Oberlin and Public Radio: Dissecting the Connection
“Public radio seems like an extension of Oberlin,” says a listener in Cleveland. “It broadens the thought process by introducing new views, information, and people.” Obies in the business agree—and, perhaps not surprisingly, have much more to say:

NPR headquarters in Washington, DC, is the home-away-from home for five Oberlin alumni. From left: reporter Alix Spiegel ’94, reporter Kathy Schalch ’78, reporter Paul Brown ’74, editor Cathy Shaw ’73, and reporter Jon Hamilton ’83.

Why does there seem to be a connection between Oberlin and public radio? Radio is intimate; it’s a one-to-one medium. Radio asks its listeners to participate, to bring their own pictures. Radio gives voice to interesting characters and unexpected stories. All these things feel like Oberlin to me. But the most important reason for the Oberlin-public radio link is not the radio part. It’s the public part. Oberlin, more than any place I’ve been, instills a sense of mission. It doesn’t matter what that mission is, but everyone I knew at college seemed to have one. Oberlin teaches the value of contributing something, adding your brick to the world. For me, the way to contribute is by helping people tell their own stories, especially people who would not otherwise be heard. Public radio is best at letting people—reporters and subjects—sound like themselves.
Joe Richman ’87
Founder and Producer, Radio Diaries
Producer and Reporter, All Things Considered

Obies have an underlying interest in the common experience and an appreciation for dialogue. The public radio world puts a higher value on those things than other media outlets. There is an appreciation for people really talking about their situations and their lives. That’s something I found at Oberlin—an appreciation for asking real questions and getting real answers. I guess I’d like to think that’s what my job is about.
Ben Calhoun ’01
Politics Reporter, Chicago Public Radio

An Oberlin alumnus is attracted to public radio for many of the same reasons he/she was attracted to Oberlin: it’s got better plumbing than the Peace Corps, nobody’s going to beat you up for your lunch money, mumbling isn’t frowned upon, and you don’t have to wear a tie.
David Greene ’82
Associate Producer, Car Talk

Obies are a creative bunch, and public radio is a very creative medium. Worlds are created, situations revealed or explained through sound, language, and music. The listener is an active participant, recreating and interpreting the words and sounds into stories. It’s about listening, and listening is something most Obies learn to do well. More importantly, there is a kindness in the people I’ve met who work at public radio. A willingness to share and give back to the community—a trait also found in many Obies.
Benjamin Shaw ’96
Reporter, Capitol News Connection

I’ve been involved in public radio since my tenure at Oberlin. It all began with a winter-term project, where in the solitude of a Kansas prairie, I discovered the power and mystery of public radio. It was so peaceful—and so purposeful. Most of my public radio work since then has been in urban settings, but the memory of the impact public radio has in far-flung communities has stayed with me. At The Changing World, my job is to make BBC radio documentaries accessible to American listeners. One week we hear how Cubans feel about Fidel Castro’s advancing age; the next we listen to domestic servants in South Africa or India talk frankly about the risks and rewards of their jobs. I feel as though I’m paid to learn—which is another thing I love. I’m always learning! And always being creative.
Judy Finn ’84
Producer, The Changing World

Public radio has fantastic listeners who are concerned about the world. In one case, a listener tuned into Marketplace on his waterproof headphones as he swam laps after work. He heard my story about the young daughter of a poor farmer who had her leg amputated due to malpractice. The U.S. listener provided a prosthesis for her, and another listener, a Hollywood scriptwriter, is sending her to school. Public radio listeners rock!
Jocelyn Ford ’81
Beijing Bureau Chief, Marketplace

Through Minnesota Public Radio, I’ve shared classical music with far more people than ever would have been possible via the classroom, and I found the support necessary to launch and sustain Pipedreams (a weekly program of pipe organ music), which has become my “claim to fame.” With outreach through 170 stations, plus the Internet and satellite radio, the program has attained international scope and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2007. Only on public radio? Likely.
Michael Barone ’68
Host, Pipedreams

So many Oberlin grads have the strong desire to have a job that allows them to use their imagination, to express their creativity and even to perform. Public radio is a platform that can support those needs. One wonderful phrase heard often at Oberlin graduations is “I want to make the world a better place.” A practical Obie might reason that working in radio—as a mass medium—would be an effective means to reach this goal.
Susannah Erler ’87
Public radio grant writer and former station manager at WQUB, the NPR affiliate in Quincy, Ill.


WebXtra: For Weblinks and a full list of Obies working in public radio, visit http://www.oberlin.edu/alummag/summer2006/feat_radio_5.html.