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Letter to Jeff Hanna
Written 1966


Background: In 1966, starting my sophomore year at Oberlin College, I became the sports director of student-operated radio station WOBC.  My first major project was setting up that season's broadcasts of the football games of the semi-hapless Oberlin Yeomen.

We didn't broadcast home games, because there were plenty of seats available and admission was free to students.  We concentrated on live broadcasts from the road, sent back to the station on telephone lines.  These were not broadcast-quality lines, just regular phone connections, and the quality was pretty poor.  On other Saturdays, we used these same connections to carry the live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, which didn't sound very good either.  But it was live!  And each football broadcast earned the station twelve dollars (sic) in advertising revenue.

Making my plans in May of 1966, I naturally chose myself to call the play-by-play; I had already done several Oberlin basketball games.  For my color analyst, I picked fellow sophomore Jeff Hanna (right) from Bethany, West Virginia.  As I recall, his father was a coach at Bethany College.

But then summer vacation came along, and Jeff and I had not had the opportunity to discuss the nuts and bolts of how we'd handle the broadcasts; so in August, I wrote him a letter.

August 22, 1966

Time's been slipping up on me a little faster than I realized.  It's just two weeks to Labor Day now, so I guess I'd better hurry up and get this letter to you before you get back to Oberlin so you'll know what to be doing up there before the football season starts.

I won't be back myself before Saturday, September 17, which (if things are run the same way as last year) should be the date of the intrasquad game.  The plan is to do a mock broadcast of this game; this will give you and me some much-needed practice before the Hiram opener the next weekend, and it wouldn't hurt to have Mike Knowlton there too so that we have the whole broadcast team on hand (except the engineer).

But before the intrasquad game we ought to have some knowledge of the players, or we won't be able to do much of anything; and this is where you come in, since you'll be there for a week or two before and should have a good chance to find out what the team's going to be like.  Pay special attention to the freshmen, since we don't know anything at all about them; but be busy picking up any other bits of information you can, too.

Before the intrasquad game comes up, try to get a roster of the players (names, home towns, heights and weights, etc.).  They may not have the uniform numbers assigned yet, but that wouldn't help us much for this practice session anyway as they probably won't be wearing their regular numbers.  Ed Kaplan [my predecessor as WOBC sports director] told me last spring that [name missing] is usually pretty co-operative and will give you a list of the numbers as soon as they've decided who's going to be wearing what.  Just tell him you're from WOBC.

It would also be a good idea to introduce yourself to [head coach] Bill Grice (if you don't already know him), since you're going to be interviewing him for the Sept. 23 Oberlin Digest show.  Better make sure we've got permission to use the pressbox on Sept. 17, too.

Okay, got all that?  I guess you're going to be sort of acting sports director until I arrive.  After that, you become our football expert.  You know better than I how you want to do your "color" commentary; the only guideline I'll give you is that I'd like you to be fairly active, commenting on 60-70% of the plays.  You may not want to be as ubiquitous as Paul Christman [of NBC], but on the other hand I'll probably always be running out of things to say and need some help.

I understand you and our chauffeur, Mike, know each other, so I'll sort of leave it up to you to decide how he should be used.  I'm going to send him a letter this week, talking about statistics.  I'd sort of like him to take care of those — first downs, passes attempted-completed-intercepted, and a few other odds and ends — but nothing as complicated as the complete chart I had in mind at the beginning of the summer.  Therefore, he'll be free to do a little commentary himself; and he sounded as though he'd like to when I talked to him in May.  You might want to bring him in at halftime and at the end of the game.  Don't try to share the color duties with him during the game, though:  one reason is we have only one microphone, and if both of you kept grabbing at it I'd probably get so confused I'd forget what was going on on the field.

Here are the four away games we'll be doing this season.  We'll have to decide later when to leave Oberlin in order to get there on time, which should be about an hour before the kickoff.  September 24 Hiram (at Hiram, Ohio), arrive about 1:00 EDT, air time 1:50; also October 1, October 22, and November 5.

Here's the format of a WOBC broadcast:  We're scheduled to sign on ten minutes before game time, but usually we delay it a couple of minutes if we don't have enough items to talk about before the game.  We inform the station exactly when we plan to take the air, and 45 seconds before that time they put on a tape with the theme music and, on AM, the names of our sponsors.  At the proper moment they switch to us and we begin talking about the upcoming game.  After four or five minutes of this we give them an appropriate cue, such as "And we'll be back with the starting lineups right after this important message."  This introduces the first of eight 52-second spots, which are paid commercials on AM ($1.50 per spot) and public-service announcements on FM (since we're licensed only as an educational station).  Following this first spot, we give the starting lineups and then kill time until the game starts.

