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.
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.
However, that autumn I possibly tried too hard. I requested the following listing to preview our 0-5 football team's upcoming game.
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.
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.
Thursday Noon Live
Nevertheless, our presence was required at least eight times a semester in Finney Chapel, the large auditorium on campus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Spoken Word
Here are eight other broadcasts of note.
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.
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.
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. 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!