About Site


All News All the Time
Written 1987-1992


Background:  Sometimes I like to pose a hypothetical question and work out the answer in detail.  This gives me the chance to be creative in areas that interest me.  And there's no downside.  If my solution is harebrained or poorly thought out, no one's going to get into trouble, because it's merely a mental exercise.  You'll find some examples in the design galleries on this website.

This article gives another example.  The question to be answered:

If I were again running my old college radio station and were asked to convert it to a new format, how would I do it?

I had been program director and station director at WOBC, the student-operated radio station at Oberlin College, during momentous times.  In 1968-69, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, Richard Nixon was elected president in a three-way race, astronauts reached the moon, and the war in Viet Nam continued.  On campus, the transition from strictly-regulated dormitories to coed housing arrangements was well under way.

There were over a hundred students on the radio station's volunteer staff.  Many worked in the news department, reading UPI wire copy or reporting on local events.  This probably marked the highest level of journalistic activity in WOBC's 50-year history.

About six years after I graduated, many stations around the country (including KQV in Pittsburgh) emphasized news even more by dropping music altogether.

What would it be like, I wondered, if WOBC adopted an all-news format?  It would never happen, of course.  It couldn't happen unless the change were imposed from outside.  But the concept fascinated me.

I dreamed up organizational plans and even wrote lengthy "memos" to promulgate them, starting with "Shift Plans for a Hypothetical College All-News Radio Station" on August 13, 1975.  Because of limited staff and the repetitive nature of news, all my plans involved recording news and features so that they could be aired several times.

The idea never went away.  Here are excerpts from later fictional memos.

I've broken this rather lengthy article into four quarters:


Start of 1st Quarter . . .


The 1987 Letter

The late Adele Smithson left a substantial sum in her will to Oberlin College, with some conditions.  A portion was earmarked to operate "the college's radio station, WOBC-FM, as an all-news station."  Of course, WOBC is owned not by the college but by the Oberlin College Student Network.  But after discussion with attorneys, the OCSN Trustees decided to comply with the all-news stipulation so that all parties, especially the college, would receive their allotted funds.

The Trustees have named me Station Manager.  A Chief Engineer has also been hired.  This memo outlines our plans.

From its beginnings, WOBC has been proud to be a student-operated station.  I remember well the attractions of being able to choose our own format.  It is with reluctance, therefore, that I oversee the conversion of WOBC to a professionally-operated station with a specified format. 

There have been all-news stations before.  The new WOBC will be different, because of our special situation.

We rely on unpaid students who work a few hours per week, so we must keep procedures simple.  We must minimize the drudgery and maximize the creativity, both to keep you happy and to get as much as possible out of limited hours.

One advantage is that we aren't dependent on advertising.  Instead of scheduling commercials, we can run public service announcements at our convenience.  Nor are we dependent on ratings.  We don't have to present the same news in different words every half-hour to keep listeners from tuning out.  Once we've given the news, we can invite them to tune out and to rejoin us a few hours later when we have fresh news.

Another advantage is Oberlin College.  For national news, we can interview Oberlin professors to get their insights.  For local news, college activities provide a rich source of stories and features.


Three parameters describe the goals of our format.

In 15 minutes, a listener can hear (at least in headline form) all the important stories and the weather.  This is the MINIMUM time that he needs to listen.

After 30 minutes, a listener usually will begin to hear repeats of the same stories he heard half an hour before.  This is the MAXIMUM time he is expected to listen.  (A commercial station would want to keep listeners for more than half an hour; we don't care.)

Two and a half hours after tuning out, a listener can tune back in and hear a completely new edition of the newscast.  This is the REJOIN time.


Each member of the WOBC staff will be an Oberlin student willing to spend a minimum of eight hours per week.  Normally, this will be in two four-hour shifts chosen from news-gathering, news-presenting, and administrative functions.

Content Creation

Staff members who are assigned to reporting duties will cover either a Beat or a Time Period.

Beats can include Student Senate, the fencing team, Oberlin City Hall, Buildings & Grounds, new faculty members, or almost any other subject deemed appropriate by the Assignments Editor.  Events are predictable, with meetings and games scheduled in advance and only the outcome in doubt.

Time Periods will be for another set of reporters.  For example, suppose that something unexpected happens on Tuesday afternoon.  In many cases the appropriate beat reporter will be in class or otherwise occupied, but the reporter assigned to the time period of Tuesday afternoon will be on call and able to cover the story.

Other staffers, directed by the Features Editor, will contribute four-minute pieces for the final segment of each half hour.  Present plans call for seven different features daily, such as events happening that day, a biography of a retiring instructor, or a description of plans for a new college building. 

The Public Service Editor will keep current a stock of 30-second PSA's.  Many will simply promote events on the college calendar.


Once these news stories, features, and PSA's have been written and recorded, other staff members will present them on the air.  There will be only one or two "presenters" on duty at a time.  We plan to be on the air seven days a week from 5:30 AM to 2:30 AM.  Shifts include 5-9, 8-12, 11-3, and 2-6.  (There is no 2 AM to 6 AM shift.)

We'll record the news once every three hours, and we'll air that edition six times, updating it only as necessary.  Each staffer thus will prepare one 30-minute newscast during his four-hour shift.  This should not be difficult.  Since you don't have to read the same stories over and over again (they're on tape once and for all), you can concentrate on the more creative aspects.

For convenience, the newscast is not recorded as one 30-minute block but rather as a group of shorter segments, each on its own cart.  Every five minutes has the same pattern:  a four-minute segment, a 30-second PSA, a 27-second headline or weather segment, and a three-second automated clock.  This pattern is repeated six times to make up the half hour. 






Weather and Temperature

Time (:05)





Preview of the Feature coming up in 15 minutes

Time (:10)





National Headlines, promising more details in 15 minutes

Time (:15)





Weather and Temperature

Time (:20)





Sports Headlines

Time (:25)





Local Headlines

Time (:30)

This automated format will serve us well for most of our 147 hours a week.  But there will be long-form programming as well.  There will be live remotes:  sports play-by-play, concerts, conferences.  There will be live studio programs:  roundtable discussions, telephone talk shows, election returns.  There will be recorded documentaries.  The Program Director is in charge of all these.  The only rule is that we will try to maintain our Minimum Time:  there will be "capsules," approximately a minute of headlines, presented about every 15 minutes in natural breaks in the program.


Finally, when will all these changes be accomplished?  I favor going slow.  For the rest of this semester, all the present disk jockeys can continue.

Next semester will be the final one for existing shows.  We'll institute a ten-minute newscast every three hours during the afternoon and evening.  Several weeks later, we'll expand it to a half hour.  Then we'll add a short, frequent newscast in the morning.  All the while, we'll be building our staff capabilities in reporting, feature editing, and so on.

Finally, at the beginning of the next semester (nearly a year from now), WOBC will become an all-news station, and the new era will have begun.


. . . End of
1st Quarter