From the Boost to the Current Era: 1980-1994
1980 through 1994
"At Haven it was a party atmosphere. People weren't supposed to smoke or drink in the station but they did. Things were always a mess there. The ceiling was falling in; the heat pipes clanked. It smelled." - Rich Allen, class of '86
Now that WBCR had tightened up its programming, the next step was to improve the structure of its dwelling. With a generous thousand dollar grant from Com-Sen, rebuilding of the station's interior commenced in late March of 1980. The bulk of the work was completed in a few weeks, with other periodic reconstruction continuing through the Fall. Still, WBCR's home had its problems, according to Bill Keaton, class of 1985: "Haven was a dive. The steam pipes in the ceiling would knock in the middle of your radio show. The lights in the stacks were horrible - you could hardly read sometimes what records you were looking for...There was no window between the production room and the office so I ordered a piece of glass and we put a window in it. There was carpeting on the walls to deaden the sound a little bit...This plaster lathe ceiling was just falling down in small pieces - dust and occasionally chunks would just fall off of it. You would go into the office and you would have to sweep off the desk because it was covered with this dirt." The restructuring was part of the effort to gain the FCC's approval for 100 watts and the frequency change. Although the deadline was nearing, "there was always sort of a grandfather period for this," Balson explains. "If you had made application they [FCC] knew you were making an effort. There was no great pressure from them except for the initial action that they were going to get rid of stations like us." The major obstacle now was to acquire the equipment needed for the jump to 100 watts. Altogether, the move would take between twelve and twenty-five thousand dollars: "...these figures include the cost of technical equipment, some furnishing, some outside broadcasting, and engineering consultation." (RT 4/3/80)
While attempts were made to round up the necessary financial support, the station still seemed to reflect its 1970s image. James Snead, class of 1984, remembers: "The atmosphere in the station during this time was free-wheeling; within the loose organizational structure people acted largely as they pleased. The station was stuffed with old chairs and the ceiling panels were always falling down. All kinds of programming could be heard. One semester a woman named Debbie Horowitz ran a show called the 'Bad Music Hour' from 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM prior to my Jazz show. I came in one night and watched them skipping the phonograph needles across LP's on the turntable. This was a little hard on the equipment but certainly fit the 'bad music' bill. There were often programmers from other shows in the station going through the record stacks looking for material or recording promotional tapes for their programs. People would also drop by to check out the UPI wire during significant events. One night the civil defense sirens went off and about half the population of Haven hall ended up in the station waiting to hear if a tornado was on the way." - Not that WBCR's upstairs neighbors were always so pleased to be above "The Voice of Beloit College." Steve Frevert, class of 1986, recalls an example from the morning show he programmed: "We used to turn up the stereo in the back room (the record library) that they used as a monitor - this old beat up horrible stereo. We used to turn it way up and all these people upstairs on the first floor would call down and yell, 'turn down your goddamn monitor, we're trying to sleep!' They'd bang on the heat pipes telling us to knock it off."
"I remember seeing a sign once on the station door that said 'no food, no smoking, no beverages, no controlled substances in the control room'...and of course it was written on a Miller Beer sign." This humorous memory of Bryan Oldenburg, class of 1986, shows that while WBCR resembled its 1970s guise, there were significant differences. Although many of the Fall '79 policies were gradually phased out in the first few years of the decade, the two most important (news at the top of the hour and a form of block programming) were kept. The practice of having the same type of programming at the same time every day of the week failed, simply because student class schedules often clashed with the stoic nature of strict block programming. The main objective was to fill all the slots, and finding people to play the same type of music at the same time throughout the week (ie: Jazz from 9 to 11 am every day of the week) was impossible. So by 1982 a more workable form of block programming was developed. DJ's were still given shows that programmed one type of music, but the shows themselves were worked around the programmers schedule (instead of the other way around). This more moderate form of block programming would last for at least the next ten years.
