a shade better than last.  (One and eight!  Good heavens.)

 

WOBC went back on the air when classes resumed that September.  The first week of Oberlin Digest would be September 19 through 23, 1966.

On Wednesday, the show featured the news commentary of Robert Krulwich (left) and John Field.  Then on both Thursday and Friday, following the plan I had mentioned to Bob Weiner in my letter, we previewed the various fall sports.

As it turned out, Bob would contribute a number of reports, but I would serve as studio host.  On Thursday at the radio station, I typed the following script for our very first program.

 

Good evening!  This is Tom Thomas with Oberlin Digest.

Tonight's feature will be a preview of the upcoming soccer and cross-country seasons at Oberlin, as we talk to Coaches Joe Horn and Bill Tidwell.

First, here is a report of the latest national and local news, Bill McClintock reporting.


We continue with our feature from the WOBC sports department.

This Saturday afternoon the three fall sports at Oberlin College get into action with their first encounters of the season, and, as it turns out, all three of those encounters are against Hiram.

The football team will be traveling over to Hiram College to meet the Terriers in the opening game for both schools, a game which will be broadcast live here on WOBC; air time Saturday will be 1:50 p.m.  Friday night — that's tomorrow — on Oberlin Digest, we're going to be talking to head football coach Bill Grice and the two co-captains, Mike McGlauflin and Bill Bickel, as we preview the coming season.

Also on Saturday afternoon, the cross country team will be making the trip to Hiram for a triangular meet there with the Terriers and with the Bishops of Ohio Wesleyan University.  Last night Bob Weiner, who happens to be on the squad, talked with his coach, Bill Tidwell, about the harriers' chances for the coming season.


By the way, Jeff Hanna and I will be at Hiram Saturday doing the football broadcast, and we hope to have the results of the cross-country meet sometime in the second half so that we can pass them along to you.

Oberlin's soccer team also opens its season Saturday; the game's at home, and, of course, it's against Hiram.  The boys have been practicing for only about two weeks now, but they seem to be coming along pretty well.  This afternoon we sent Paul Lawn, the sports editor of the Oberlin Review, out to the practice field to talk to the coach.  Here's his report.


So far, then, it looks like at could be a good season coming up for the Yeomen, at least in cross-country and in soccer.  We'll find out about football tomorrow night as Bill Grice, Mike McGlauflin, and Bill Bickel talk to Jeff Hanna and me on the Friday-night Oberlin Digest.

Throughout the year, the WOBC Sports Department will be presenting interviews and commentary, hopefully in the form of a Digest program every Friday night spotlighting some aspect of the Oberlin sports scene.

And, of course, again this year we present live broadcasts of all away Yeoman football and basketball games, and perhaps a few others as well, beginning Saturday afternoon at 1:50 with the football opener from Hiram.  We hope you come along with us!  We think it's going to be an exciting season.

This concludes Oberlin Digest for Thursday night, September 22nd.  Again, our feature has been a sports preview with Bob Weiner and Paul Lawn talking respectively with cross-country coach Bill Tidwell and soccer coach Joe Horn.

Tomorrow, Oberlin Digest will present another sports feature, this time concentrating on the upcoming football season.

This is Tom Thomas reporting.

 

Three weeks later, I had begun to loosen up a bit.  In this script for Friday, October 14, when Jeff Hanna would join me in the studio, I included some fragmentary sentences as I attempted to "write for the ear."  And I urged the fans to come out to see our teams.

 

Good evening!  This is Tom Thomas with Oberlin Digest.

Tonight's feature will be a report on the Oberlin College athletic contests coming up this weekend, looking especially at the football game with Allegheny.  First, here is a report of the latest national and local news, Bill McClintock reporting.


We continue now with our feature from the sports department.

Well, I tell you, the sports department has had its problems this week — technical problems for the most part — as we worked to prepare an interesting program for you this evening.

First of all, on Tuesday afternoon I went out to the cross country meet against Mount Union and Ashland with the WOBC portable tape recorder to tape sort of a documentary report on the first home cross country meet of the season.  Paul Herman was there as our commentator — he's a member of the team but wasn't able to race Tuesday because of a touch of the flu — and we got the sounds of the race, the cheering and all that, and in general did a fairly respectable job, I think.

We won the meet, too.  Oberlin just managed to edge out Mount Union 29 to 31 in an exciting finish, with Ashland coming in third with 64 points.

The only problem was, the batteries in the recorder were low, and it recorded at varying speeds; so if we were to try to play it back for you this evening, parts of it would sound very high-pitched, as though Paul and I had been breathing helium or something.

Now we could have played this tape anyway, but this isn't a comedy program, and I really don't think that the quality of this recording is up to WOBC's . . . standards.  So we had to forget that.

Being pressed then for time, with the Friday evening deadline coming up, we turned to our old sidekick here, Jeff Hanna.  I put some fresh batteries into the tape recorder and sent Jeff out to the football practice field this afternoon to talk to some members of the Yeoman defense.

