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August 1968
Added to website August 1, 2018

 

My parents and I had traveled to Canada the previous summer for that nation's centennial celebration, including Expo 67.  But this year we decided to forgo the long vacation journey in favor of short weekend trips.

One of them was to New England, where I visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a possible grad school destination — provided that I decided on a career in science instead of broadcasting.

The Simpsons, Season 29, Episode 8 (2017):  prestigious colleges deliver acceptance letters to future Lisa.  Oberlin gets a prominent mention!

Another trip was only 130 miles, to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  My college radio station aired the Cleveland Orchestra on tape every Sunday afternoon from 3:30 to 5:30.  Those broadcasts were hosted by Robert Conrad of WCLV radio, and he had given WOBC's Station Director (me) complimentary tickets to a summer concert at the Orchestra's new summer home.

The Blossom Music Center is shown here in a recent photo.  My parents and I attended on Saturday, August 3.

“Blossom is a large, beautiful place,” I reported, “and the program wasn't too bad either:  after two short contemporary works for orchestra, Van Cliburn played two piano concertos, MacDowell's #2 (thumbs down) and Rachmaninoff's #2 (thumbs up).”

Then we went to Kentucky the following weekend to visit my only surviving grandparent, my Grandma Thomas.

 
Checking Up on the Campus

I drove up to Oberlin after church on August 18.  Across the street from South Hall, I discovered that a dormitory spanning two 1870 houses, May Cottage and Squire Cottage (above right), had been demolished.

 


Later a modern “environmentally-responsible” building, the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (below right), would appear in this location.

The purpose of my visit was to see how the WOBC technical staff was getting along.  Two technicians plus some peripheral helpers had been working on construction and repairs all summer, and my only contact with them had been by letter.  The goal was to be “in better technical shape this fall than we've been in for several years, despite the fact that the old switching circuitry is still threatening to give out within a year or so and must eventually be replaced.”  Doing so, by building a completely new control console, had been put off until 1969.

In the meantime, I put together an edition of the WOBC Engineering Handbook, including a diagram of how to thread our Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorders.  They had been installed during January 1967, replacing the station's 1954 Magnecords.

 
This photo, which I colorized for my web article Behind Grey Gables, shows an engineer working on the rack for one of those recorders.  But it predates the Ampexes, because it comes from the 1965 Hi-O-Hi yearbook.

It might possibly show Jud Leonard, who was the chief engineer during my freshman year.  Jud returned to Oberlin to graduate with my Class of 1969.  With our 50th reunion approaching, I e-mailed the photo to him in 2018.  Is this you, Jud?  His wife Bobbie (the former Barbara Sproat '69) replied, “I immediately recognized it as him.  I may have convinced him that I'm right!” 

But Jud disagrees.  “I doubt that it was me.  I don't think I was trusted with a soldering iron before the move to Wilder Hall, by which time there was a big tape recorder where that person's head is.”

WOBC had started as a carrier-current AM station in 1950, then added a ten-watt FM transmitter in 1961.  FM offered more reliable quality, but most students couldn't receive it. 


Illustration from WOBC website

Therefore WOBC bought a number of basic AC-powered FM-only radios and got into the rent-to-own business.

Each September, students were invited to pick up a radio from WOBC and pay a rental fee.  In May, they could keep it if they paid a couple of dollars more.

It was also in 1961 that stereo broadcasting was authorized, whereupon FM radios became much more popular.  Eventually our rentals were no longer needed.  By the summer of 1968, we had almost completely liquidated our stock by selling the radios to students.  There were only about five left.   

               

News from Miss Olson 

Jan was going to be a Senior Counselor at South Hall, a dorm that housed freshmen.  Originally she'd planned to work at the Delaware Hospital through August 30, then spend the first week of September making clothes and my WOBC banner before traveling to Oberlin and registering on September 9.  However, on August 21 she reported that she'd just found out she was supposed to be back at Oberlin only twelve days hence, on Monday, September 2.  “Suddenly the summer has lost its leisurely flavor.  I'm back to the Oberlin spirit:  panic!”

She had purchased a Sony 200 reel-to-reel tape recorder five days before, along with a Mantovani tape.  She'd also recorded another tape from her family's phonograph, and added, “If I can get permission from the Station Director, I would like to make use of WOBC's pop record library.” 

Jan's sprained and broken ankle was still swollen and hurting more than four months after her accident, and she was going to have to have surgery to remove the bone chips.

She had  written me earlier that month to explain her semi-agnostic feelings about religion.  Now, she wrote, she was becoming a Methodist.  That summer her father had made an appointment for her to talk with his minister, Mr. Simpers.

“We had a regular bull session for more than an hour.  We touched on topics from psychokinesis to Oberlin's demonstrations against Navy recruiters, including, of course, some discussion on the concept of the Trinity and what Hell is.  Mr. Simpers sent me home with four books to read and said that he'd call in a couple of weeks so that we could talk some more. 

“And I did something a few weeks ago which I had never done before in my life — I bought a Bible (Revised Standard Version).  Most of my friends would be shocked beyond belief (I've been an agnostic for eight years).  I have been reading parts of the New Testament, especially John and the letters that Paul wrote.  It is really fascinating!  I am as excited while learning about facets of Christianity which I never understood before as I was many years ago when I first discovered radio astronomy.”

After another 90-minute talk with Mr. Simpers, Jan joined the Methodist Church and received her first communion on Sunday, August 25th.

The membership ceremony is the one in the new Methodist hymnal.  I have four ‘I do's ’ and one ‘I will.’

 

Gotta Say Goodbye to the Summer

On Monday, August 26, nine days before returning to Oberlin, I wrapped up my recent correspondence with Jan by admitting, “This summer I've been discussing some rather personal matters quite openly; and then I've been analyzing you, and you've been telling me that I've misread you and that you really are this way, and I've been fascinated by it all.  But there'll be time enough for that a week or two from now, along with discussions on these titles:

THE WANTON DESTRUCTION OF MAY AND SQUIRES

THE TWO BOOKS I DID WRITE AND PUBLISH THIS SUMMER

THE GREEDINESS AND JEALOUSY OF THE WOBC POP DEPARTMENT

HOW I BROKE THE CHURCH ORGAN LAST SATURDAY

WHAT HAPPENED TO LYNN ABBOTT'S THREE FRONT TEETH

as well as many other enthralling topics, including (dare a gentleman mention it to a lady?) your ankle.  Good luck.  And congratulations and best wishes on your church membership, too!”

Later that week, my parents and I were watching the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Live on TV, we saw the authorities move in to break up a downtown peace demonstration.  I remember the images of the blue-helmeted police, or as Walter Cronkite called them, the “pleece.”  The demonstrators chanted, “The whole world is watching.”

But the televised violence in Chicago, like the televised violence in Viet Nam, seemed unreal.  It was disconnected from my personal life.

 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER:  Freshmen arrive at WOBC for our Orientation Dance and Open House.  A new Methodist and an old Methodist go to church together.   And later, the whole cast gets involved.

 

TBT

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