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Homecoming Weekend 2014
Written September 21, 2014


Who was waiting for the doors of Oberlin College’s Finney Chapel to open on Friday evening, September 19?  Why did nearly 1,200 more people join them inside?

It was a convocation.  Two Oberlin graduates were about to speak.  The older: a classmate of mine.  The younger: a MacArthur Award winner.

When the two were introduced, the cheering from the overflow crowd was loud and long.  The mostly young audience waved their arms in the air and stomped their feet on Finney’s wooden floors.  The freshmen made their presence known.

I found this reaction astounding, because these two are not rock stars.  They’re not movie stars.  They’re not even TV stars.  They’re on radio!  Public radio!  And their show is about the hottest topic among young people today, science!

Their program is called Radiolab, a Peabody Award winner that's one of National Public Radio's most popular shows.

Jad Abumrad ’95, on the left, is the technical wizard behind the show’s sound design, as well as the compositional wizard behind its music.  He’s one of 11 Oberlinians who have received a “genius grant” as a MacArthur Fellow.

Emmy-winning Robert Krulwich ’69, on the right, helps examine “big questions in science, philosophy and the human experience through compelling storytelling.”

Photo: Radiolab

As undergraduates, they both were involved with WOBC, the same little campus radio station as I.  Krulwich co-hosted a news commentary program, and I had been a fan of his even before I saw him on stage in a Ben Jonson comedy in 1967.

There was also,” Jad remembers, “this whole other program called Timara, basically an electronic music program. It was these kids, and they'd work in the musical building — just a bunch of synths in the basement, and they never saw sunshine. Part of the music curriculum was to do a Timara piece, and that, for me was like oh, this is my jam, to work with synthesizers and combine them with acoustic sounds.

While we in the audience were waiting for the convocation to begin, I talked with a 1974 graduate, Stu, a doctor from Denver.  Ma’ayan Plaut of the Class of 2010 took this photo of the stage setup:  two chairs, a laptop, and a projection screen.

Photo: Ma’ayan Plaut

Jad and Robert had spent much of the day “reminiscinating” about their undergraduate years.  When Jad took his seat and looked out over the huge and enthusiastic audience sitting where he had sat twenty years before, he confessed, “I’m kind of tripping out up here.”  As Robert noted, this was the same stage from which many famous speakers and musicians had been heard over the years, including Martin Luther King fifty years ago.

Photo: Ma’ayan Plaut

And then these storytellers began telling stories, some about Oberlin but more about Radiolab, along with sound excerpts from some of their favorite moments.

A couple of years ago, they were interviewed by Stephen Colbert.  And Sasha Weiss wrote in The New Yorker about “the excitement of the collaboration between Abumrad and Krulwich.  ‘Radiolab,’ Krulwich told me, ‘is an experiment between two people who are trying to figure stuff out.  The music in him is something I just understand.  It’s very easy to play with him.’  Two grown men playing brilliant games with ideas.  It’s one of the great artistic collaborations going these days.”

But wait, there was more to come!  It was the college’s Homecoming Weekend, a perfect occasion to inaugurate the brand-new football field on Saturday.  The remodeled stadium now has artificial Field Turf carpet.  It also has lights, so Oberlin was able to play the first night football game in its history.

The aerial view above comes from this college-provided footage.  The videomakers also operated their drone at human altitudes.  For example, they flew right through the bandstand gazebo on the Square.

The support facility building on the far left of my photo above, behind the end zone, houses locker rooms and such and has been built to Title IX standards.  I think that means that the women’s field hockey team no longer has to share a locker with the men.

Officially known as the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex, the new construction replaces the crumbling grandstand I knew from my college days.  (Back then, Savage Stadium was already 40 years old.  Had it survived one more year, it would have celebrated its 90th birthday in 2015.)

Photo: Ma’ayan Plaut

Above we see the view from the premium seats, which have backs and are located on the 50-yard line.  Across the field are the new bleachers for the visiting team.  The ramp on the right leading up to them, for some reason, seems to be the only ramp in the whole stadium.

On the home side, fans have to access the seating area by way of this flight of stairs.  At least the concessions stand is right there at the top of the steps.

It’s adjacent to the glassed-in clubhouse and social suite for VIPs — excuse me, for the “campus community.”  But this concessions stand seems to be the only one in the stadium.  There are just two small windows, labeled ORDER and PICK, and a hard-working but disorganized crew behind the windows doing their best to keep up.

At least the press box looks a lot fancier than it used to (right).  I’m told that the new one is “state-of-the-art.”


But those special seats with the backs were mostly empty in the first quarter.  Maybe the VIP’s were still in their suite.

Before a crowd of 2,043, Oberlin and the College of Wooster traded scores on the first five possessions.  There were several long plays.  It looked as though it was going to be an exciting, high-scoring Division III game.  But then Wooster got its defense in gear and Oberlin did not.   The final score:  Wooster 63, Oberlin 10.

Nine months later, the College reported that “the Athletics Department opened the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex for business this past fall and it is a beauty.  Bailey Field was not only the home to four (football, field hockey, men's and women's lacrosse) of our varsity athletics teams (six if you include our soccer teams), but it also played host to local high school football and soccer.  The Knowlton meeting spaces were also utilized by the community and were used by almost every department on campus this past school year for either a meeting or social event.”

Finally . . .  when I was a student, the Yeomen’s uniforms displayed the gaudy college colors of crimson and gold.  Now they’re pewter gray.  I think I like it.



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