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Programs, Part 2

Written April 18, 2018

 

In the first half of this article (click here), I delved into my collection of WOBC Program Guides from my four years at Oberlin College, 1965 to 1969.

Those Guides have helped me recall many details about our student-operated radio station.  Part 1 featured shows that played classical and popular music.

Now I'd like to move on to our non-musical schedule.
 

News

WOBC presented newscasts around 6:00 and 11:00, just like a TV station.  We also aired a five-minute update every couple of hours.

Around 6:00:  When I enrolled at Oberlin, the 15-minute evening news began at 5:55.  Three months later it had moved to 5:45, and on February 13, 1967, it moved even earlier to 5:30.

Almost all the copy came from the UPI wire service at first, but we gradually began to include more local stories.  Because the student newspaper published just twice a week, WOBC was “the only daily news medium of the Oberlin College campus.”

On November 12, 1967, the Guide urged:  “Listen to WOBC for the news coverage that kept the campus and the rest of the country informed during the Recruiter Crisis.  Four daily newscasts, plus a complete roundup and commentary on OBERLIN DIGEST, makes WOBC the best way to be informed!”

At 11:00:  Since 1963, OBERLIN DIGEST had been our news flagship.  This half hour was described on October 3, 1966, as “a complete news summary plus a special feature.”  For example, throughout one week in March 1967, Student Senate candidates addressed “what they consider to be the main campaign issues in preparation for the March 21 elections.

Here are some other DIGEST listings.  I've added explanations in red.

 

 

 

 

Jan. 19, 1966

 1100

OBERLIN DIGEST
Bob Krulwich and John Field analyze campus events; news and weather.

This was the first Guide mention of freshmen John Field (far left) and Robert Krulwich (near left).  They would continue to present commentary through their sophomore year, usually hosting DIGEST on Wednesday.

 

NBC had a famous team of anchors, David Brinkley and Chet Huntley, so by December of 1966 the Guide was referring to our own pairing by a similar name which would have looked like this.

.
May 11, 1967

 .
1100

.
OBERLIN DIGEST – “So Goes the Nation”
Highlights from Oberlin's 1964 Mock Convention [below].

This documentary from our files, broadcast to stoke interest among the current student generation for the upcoming 1968 Convention, would be aired again five months later.

May 16, 1967

 1100

OBERLIN DIGEST
Play-by-play report on today's demonstration against the Navy.

Oct. 3, 1967

 1100

OBERLIN DIGEST
Ted Gest interviews two seniors who spent this summer in Yugoslavia.

Feb. 11, 1968

 1100

OBERLIN DIGEST – Home, Sweet Home, Part I
“Home” referred to student housing.  Part I was about co-ops.  On Part II the following night, the guest would be Student Senate's Housing/Dining Chairman, Bob Shapiro.

Sept. 10, 1968

 1100

OBERLIN DIGEST
Reflections and comments on this year's Freshman Orientation, from the Class of 1972 themselves.

 

Sports

On most Friday nights, OBERLIN DIGEST took a look at intercollegiate athletics.  I was the host, and my colleagues contributed interviews and commentary.  We highlighted one or two Yeoman teams each week.

I also called play-by-play for live broadcasts of nearly 30 basketball games and a dozen football games.  Our crew traveled to exotic faraway cities like Adrian (in Michigan) and Meadville (in Pennsylvania).

All in all, I've found details of 81 sports programs from those four years.  You can see the list here

In March of 1967 the Guide honored your humble Sports Director with this space-filler.

However, that autumn I possibly tried too hard.  I requested the following listing to preview our 0-5 football team's upcoming game.

Oct. 28, 1967

 120

YEOMAN FOOTBALL
Tom Thomas and Jeff Hanna travel to Kenyon to broadcast Oberlin's annual victory.

The Lords were a weak opponent that we'd handily defeated in recent years.  They did seem to present our Yeomen with their best chance for a win in 1967.  However, promoting WOBC's broadcast in that manner might have been disrespectful.

Also, the “W” wasn't a sure thing.  In fact, Kenyon could have played us to a tie that afternoon had they kicked a second extra point.  However, the snap was high, we won 14-13, and my prediction did come true.

In the early fall, football dominated the afternoon schedule for half of our Saturdays. (We broadcast only away games.  Yeoman fans were encouraged to attend the home games in person.)  After Thanksgiving, WOBC turned the time slot over to opera.  And after that season was over, the station signed off on Saturday afternoons so the engineers could do their thing.

Around 1950, the radio station had gotten its start by piping a weak AM signal into campus dormitories.  In 1962, actual FM broadcasting began, with a non-commercial FCC license and everything.  But not everyone had an FM radio yet, so the AM system was still in operation in the dorms.

