50 years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, loyal listeners
have heard brilliant alternative radio
from Oberlin College's own FM radio station.
is almost midnight as a laid-back senior with a bushy beard
enters the casual coolness of WOBC, Oberlin College's student-run
radio station, to kick off another semester of non-stop
of every possible genre, political talk, advocacy, news,
meaningless babble, grade-school guests, late-night cursing,
radio theater--all of it will originate here, spreading
across campus and beyond on a radio wave 900 watts strong,
tuned to FM 91.5.
is the vibe here, but, technically, the place is Dante-hot,
thanks to hissing radiators on the third floor of Wilder
Hall that never know when enough is enough. The place feels
more like a fixed-up attic--do-it-yourself, of course--where
the parents won't bother you. (But just in case, there's
a brand new magnetic card reader at the door.) Fresh paint
coats the walls, and broken-in couches that could easily
be sitting on a front porch on Professor Street serve as
office furniture. Somehow, they don't seem incongruous next
to the fancy iMac computers.
vaults--take a deep breath--for folk, Motown, jazz, world,
RPM (electronic), classical, punk, metal, and pop are actually
overstuffed closets. The studio at once shows age and infancy:
Turntables for vinyl records--which children identify only
as giant, black CDs--and cart machines that play old-fashioned
sound cartridges share space with CD and mini-disc players.
And, of course, there are the necessities of broadcast:
microphones and headphones and, to interact with the listening
public, a telephone.
station never sleeps. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days
a week, there's something--if not the eclectic music, then
wide-ranging talk. Seventh graders talk about cool-colored
hairstyles one day on the i'm on the stereo program while,
after the midnight hour, DJs enjoy gratuitous (they'd argue
"educational") sex talk on a weekly show called "60 Minutes
of Smut," which, apparently, is a big hit with the prisoners
in nearby Grafton.
Ashley Hand, Gail Cole, and Melissa Varner gab about
sports, clothes, and parents.
spring semester ushered in a new broadcast season for WOBC,
in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary year. The
staff estimates that some 5,000 people have come through
the station over the years, and the group has been planning
a reunion bash for Commencement weekend.
most gratified to see that 'our' enterprise has lasted
and flourished these many years,'' says Bob Chamberlain
'51. "For me, the station was an introduction to ham radio,
an interest that sparked my transfer as a military draftee
from the infantry into the signal corps." That, he said,
led to a 34-year career as a signal corps reservist and
50-plus years in ham radio public service and emergency
broadcasts actually began in 1949, airing three evenings
per week on WEOL-AM in Elyria. According to a 1949 Oberlin
Alumni Magazine, Oberlin's Forensic Union developed
a schedule of "news on Tuesdays, interpretation of domestic
and international affairs on Wednesdays, and music on
Thursdays." By 1950 students were in the midst of creating
a College station, then known as KOCN-AM, which broadcast
for five days in May as a trial run. In the 1950-51 academic
year, KOCN signed on for good, soon changing its call
letters to WOBC.
was all spit and bailing wire. I should say spit and telephone
wire,'' says Bill Hayward '51, a KOCN pioneer as a graduate
student. The telephone wire reference is a nod to the
jury-rigged early broadcasts, which went over the police
call telephone lines strung up across town, and then into
each dorm on separate 110-volt circuits through connections
developed by student engineers.
Conservatory graduate and pianist, Hayward was the station's
earliest music man. He loved to borrow records from dorm
mates for his Dinner Time Concert, spinning popular stuff
like George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Students also came
in to play on the $500 Baldwin baby grand piano the station
had purchased--its first live performances.
Hayward '51 talks about the early days of Oberlin radio
with current staffers Ben
Calhoun, Neil Freeman, and Joe Kremer.
of today's music might blister the ears of folks conditioned
to Gershwin and Porter, which is fine with Hayward, who,
with his wife Shirley '51, lives in Kendal at Oberlin
after retiring from a career in radio and television.
"I'm very happy that these young people are getting to
do their thing, just as we did our thing," he says.