Unfortunately, we now find we have a loose connection in the microphone cable of this recorder, so only a small part of Jeff's interview this afternoon got onto the tape.  But the WOBC sports department is never thwarted, is it, Jeff?


Turning quickly now to other sports:

The soccer team will be in Columbus tomorrow afternoon for a game with Ohio State.  This is the only team of the Crimson and Gold that will be on the road this weekend.  The Yeomen booters are now 1-1-1 on the season, all three games coming in the Ohio College Soccer Association, while the Buckeyes have yet to play a game this year in the OCSA.  In fact, Ohio State played its first game of the season only last week, defeating St. Bonaventure 3-0 in a non-league contest.  So it's rather hard to predict exactly how tough State will be against Oberlin; but we'll know sometime tomorrow afternoon, and we'll have the results for you on the news at 5:30 tomorrow afternoon here on WOBC, along with of course the results of the home contests in football and cross country.

The cross country meet is at home tomorrow, as the harriers host Otterbein and the Lorain County Community College.  Now originally the meet was scheduled against Otterbein and Cleveland State University, but I guess CSU couldn't make it, so we got the LCCC to substitute for them.  The Lorain County Community College.

The meet tomorrow afternoon is scheduled for three o'clock, which should put it about at halftime of the football game, so some of you football fans should be able to watch part of the race.

I tell you, it isn't too easy — I speak from experience now.  I saw my first cross country meet last Tuesday — it isn't too easy to follow what's going on during the race if you don't have an expert like Paul Herman there beside you.  For one thing, it's rather difficult to follow the course.  It winds all the way from the golf course on the extreme north end of the athletic fields to the tennis courts on the south, with all sorts of doubling back and that sort of thing.

If you're sitting in the stadium, probably all you'll see of the race will be a great mob of runners coming down the cinder track in front of the stadium, running over the cheerleaders, going around the south turn, heading out the backstretch going north, and disappearing.  This will be the start of the race.

The next you'll see of the runners will be when they come tearing down the backstretch from north to south to reach the finish line, which is about opposite the football 43-yard line.  And that will be the finish of the race.

Of course, if you want to watch the meet in its entirety, you can come down out of the stands and try to find that little group of spectators that know the short cuts around the course and are thus able to keep up with the runners pretty well and find out how they're doing.  Cross country isn't exactly a spectator sport, but on the other hand it's neither uninteresting nor totally unfathomable to the casual sports fan.

So maybe you'll want to follow the harriers tomorrow afternoon and cheer them on.  That's the cross country meet against Otterbein and the Lorain County Community College, tomorrow afternoon at three.  Here.

Finally in sports, I see by the front page of the Review that the football game at two tomorrow afternoon is going to have some competition in Tappan Square, where the National Liberation Front and the forces of Premier Ky are going to be fighting over a couple of pieces of cloth.

The National Liberation Front was the name of the North Vietnamese army trying to overthrow Nguyen Cao Ky's government in South Vietnam.  Our students were very concerned about America's participation in that war, of course.

The next day, students would be invited to split into two groups, named after the North and South Vietnamese, for a huge game of "Capture the Flag."

The Oberlin Review reported that, according to John Gitlitz,  "a player can only be captured on enemy territory.  He is officially captured when an enemy can grab him long enough to say, 'One, two, three, defoliate!'  However, no tackling will be allowed.  Once captured, he must go to the jail willingly.

"'Since everyone knows that negotiations are out of the question,' Gitlitz declared, 'it will be a fight to the finish.  . . . Originally, it was Ed Schwartz's idea.  He recognized our neuroses and saw the need for a massive group therapy session.  . . . Good luck!  And may the most aggressive side win!'"

Now WOBC is cognizant of the fact that we college students have a peculiar need to work off our neuroses by playing mock destructive games, such as last year's "Big Hunt" in which students deliberately tried to murder each other.  With bean shooters.

However, we also feel that the arbitrary division of students into competing groups, as for instance the forces of the NLF and the forces of the south, and as for another instance those with even-numbered meal tickets and those who are odd, is unnatural.

There exists, however, a natural division between the students of Oberlin College and the students of Allegheny College.  And these two institutions will be engaged tomorrow in a great combat on a battlefield that lies just a little to the north of North Hall.  The forces of Oberlin have a good chance of winning this battle, as they are not outmanned as was the case in their last engagement a week ago.

So we offer this alternative plan for the working off of your neuroses:  Come out to the football game tomorrow afternoon and cheer on the football team!  Really put your heart into it, as you urge them on to destroy the Allegheny Gators for the first victory of the 1966 season!  (Jeff cheer)

And on that stirring note we conclude Oberlin Digest for Friday, October 14th.

Again, our feature has come to you tonight from the sports department, with special emphasis on the football game tomorrow against Allegheny; our football reporter was Jeff Hanna.

Monday night, Oberlin Digest presents a report on student government activities.

This is Tom Thomas reporting; good evening.

 

For more scripts from later that school year, plus a chance to hear our theme music, click here.

 

TBT

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