Oberlin Alumni Magazine Spring 2001 vol.96 no.4
Feature Stories
Planet Earth
High Atop Wilder
[cover story] Creating a Scene
You've Got Mail: Now What?
Experience, Exposure & Enlightenment
Body Art
Message from the Board of Trustees
Around Tappan Square
Oberlin Partnership sharpens Economic Development
Composing a Career
President Dye's Sabbatical
Closing Institutional Devides
In Brief
Alumni Notes: Profile
Alumni Notes: Losses
The Last Word
Staff Box
One More Thing
High Atop Wilder Hall
  by Michael K. McIntyre
  continued from first page...  
  Community DJ Jay Lewis, a volunteer WOBC DJ with a professional radio background, hosts a weekly urban show called The Funk Boutique.

Music director Matt Marlin and most others at the station talk passionately about how commercial radio and Internet downloads generally don't expose people to good new music, or even good old music. Mostly, it gives listeners what they already know.

"College radio is the eyes and ears of commercial radio," says Jay Lewis, a professional DJ from Akron who plays only new music while volunteering each week on the OC airwaves. Station manager Ben Calhoun, a senior from Wisconsin, says WOBC caters to people who aren't satisfied with homogenized commercial radio.

"That's our niche and the real value of what we do,'' says Calhoun, who so loves radio that he spent 10-hour days last summer working as an unpaid intern at a Chicago public radio station, and then stopped home in Wisconsin for his paying job delivering Papa John's pizzas.

"My first time slot on WOBC was Tuesday mornings from 4 to 6 a.m., which is as bad as it gets. Whether you sleep before or after the show, you're beat the next day. The appeal of college radio kept me hooked, though.

"For the first few weeks, I was sure that I was playing music for no one, 30 miles in any direction. I got my first caller a few weeks into my first semester. It was some guy working third shift. He requested Jean Luc-Ponty, who's this horrible Canadian electric violinist. I played it for him though, because I was thrilled when I knew he was listening to us. It was really something.''

WOBC station manager Ben Calhoun '01 is hoping for a job in radio after graduation.


Aside from its own programming, the station sponsors outside music projects; this semester included a comedy concert, a classical music recital, two hip-hop events, and a folk festival. "My idyllic vision of WOBC is as a place for people to learn about music and culture and to share that knowledge with the public,'' says promotions director Amanda Schoonmaker, a senior English major from North Carolina. "We provide for Oberlin--College and community--an essential communicative medium. We inform, educate, and entertain the public. It's a learning opportunity for our listeners and the DJs."

A laboratory of sorts, particularly for WOBC alums who have created names for themselves in the industry: Paula Gordon '68, host of her own syndicated talk radio show; David Greene '82, associate producer for NPR's Car Talk; and actress Nancy Giles '81, an on-air talent in New York with roles on TV's China Beach, Delta, LA Law, and more.

Non-celebrity Hans Wagner '83 worked for WOBC in the early 80s, including one semester as station manager. "Why one semester?" he asks. "I had what was probably a nervous breakdown when we were trying to implement the frequency change and power increase from 10 to 440 watts. I had to withdraw from school for a semester. Great times, those!"

  Operations manager Chelsea Martinez '02 sorts through the mail, separating bills from the good stuff like CDs and posters.

Operations manager Chelsea Martinez, a junior from California, sorts through bins of daily mail--press releases, phone bills, unsolicited PSAs, new CDs (usually pop), and telltale cardboard poster tubes that some students fight for. "I like knowing what's going on at the station--troubleshooting, making requests of the school, or spending our money," she says.

With an annual budget of just under $24,000, the station has the second-largest budget of any student organization; the student union gets more. Funding comes from the College and student activity fees, says Martinez, so it's to the students' benefit to get involved. "This should be enough money to get us through the year, but just barely," she says.

The situation that confronted WOBC's current leaders a couple of years ago, they say, was a station in trouble. Student commitment appeared to be waning as DJs often missed their shifts. New CDs vanished before they could get on the air, and equipment was often broken or lacking. "Four years ago this place was pretty much a shambles,'' says Calhoun, who considers the station his second home.

"I really thought it was all going to collapse,'' says Scott Goodson, a North Ridgeville plumber who has spent almost every Wednesday evening for the past ten years in WOBC's studios, where he is the community DJ known as "Killer," taking requests for metal music in a show called Amused to Death.

Today, Goodson is thrilled to death. He credits a new crew of committed student leaders with re-establishing a professional atmosphere, one where CDs are properly catalogued, where 24-hour programming reflects variety while still making sense (many of the station's 90-plus shows are grouped on the same nights), and DJs show up for their shifts.

"The last year has been the most comfortable and the smoothest and most professional I ever remember,'' says the 33-year-old Goodson. "Equipment works. If there is a problem, it's addressed. You would think this is a full-time job for these guys--that if they didn't do everything right, they'd get fired.''

A late afternoon staff meeting has crew members debating the pros and cons of co-sponsoring an upcoming event.


But honest attempts to professionalize the station have met with critics. "WOBC is run like a fascist dictatorship now,'' writes one student on a comment sheet. Indeed, management does require students--most of whom are happy to oblige--to participate on various committees in addition to their on-air antics. The committees archive old tapes, label music, build CD racks, or even clean up around the station. There is, it seems, a committee for everything. "Too strict,'' writes another student DJ, who then slips into language the FCC wouldn't allow before 10 p.m. Another student, however, lauds the "management, organization, and confidence," and says: "You guys rock and it is greatly appreciated."

Daniel Goulding, chair of the art department and professor of film studies and theater arts, is retiring after 35 years as advisor to WOBC. He says, "Both the quality and the overall fate of WOBC has always been held in the hands of a very few talented radio enthusiasts willing to work endless hours to keep the station afloat." Reflecting on what WOBC has brought to the College and the community, he says, "At best, WOBC has offered fresh satire, credible radio drama, imaginative coverage of Oberlin College and the community, exceptionally well-informed classical and popular music programmers and commentators, and alternative views not found on commercial stations. Not a badly balanced equation in my opinion."


Michael K. McIntyre is a staff writer for The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine in Cleveland. He lives in Rocky River.

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