In April 1967 the Guide noted:  “During Saturday afternoon from twelve until five-thirty, WOBC will be carrying out various efficiency tests and stringing new AM lines to the dorms which are having trouble receiving WOBC AM clearly.  Be on the lookout for these weird young men, climbing up the vines on Talcott and swinging thru the eaves of May and Fairchild (especially Fairchild, which has no eaves).  They are making WOBC a possibility.”

 

Brought To You By

For a broadcast station, WOBC had a very modest budget.  With one or two exceptions, the staff consisted of volunteers.  Our FM transmitter radiated only ten watts of electricity.  Our rooms in the student union building, Wilder Hall, were provided by the College.  An allocation from the Student Activity Fee covered most of our other expenses — but not quite all.  Perhaps we could sell advertising.

We were not allowed to air ads on our educational FM frequency.  Nevertheless, during my freshman year the Guide mentioned that our live sports broadcasts were sponsored.  Campus Dry Cleaners and Wood Florist helped pay for basketball, Alvin Shoes helped pay for football, and broadcasts of both sports were supported by Powers & Dawley at 17 West College Street.

I don't recall the specifics, but perhaps our “sponsors” were merely NPR-type underwriters, receiving brief mentions on the broadcasts and in the Guide.  In my later years as a sportscaster I don't recall going to commercials during time-outs; I think we just kept talking.  However, my notes for my first basketball game on December 1, 1965, indicated that we did intend to cut away for some kind of message.  “The opening tipoff is just ___ away, and we'll have the starting lineups for you in just a moment.  We'll be right back after this important message.”

How was this possible?  Well, we could air commercials on our AM system, because that was not regulated by the FCC.  In our control room, one of the tape machines was rigged to play back stereo tapes in a “splitcast” mode.  These special tapes had a public-service announcement on the left channel, which went to the FM transmitter, and a paid commercial on the right, which went to the AM system in the dorms.

In February and October of 1966, the Program Guide mentioned that the 545 NEWS ROUNDUP was “brought to you on AM by the Shell Oil Company.”  As I recall, Shell's support paid for the UPI teletype.

On November 3, 1966, we proclaimed that “WOBC's night-time classical programming is now brought to you on AM by The Coca-Cola Bottling Company.”

 

And on February 14, 1969, after Shell had left us, we announced that advertising time had been purchased by the roving vendors who delivered door-to-door inside the dorms.  “The Sandwichman now sponsors WOBC News on AM between the hours of noon and midnight.”

 

We also sold a bit of print advertising.  On the cover of the Program Guide were the words, “Brought to you by CO-OP BOOKSTORE.” On the back, the store at 37 West College Street plugged its “classical, jazz, folk records at discount prices; sheet music; music and art supplies; picture framing; and Oberlin seal items.”

This advertising helped defray our costs so we could distribute the Guide free of charge.  Nevertheless, other budget problems arose during my senior year, forcing us to switch to biweekly publication.

During the twelve weeks from February 10 through May 11, 1969, the Program Guide published only six editions.

We could do this because the program titles and hosts didn't vary much from one week to the next, and classical selections could be labeled by date.

 

Thursday Noon Live

In the early days of Oberlin College, students worshipped every day.  President Fairchild led this service in 1887.

When I enrolled eight decades later, there were still chapel services, but only for 20 minutes on Tuesdays.  Attendance was no longer mandatory.

Nevertheless, our presence was required at least eight times a semester in Finney Chapel, the large auditorium on campus.

These Assembies were usually held at noon on Thursdays.  Signatures were collected, although I wonder whether anyone actually bothered to keep attendance by logging these slips. 

However, we needed to choose which lectures to attend, because Finney's seating capacity was only half of the college's enrollment.  I remember going to hear Sen. Wayne Morse argue that our war in Viet Nam was unconstitutional because Congress had never declared it.

WOBC often interviewed the newsworthy guest speaker for that night's OBERLIN DIGEST.  When I became Station Director, we decided it would also be a good idea to broadcast the actual speeches live, for the benefit of the absent half of the student body as well as everyone else in town.

We reckoned this would be a simple “remote.”  A telephone line was available to transmit the signal 500 feet west to our studio in the next building, so we merely needed to add the audio to that, ahem, “Assembly line.”


(Also note the large gray-blue building on the north side
of Lorain Street. That's Kettering Hall as it was in 1968.)

