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DJ Jay Lewis, a
volunteer WOBC DJ with a professional
radio background, hosts a weekly urban show called
The Funk Boutique.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.''
station manager Ben Calhoun '01 is hoping for a
job in radio after graduation.
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."
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,
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!"
manager Chelsea Martinez '02 sorts through the mail,
separating bills from the good stuff like CDs and
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,"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.''
late afternoon staff meeting has crew members
debating the pros and cons of co-sponsoring an
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
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."
K. McIntyre is a staff writer for The Plain
Dealer Sunday Magazine in Cleveland. He lives
in Rocky River.
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