The graffiti on the doorway, the stickers plastered violently all over the walls, the lockers and shelves packed with CDs and old vinyl: the studios of WOBC-FM can be an intimidating space. From the moment I first walked in as a prospective student, I was both terrified and enchanted. I knew I wanted to be part of whatever magic was happening here, the same magic you might feel in an old library.
At first, WOBC was just a fun side project for me. I DJed a 4am show with a buddy, rolling (sometimes literally) out of bed on Sunday mornings to broadcast Bollywood tunes for whoever was listening. Usually it was no one, but at least our lack of listeners let us feel less nervous about what we were saying or playing.
In my junior year I joined the staff at WOBC, where I was responsible for recording the Public Service Announcements that are played twice an hour. Through this position, I learned about the many different organizations working to make an impact in both the college and throughout Lorain County. I met many Oberlin residents with shows on WOBC who were personally invested in having PSAs that were relevant to their community. I helped plan and promote Restaurant Week, a WOBC-sponsored fundraiser for Oberlin Community Services. Without these opportunities, I might have never known how much amazing work was going on in the world outside my college bubble.
The divide between college and town is not so obvious to students, but it is a fact of life for Oberlin residents. The constant rotation of students in the town makes it hard to build lasting relationships between the community and the college, but thankfully there are organizations like WOBC that try to bridge the divide. Even a gesture as small as providing a campus space for a community member to enter once a week can mean a lot, as many community members feel unwelcome on college property. For me, WOBC was a starting point that got me invested in getting to know the greater Oberlin community.
I was an avid fan of the WOBC show Turn Up the Radio, which gave local high school students a platform to play their favorite songs and talk about topics ranging from favorite TV shows to their issues with the public school system. Listening to it, I was amazed at how creative and insightful the students were, and it actually inspired me to apply to work with the Ninde Scholars Program, a program that pairs tutors with low-income high school students to prepare them for college. In the Oberlin bubble it’s easy to forget that people outside the ages of 18 to 22 actually exist, but on WOBC you can hear their voices, from middle schoolers talking about their dream jobs to retirees introducing their listeners to harsh noise music.
If Oberlin students want to be as socially conscious as we are known to be, we have to invest in the world outside academia and remember that learning can come out of a textbook as easily as it can come from someone who deeply understands the strengths and struggles of their small town. While my interest in WOBC started with a desire to pore through the seemingly endless music library, it ultimately made possible the most significant part of my Oberlin experience so far: meeting and working with Oberlin residents. From babysitting the daughter of the DJ whose show aired before mine to raising funds for a community gardening program, I’ve made lifelong friendships as well as been able to take part in the effort to strengthen and rebuild the relationships between college and town.