However, the authorities wouldn't allow us to take a direct feed from the Chapel's audio system.  Who knows what might have happened if we connected our amateur wires to their professional equipment?  Perhaps one day the Oberlin Orchestra, trying to make a high-fidelity recording, might have been distracted by hum — or worse, by rock music from MID-WEEK BOGDOWN.

The solution was to feed our phone line with our own dedicated microphone and amplifier, the equipment I used for sports remotes.

We took the mic to the last row of the north balcony, at the end overlooking the podium.  Signing on at 1150, our announcer read from the guest speaker's biograpical information while an organ prelude mixed with the chattering of students gathering in the pews.

When the speechifying began at 1200, we'd reposition the mic in front of the public-address speaker on the wall (red arrow).

ASSEMBLY IN OBERLIN premiered on Tuesday, September 10, 1968, when President Robert K. Carr made a speech to formally open the academic year.  We rebroadcast his address at 925 Saturday morning, under the title THE FINNEY LECTERN.

On alternate Thursdays that fall, we aired either live Assemblies or two-year-old tapes from the archives.  Eight were listed in the Guide.

Sept. 19

tape

clergyman and peace activist William Sloane Coffin

Sept. 26

live

attorney and author Ralph Nader

Oct. 3

tape

former ambassador Edwin Reischauer, Oberlin '31

Oct. 10

live

Oct. 17

tape

Supreme Court justice John M. Harlan

Oct. 24

live

once-blacklisted Texas humorist John Henry Faulk on “The Courage to Be Free”

Oct. 31

tape

historian Henry Steele Commager

Nov. 7

live

professor Simon Barenbaum (a French teacher selected by my classmates to give the Senior Assembly)

 

Friday Night Live

In the first half of this article, I mentioned that Tawn Reynolds hosted a classical music program.  She also directed a broadcast of the Edgar Lee Masters poetry collection Spoon River Anthology.

Not only that, Tawn was in the cast of a late-night comedy show, often using a sexy voice to play a recurring role.  Unfortunately, she told us, some guys she encountered in real life thought that she was as sultry as the character she played on radio.  She wasn't that kind of girl.

The late-night show to which I refer was BACKGAMMON 101, “an hour of rational discourse” produced by Ken Braiterman (below).  It aired live at 11:30, not from NBC's Studio H but from our much more modest Studio A.

I recall one long-running skit in which the characters explored mysterious tunnels under Tappan Square, encountering well-known campus figures in surprising situations.  Zebulon the Zebra was involved somehow.

After the end of the first semester, the program decided to conform with the college's numbering system, which added an “X” designation to any 100-level introductory course that met in the second semester instead of the first.  It became BACKGAMMON X101.

Other comedy programs alternated in that Friday time slot.

Sept. 24, 1965

 1130

MIDEVENING MELODIES
An hour of surprises and unpredictable turmoil with WOBC's mystery humorists.

Nov. 5, 1965

 1130

FRIDAY NIGHT & SATURDAY MORNING
Hollis Huston and company with music and wit.

Oct. 17, 1967

 1130

NOBODY BUT US MICE
Danger — Poison!  Avoid this program at all costs!

 

Saturday Morning Live

In February 1966, a letter enclosed with the Guide announced, “WOBC has opened its studios to students in the Oberlin High School system on Saturday mornings!”

 

19

Saturday-morning television was for kids' shows, so we honored that tradition on radio.  On KALEIDOSCOPE at 900, Patsy Moeller played  classical music for the younger set, such as Haydn's “Toy Symphony” and Britten's “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.”

10

1 1

Then came HOOTLEBEATENANNY.  Its title conflated “Beatles” with “Hootenanny,” the term for an informal folk-music concert.  Two or three high school DJ's filled an hour at 1000 “with, undoubtedly, rock and roll and general popular music.”  The show later expanded to two hours.

12

Finally, starting in November of 1968, Russ Jones presented a ten-minute OBERLIN TOWN REPORT at noon.

The kids on HOOTLEBEATENANNY introduced the music, but they weren't allowed to operate our equipment.  The actual record-spinning was handled by the regular DJs from our staff, including Randy Bongarten.

One of the high-school students was Frank Weinstock.  He couldn't quite remember Randy's name, so when it came time to acknowledge his engineer, Frank invented an approximation.  That appellation made it into the Guide on April 24, 1968, when we read that SUNRISE! would be hosted by “Randy Watermelon.”

The weather was so nice the following month that the kids took their microphone out to the lawn of Wilder Hall, where they were surrounded by their groupies. 

Apparently one shouldered a boom box in order to hear the music.

I think the gold arrow points to Frank, whose father happened to be one of my physics professors.

 

The Spoken Word

Here are eight other broadcasts of note.

