One reason I had chosen Oberlin College was its sobriety. There were no beer blasts and no frivolous Greek organizations. We were there to learn.
That was fine with me. The campus was small enough to walk everywhere, I didn't drink, and I didn't plan to wed. Others might chafe at these requirements. By the time I matriculated, in fact, the rules had been relaxed to allow low-alcohol 3.2% beer. But we were far from being a party school. Secret societies, meaning fraternities and sororities that discriminate against the non-elite, had been banned at Oberlin since 1847.
However, not every student remained in our monastic paradise for the full four years. One of my classmates transferred after our sophomore year to a bigger school that incidentally did have fraternities Ohio State. That would be Jack Heller from Warren, Ohio.
With some reservations because Jack was Jewish, for Christmas 1967 I had sent him a card to catch him up on what he was missing.
I told him about the little get-together our Noah Hall housemother, Mrs. Chamberlain, had thrown us before the holiday break. (I was still living in Noah, the same dorm that had been my home as a sophomore. That's my single room on the left below.)
I also mentioned that it had been a while since I'd seen Humphrey, a basset hound who had sometimes visited Jack and me and the rest of our math class. Humphrey wasn't enrolled; he was merely auditing. He'd waddle into the room and sit quietly in the back, except for a very occasional howl if he got bored.
Jack replied on January 4, 1968.
That's a student ID number. As I recall, Oberlin had required us to identify ourselves as we entered the cafeteria line for lunch each day.
First Things First
I was not yet thinking about final exams. On January 4 we had only just returned to classes, and I was busy overseeing three live sports broadcasts in three nights on our campus radio station.
Wrapping Up the Semester
Winter was definitely with us. On the following Saturday, January 13, eighteen inches of lake-effect snow fell on the Oberlin campus.
It was still snowing the next morning, so I skipped my usual routine. On a normal Sunday I'd go to breakfast and church and come back to the dorm to read the Plain Dealer, but with a foot and a half of snow outside, I stayed in my room and worked on a term paper for Physics 35. It was due Wednesday. Having consulted three books from the library, I was now composing something like a textbook chapter.
I spent nine straight hours on the project Sunday plus a few more Monday afternoon. The ten-page paper got an A, with the comment of a very fine, lucid presentation.
That may be. However, I must confess that I can no longer make heads nor tails of it. I didn't pursue a career in science, and in the last 50 years I've forgotten all I ever knew about Maxwell's equations and PDEs.
I can, however, understand this sentence that I wrote to my parents. I think I've been enjoying myself at Oberlin more the past two months than ever before. The radio work and the people I know are a lot of fun, and I'm worrying less about my schoolwork while still working at it just hard enough to get good grades.
The Game of the Century
The following Saturday night, January 20, there was a much-hyped showdown between two undefeated college basketball teams. Elvin Hayes and the #2 Houston Cougars hosted Lew Alcindor and the #1 UCLA Bruins. It was such a huge event that it was played in the Astrodome before 52,693 fans.
One of my neighbors heard it and knocked on my door. If you're watching, may I join you? I had to explain that I was merely listening.
UCLA's regular announcer, the late Dick Enberg, called the play-by-play. Later he said, That was about as great as it will ever be. ...Big game, big crowd, first time a college game ever televised nationally, and then to have this remarkable, magical performance by Elvin Hayes and Houston winning. ...That was the platform from which college basketball's popularity was sent into the stratosphere!
As a lowly graphics operator 20 years later, I happened to pass Mr. Enberg in an NBC hallway at the Seoul Olympics, and he actually smiled and said hello. He was indeed, in the words of Sean McManus, a consummate professional and a true gentleman.
Programming a Station
On early evenings, between 6:00 and 7:30 PM, most Oberlin students were in their dining halls. They weren't listening to the radio. Therefore WOBC broadcast what some people might consider filler, beginning at 5:45 with an easy-listening DJ show called Dinner Date. Station Director John Heckenlively took a shift behind the mic, hosting the Date on Mondays.
Around 7:10, we aired about 20 minutes of recorded public affairs. These once-a-week shows were educational in tone and promotional in purpose they came to us free of charge and included such titles as:
Men and Molecules
Now, as the incoming Program Director, I was auditioning similar programs. For example, at 10:00 on Monday evenings I scheduled a one-hour show from CSDI, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The first two speakers would be Julian Huxley and Bishop James Pike. Later topics would be The Negro as an American: Is There a New South? and The Bleak Outlook: Jobs and Machines. (When the season's final episode ran short, I put together some recorded odds and ends I called The Discard Pile, featuring the Armenian Nightingale.)
Saturday evenings at 7:00 we aired a 13-part history of Canada, The Coming of Age, because we could.
Was anyone listening to these public service tapes on our little ten-watt noncommercial FM? We hoped so, but maybe not. Ken Levine has blogged about the paucity of complaints received by his California commercial station after one middle-of-the-night show mysteriously played at hhaallff ssppeeeedd.
We planned other changes in WOBC's program schedule for the second semester. Our directors of classical and popular music were responsible for many of these shows, and they gave them titles like Old Swedish Organs and The Chicken Duck Show. (That first one was actually about historic pipe organs. The other one was hosted, of course, by Chuck and Dick.)
There were only three semester final exams on my schedule no math final so I had time to get my studying done in the mornings. Afterwards, you'd find me at the radio station. Between turning in my term paper on Wednesday through the following Monday, January 22, I spent about 25 hours there. Then our nine-day Classical Music Marathon began.
Discovering Hidden Treasures
Once I get started at WOBC, I wrote, I can't seem to stop until the day's over. I must admit I enjoy that stuff more than studying physics. But most of my enjoyment is the novelty of it the adventure of finding out what's on those mysterious unlabeled reels of tape.
The non-music reels and records were stored in the Program Cabinet in the outer office. One of them turned out to be a recording of the station's first broadcast on November 5, 1950. Another was Dr. Martin Luther King's October 22, 1964, speech in Finney Chapel, when WOBC's coverage had been piped into Hall Auditorium for an overflow crowd.
I also found a cardboard box containing sets of 331/3 rpm records for possible future use, labeled The Rum Runners & MLK.
The Rum Runners was a CBC comedy series about the adventures of a revenue man in Canada's Maritime Provinces during the era when liquor was prohibited in the United States. The 13 half-hour episodes were written by Nova Scotian broadcaster Norman Creighton. WOBC never aired it, as far as I know. At least it didn't cost us anything.
MLK referred to a collection of Dr. King's speeches and sermons. Ten weeks later, we would have occasion to open that box.