Is Radio a Dying Art Form? Hardly, According to WOBC

October 20, 2017

Tyler Sloan

WOBC board members in the station's "vault"
WOBC 91.5 FM board members in the station's "vault." Left to right: Alyssa Mattocks, treasurer, Erin Wolf, program director, Sophie Kemp, station manager, Julian Meltzer, operations director, and Alex Broekhuijse, engineer. Not photographed: Rayna Holmes, music director.
Photo credit: Tyler Sloan

WOBC broadcasted its first-ever show on November 5, 1950. More than half a century later, the station’s staff is still keeping radio alive and exciting with over 150 eclectic shows and nonstop streaming throughout the year.

What does running a 24/7 radio station entail?

Probably more than you think. Just ask the staff of WOBC 91.5 FM, a student-run, freeform radio station that broadcasts throughout Lorain County.

The organizational structure of WOBC is impressive in and of itself. A six-member board oversees scheduling, sound engineering, programming, sorting music, budgeting, and operating—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are genre-specific work groups that regularly meet to develop concepts, a community representative who sits on the board, and cornerstone events such as the annual WOBC block party to organize.

“Nobody realizes until you’re doing it how much the station absolutely does not run itself,” says senior Julian Meltzer, WOBC operations manager. “It feels like it does, but the reason why is because there are six amazing, competent people who put in so much time and energy every year. Not to mention our many staff people who run genre and work groups, and the many community members who have taken on bigger roles within WOBC.”

Factor in managing schoolwork, finding substitutes for hosts who no-show the dreaded 4 a.m. shift, and constantly expanding music repertoires, and it’s a wonder that the station has seamlessly thrived since 1950. But collaboration within the community undoubtedly contributes to the station’s lasting prominence. Student turnover that naturally occurs with each academic year’s completion is complemented by contributors from town who have long-standing shows.

“I think WOBC is a great way for the community and the college to come together and produce something really physical,” says junior Alex Broekhuijse, the station’s sound engineer. “Radio is such a great art form that’s becoming slowly forgotten in modern times, and I think this station especially works really hard to keep radio alive in the Oberlin community. ”

Part of WOBC’s charm, and perhaps what propels its local success, is its wide range of quirky shows that air highly niche content. The station features more than 150 unique segments on rotation each semester, spanning themes such as “Permanent Halloween,” which exclusively plays spooky tunes (sans seasonal consideration) to “Luxury Plaza,” which airs Vaporwave, “an internet-borne counter cultural musical and art movement that was briefly popular from 2010 to 2014.”

The broadcasting space itself clearly reflects the eccentric charisma that the station embodies in its programming personalities. Past a spray-painted wall and through a poster-clad door on Wilder Hall’s third floor, the station immediately envelops you with floor-to-ceiling bookcases packed with decades worth of CDs and vinyls. Polaroids of staff members clutching albums hang from a bulletin board behind a couch that may or may not be from 1964, when WOBC first moved into its current office. Wandering deeper into the space requires navigating a maze of yellow and green rooms, each serving a different purpose and enticing in its own right.

“Something that I love about WOBC is that we have such diverse programming,” says senior Sophie Kemp, WOBC station manager. “It’s a station that has a bunch of different talk shows and music shows. It’s a really cool way to bring people together to discuss and play music, and get really excited about radio. Radio might be dying out generally, but that’s not really the case at Oberlin.”

The platform is ideal for students hoping to pursue a career in radio journalism, and it’s no secret that Oberlin is a major feeder into the industry. Prominent graduates include NPR journalists such as  RadioLab hosts Jad Abumrad ’95 and Robert Krulwich ’69, and Zoe Chace ’04 of Planet Money.

Already, Kemp has made the most of her experience with WOBC, taking her talents to outlets like NPR’s All Songs Considered, VICE’s music blog Noisey, and Bandcamp. And for people like Broekhuijse, who isn’t necessarily interested in pursuing a career in radio, there are ways to incorporate aspects of WOBC into daily life. A psychology major, Broekhuijse combines his interests by researching how music can be used to treat people with psychiatric disorders.

What many first-time applicants or those who have applied unsuccessfully to host a show in the past want to know is how to land one of the coveted slots. Each semester the station pulls hundreds of applications from students and community members, and in addition to the jampacked schedule, there is a lengthy wait list of volunteer DJs and substitutes.

“A lot of it has to do with having an idea for a show that can be stretched over the full semester,” says Broekhuijse, who hosts an international psych rock show. “Shows can be so specific that it seems like they would just be playing the same three or four artists each week. So having something that feels fresh and new, but still specific and original, is ideal.”

The eager applicant should heed Broekhuijse’s advice when applications for spring shows open up, and in the meantime, tune in to hear what’s already playing on Oberlin’s favorite radio station.  

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