Whenever there's a score or a time-out, we put in another spot by saying "With time out on the field, the score is ___."  I'll introduce each one of these myself.  One will come at the end of the first quarter, and there'll be another at the end of the first half.

When we come back after this spot at the end of the first half, we do a brief summary of what's happened so far.  What comes next is optional.  On basketball games last year we gave our listeners a halftime break by switching back to the station, usually for seven or eight minutes, for a brief DJ show.  This also gave us a break to round up some statistics.  But it there's someone we want to interview at halftime, or if you want to talk to Mike about the game, we could keep it continuously (except for another spot or two) and eliminate the break.  We'll have to decide that before each game, probably.

The second half runs just like the first, except that towards the end we may use up the last of our eight spots.  This is good; if another time-out is called, then we have a chance to review what's happened that afternoon.  Also, we figure that the listeners aren't particularly interested in staying tuned after the game is over, and if a commercial comes on they're quite likely to switch us off before we're done.  The way to keep them is to keep talking once the game has ended, summarize it quickly, get everything said we want to say, and then sign off.  And to accomplish our aim of no spots after the final gun, if we've only gotten in seven spots and the game is dull, we aren't above saying "With time out on the field" after a play when time isn't out and then hoping no one scores a touchdown during the commercial.

With only one hand-held microphone, I imagine the best system would be for me to hold it throughout the game and have you pull it over to you when you've got something to say.  Handing it back and forth wouldn't work too well.

Oh, we're getting awfully detailed now!  We'll probably have to work most of these things out as we go along, so for now I'll just say I'll see you Saturday afternoon the 17th.  Last year that game was at 2:30, so I'll be in the vicinity around 1:00 unless I hear differently from you.  Let me know if you have any problems in the meantime or if you come up with any hot news flashes.  By the way, I've got one for you:  Akron withdrew from the Ohio Conference last week.  Complained that the conference rules on recruiting were too strict.  The Zips will be independents now, and I wouldn't be surprised if we avoided scheduling them in basketball as we already do in football.

I'll be expecting you to be my trusty sidekick on the first two games this season, and if things work out all right (as I have a feeling they will) on the final two as well.  Have fun scouting the team, and I'll see you September 17!


Above:  a photo by A.E. Princehorn in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, November 1966.

On Friday, September 23, 1966, back in my college dorm, I typed up the following script for the next day:  my part of the first segment of our very first football broadcast.

Good afternoon, everyone!  From Hiram, Ohio, this is Tom Thomas with Jeff Hanna and, this afternoon, the Opening Game of the 1966 Oberlin College football season:  the Yeomen meeting the Terriers of Hiram College.

Hiram has beaten Oberlin the past four years in a row, but the Yeomen have high hopes of being able to break that string this time around.

Last season was a disappointing one, as the Crimson and Gold managed to win only one out of eight contests, but the largely inexperienced team of last season has matured in 1966 and we're looking forward to a winning year.

(Jeff talk about team:  what happened in 1965, prospects for 1966)

Oberlin's opponents this afternoon, the Terriers of Hiram, lack experience.  Almost half the squad is freshmen.

Of the 22 starters last year, 14 have left the team — some through graduation, some because of transfer to other schools, some for other reasons.  Those lost to the team include six offensive linemen, a halfback, a flanker, three linebackers, and two defensive tackles.

Before the season started, Coach Bob Dove said, "I'll have to get plenty of help from the 25 incoming, untried freshmen, or it will be a long, long season."

Dove has never had a particularly bad year here at Hiram; he came to this school in 1962 and has recorded marks of 5-3, 3-5, 3-5, and 4-4.  Never an especially good season, either, for that matter.

But each of those four seasons has included a win over the Oberlin College Yeomen.  And last year, when the Terriers spoiled Oberlin's home opener by a 25-13 score, they did it with a team that Coach Dove had characterized as probably the greenest group he'd ever had at Hiram.

So maybe, maybe that inexperience doesn't count when the Terriers are playing the Yeomen.  We'll have to wait and see this afternoon.

The opening kickoff is just a few minutes away!  We'll be back with the starting lineups right after we pause for this important message.



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