Sept. 26, 1965

 430

OBERLIN THEATER
Directed by Tim Boeschenstein.

Oct. 28, 1965

 1000

THE SPOKEN ARTS
For the next three weeks, a series of readings by Robert Speaight of T.S. Eliot's poetry.

March 17, 1968

 100

PROPAGANDA ANALYSIS
Mr. Goulding's Speech 2 class.

March 18, 1968

 1000

CSDI FORUM – Ideology & Intervention
This week's discussion featured not only Arnold Toynbee, Yevgenyi Zhukov, and Abba Eban, but also Senators Fulbright, McGovern, Pell, and McCarthy.  None of them actually were in our studio.  The syndicated program came to us on tape.

Oct. 16, 1968

 545

COLUMBIA COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
Richard Hofstadter's thoughts on academic freedom and student power.
As the new Station Director, I used my prerogative to delay Dave Alschuler's DINNER DATE for 23 minutes to play a recording of an Ivy League professor's June 4 speech which I deemed relevant for our campus.

Nov. 20, 1968

 1130

DARTMOUTH DEBATE TOURNAMENT
Oberlin's Mark Arnold and Roger Conner debate the Boston College team in the tournament's final round, February, 1968.

Feb. 9, 1969

 1115

OBERLIN FORUM
The premiere of a new program on which you, our listeners, can telephone WOBC and talk to us live on the air; topics unlimited.
Mark Mehas took the calls.  We hadn't previously been able to air a telephone talk show because we lacked equipment to bleep out profanities.  But then we came up with a makeshift solution.

I mentioned this solution in connection with a later visit to WNBC in New York.  Before putting phone conversations on the air, we recorded them using our left-hand tape deck.  Then the tape, depicted below in brown, continued on to the right-hand deck.  There, having traveled about 26 inches at 3¾ inches per second, it would be played back on the air seven seconds after having been recorded — unless in the interim the engineer had detected an obscenity and switched to some other source.  

However, this method employed only the left deck's feed reel and the right deck's takeup reel.  The two unused reels in the middle spun wildly.

Hal Croxall discovered how to calm them with about four feet of tape spliced into an endless loop.  The path of the "Croxall Loop" as I remember it is depicted in blue.  To regulate its speed, the dummy loop shared the left machine's capstan, then snuggled up to the right machine's feed reel and back to the left machine's takeup reel.  Thus all four reels rotated counterclockwise at controlled rates.

 

Artifical Intelligence Takes Over

We aspired to stay on the air 24 hours a day.  However, it was difficult to schedule student volunteers to run the control board during classes from 900 to 1115 a.m., not to mention during the overnight hours from 200 to 700 a.m.  Mechanical assistance was called for.

Therefore our inventive Chief Engineer, Gary Freeman, built a sequencer to fill the air time with pop music.  He called it “I.G.O.R.”  (I mentioned it in Part 1 of this article, in connection with our Classical Music Marathon.)

According to the Program Guide, on March 10, 1969, we tested our new robotic assistant on the 900 a.m. show, later to be called MINDLESS MORNING MUSIC.  It worked, so that night we turned it loose at 2:00 a.m. for an unattended five-hour shift called NIGHT WATCH.

The system wasn't perfect.  For one thing, FCC regulations required a human presence at the studio to monitor our signal and log the readings of the transmitter meters.  We had to convince students to stay up all night studying while babysitting Igor.  (Some may have napped and then faked the logs later, but if they did, none of us were the wiser.)

My friend Jennifer Wagner may have volunteered for overnight duty one night.  At any rate, she and I were still hanging around after hours in the outer office.  During our conversation, she mimed sending a message to an imaginary announcer in an empty studio.  There was an intercom right there, so she pressed the button.  That apparently caused an electrical transient, and the sequencer apparently thought it had heard its cue.  The music abruptly cut to a recorded voice announcement; then the next tape began, sooner than scheduled.  Jenny yelled at Igor, and we hurried into the control room to correct the error so the tapes wouldn't run out before dawn.

WOBC's tape machines normally ran at 7½ inches per second, switchable to 15 ips.  But each of Igor's two overnight reels of tape needed to last two and a half hours, so we had modified that switchable option to be only 3¾ ips.  The resultant fidelity was less than AM-radio quality, but we were on the air!


That's it!  Playing radio has been lots of fun, but we're out of time.  (If you missed the first half of this article, click here.)

Let me mention in closing that I've used this collection of Program Guides to compile a grid of 44 Executive Board members, the valiant volunteers who directed WOBC's various departments.  You can find it here.

Thanks for listening!

 

TBT

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