“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and you are tuned in. Live. To W-O-B-C.” With these words began every weekend of my junior year. Hastily moving from discussions on Mark Twain’s comedic foresight, through Wilder Bowl, and then clambering up the three flights of Wilder Hall stairs — I had but five minutes between last class and on air — I would make it to the station and the end of the week.
Amidst the pounds of pages both read and written for class, the radio station has always been a place of release; a meeting place of the (possibly) sacred and silly, and always supremely (on my show often The Supremes) sonic. Though 100 members strong, the station always felt to me during my years of DJing like a tight ship, full of equally obsessive folks seeking out just the right record and wanting to share that ecstatic moment with the greater community both in school and in town.
I joined the station on recommendation from my father (class of ’84), who has always regretted not doing a show while at Oberlin. Like now, the college in the eighties had far too great an array of intriguing activities, and dad’s numerous commitments to those of politics left no room for WOBC. Yet his nostalgic reminiscences about the station’s presence on campus were so positive that I had to give it a shot.
I applied for a show, heeding to the deadlines and regulations outlined on the “Get a Show” poster. Structuring my hypothetical playlist was a exercise in paranoia, ever rechecking that the songs not only flowed in order, but also toed that fine line between obscure enough to be interesting, yet known enough to draw a listening audience. To my great surprise/relief/joy, I got a show for fall 2008.
The first meeting was horrifyingly intense. An intimidating mass of they-had-to-be-all-seniors-my-god-how-do-they-know-so-much-about-all-these-rules-these-bands-that-seven-inch individuals surrounded me, sharing their interests, while I panicked over my 6 a.m. DJ slot for fall semester. Luckily I was hoodwinked into sticking with it, admonished by my elders who once also gave music to the world at the unseemly hours of dawn, when even the great doors of Wilder were locked.
Although I have had a show every semester of college, I don’t think I hit my full stride at the station until this past year. My 3 p.m. Friday afternoon slot (nearly the holy grail; I don’t really know how I landed such a good spot) was not only great for sleep schedules, but meant I went on air with a station full of friends and DJs, and a campus tuned in. Getting requests from the bike co-op mechanics, pizza makers at Tank, and Joe from Lorain, made for one especially nice afternoon. With spring light pouring into the windows, I would share stories of the week, new intellectual insights, and of course, the pile of records.
I’ve essentially done the same show every semester, under the same title (you can look for “Shout Bamalama” in the program both fall and spring of next year), a purposeful choice that I think differs from much of my fellow stationmates. Not only do I think it’s important for a station to have “standard” shows that folks know they can come back to, but I also found this sort of repetition to be beneficial for myself. As a DJ, student, and individual, the same format let me work within a known space, yet play around with the boundaries of that framework. While I (generally) play punk and soul music, the narrative structured by the songs changes every week, and certainly every semester.
It’s a fitting parallel to the slow, yet gigantic changes that happen to me every day at this school, in the town, as part of this community. Though you certainly have gigantic life changing moments while at Oberlin, I find that this place has a way with working slowly on those who call it home. You begin to realize that you are thinking differently because of these slow shifts, that you look at the world and your existence in a different light through the change you both give and receive while here.
These afternoon hours at the station truly hammered home my sense of place at Oberlin. Not only was I academically, socially, and spiritually thinking in ways I never knew possible, but I felt myself both ready and able to articulate these thoughts in myriad manners. The radio is a place where I can play around with my new growth by trying on various modes of thought and presentation. Though in part ironic, I still find that playing both punk and soul music every week is a post-modern exercise in refiguring the American dream. And every Friday afternoon, live on 91.5 FM, I make a stab at trying to broadcast this project, and my growth, out into the air.