"thing" is to work for a non-commercial station where
DJs can play and say anything (between the hours of 10
p.m. and 6 a.m., anyway, unless they want to risk FCC
action). The spit and bailing wire of a half century ago
has been replaced with a transmitter that sends a strong
signal throughout the county and beyond, up-to-date broadcasting
equipment (the station's first portable tape recorder,
Hayward recalls, weighed 64 pounds, while today's mini-disk
recorders are virtually weightless) and, better yet, the
ability to be heard just about anywhere in the world through
webcasts over the Internet by logging onto www.wobc.org.
program director is Joe Kremer, a junior physics and Russian
major from Connecticut who works so hard searching for
the right combination of shows that it wears on him like
caring for a child. He appears uncharacteristically relaxed
as Jake Abrams--the bushy bearded man--enters the studio
late on February 13 for WOBC's new season.
is the first day that I haven't been consumed by radio,"
Kremer explains. He's one of only six paid staffers, though
their $40-per-week salary translates to pennies per hour.
The 100 or so other students and nine community DJs make
nothing, though they clamor for a job.
really competitive to get a show, and people who are selected
are selected for a reason. They have something to offer,
something different,'' says Nick Stillman, a senior history
major from Maine and editor-in-chief of The Oberlin
lineup, indeed, is filled with dedicated students who
appear to take their jobs seriously. Those who don't get
time slots--even deadly ones--are chosen as emergency
backups. Equipment is in good shape: new microphones and
headphones have DJs smiling. Music is appropriately catalogued
because volunteers have separated the wheat from the chaff
and labeled like librarians this year.
now, I feel enormous pride about being part of this,''
pride is about to show in the form of Abrams. The senior
religion major from Massachusetts comes to the station
equipped with reggae-filled CD cases that could double
as luggage. He bends at the waist and flips through
page after plastic-pocket page of CDs, his reggae music
show being created on the fly. He "ooh, oohs" the good
ones. "Ooh, ooh" apparently means this one has got to
go on the air tonight.
loads a CD and flips the switch on the old console.
The static is silenced. "Greetings, greetings,'' says
Abrams, who sounds positively Jamaican when the mike
is open, and then it's right to the semester's first
song. It has a lovely message, one that WOBC's current
student leaders have worked hard to cultivate in their
own little corner of the broadcast world. "Peace, love,
o'clock in the afternoon, a few days later, three seventh-grade
girls ask Josh Rosen to list George Carlin's "seven
dirty words" you can't say on the radio. Matter-of-factly
(and without blushing) he tells them.
An originator of the i'm on the stereo program,
Josh Rosen '01 takes a phone call for for one of
his young DJs.
preparing the trio for their guest DJ spot on the weekday,
hour-long i'm on the stereo program. Local school kids
play instruments on the air, share their favorite music,
interview town leaders, and gab about school uniforms,
Napster, the need for local skate parks--whatever. A
week in March featured an eighth-grade rap singer named
Luigi and a student interview with the president of
the Oberlin School Board.
senior politics major from Florida, Rosen launched the
show last fall with Jeff Price, a senior neuroscience
major from California. "The Oberlin community can't
be at its best unless we work harder to get to know
one another better. Radio is an excellent medium to
assist in the understanding of one another's life experiences,
joys and suffering, and predicaments,'' says Rosen,
who also created a website, www.imonthestereo.com,
in support of the show. "We're open to anything and
a definite air of admiration, the seventh graders use
their air time for a quick observation of Oberlin College
students: "They break all boundaries, and everyone has
vibrant hair and wears Drew Carey glasses," says Ashley
Hand, before passing Rosen a Doors CD for the next segment.
"I heard them in a Steven King movie, and I just had
to buy the CD," she explains to Rosen, who asked how
a 13-year-old got into the Doors.
life of an Oberlin kid and an Oberlin College kid are
more intertwined then one might first think,'' he says
later. "We've all gone through similar experiences,
from difficulties with friends, lost loves, getting
along with parents...In so many ways, the kids we pass
every day downtown are partial reflections of our own
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