"Radio programming during this period largely reflected student tastes," Snead remembers. "In my mind this was one of the more appealing features of a totally volunteer operation. The most predictable offering was an early afternoon program featuring classical music. The programmer was a student named Nathan Faut, who smoked a pipe, wore a long Dr. Who scarf, and had a personal collection of soundtracks from James Bond movies. He called the show 'Classical Chrestomathy' and tolerated no interference in what he played. When he graduated the show was turned over to Vic Davis, who continued the tradition but was less eccentric.
"Otherwise programming was less predictable. Jazz and experimental music were usually heard late at night, with programming during other times being some variety of Rock, New Wave, Reggae, or Blues. At the time we were still in the Disco backlash so nothing like that would've been tolerated; I don't remember any Country or Heavy Metal being played, either, but similar sounds may have been heard at other times. One guy had a Folk show that was periodically reborn, and a student named Dave Astor ran a comedy corner for a semester or two."
Although the News Department had more emphasis in the 1980s, it was still subject to the ups and downs experienced in the previous decade. The Promotions Department (later Publicity) was formed in the early eighties, in an attempt to centralize the publicity work previously done by whichever board members were inclined to do it. The imaginative ID's, Public Service Announcements, show promos, campus announcements, and satires produced in the Productions Department continued, but with a lower profile. More pre-produced material was creeping in, most significantly Earthwatch, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Remnants of the free-form days lived on in the few "variety" and eclectic shows that would appear from then on.
"Special programming was rare and usually related to special circumstances," remembers Snead. "On Primary night in 1984, for instance, we had poll watchers in some of the local precincts and they came back to the station to give live election results. News [shows] was heard twice a day. I recall arranging for interviews to be done occasionally, and we tried to do sports at one point. These came to ignominious ends or lasted just as long as the person with the idea had enough energy for it, usually about one semester. The board members were usually too engrossed in keeping things organized to try any serious innovation.
"The significant exception to this was the Trivia Contest. I don't know if this is still taking place so I'll describe it as it was at that time. It began in the 1981-82 year. The principal instigators were two freshmen (Jeff Smalley and Mark Heuring) from Appleton, WI, who had been involved with a similar contest at Lawrence University while they were in high school. I was the news director at the time and along with another board member, Linda Lampert, helped to get it organized. It was so successful that we held them every semester after that at least through spring of '84.
"The contest lasted 24 hours, during which time questions were read over the air every five minutes or so. Teams were supposed to register in advance and were given phone numbers to call in answers. Creative team names were encouraged - I was captain of a team one semester called 'I was Mao's swimtrunks'. A group of consultants were on hand at the station to arbitrate disputes, keep track of scores, etc. - after the first contest a 'trivia central' with multiple phone lines and more comfortable surroundings was established in the social science lab in the basement of Morse-Ingersoll.
"A list of teams which answered a given question correctly was read off by the announcer, and the teams themselves kept close track of the competition. This was complicated by the fact that new teams kept appearing all night and dropping out as the players collapsed in exhaustion. There were also 'jam teams', which had already answered correctly and kept calling just to jam the phone lines. The names of jam teams were usually coded insults directed at other teams.
"There were also 'running questions' intended to get people out of their rooms for awhile, things like 'how many words are carved on the tombstone of Alonso P. Carmichael, located in the northwest comer of the cemetery east of campus?' or 'how long is the counter in the mailroom, measured in standard commons-spoon lengths?' Someone would be dispatched to track this down and check out the competition at the same time. There was also a secret 'series question', which was several related questions which had to be answered in sequence and for which the scores were not announced. This added an element of uncertainty about point totals which kept teams apparently in the lead from getting complacent. The prize was usually something strange - a banner on a plunger, the first year, and occasionally a modest amount of cash. When 'I was Mao's swimtrunks' won we spent it all on a few bottles of cheap champagne.
"Contest organizers usually did it only a couple of times before they got tired of arbitrating disputes or thinking up creative questions. After a few years the better teams competing were run by former contest organizers. A variety of things were done to keep people awake and entertained - one year a remote link via CB radios was set up so that we could interview teams on the air. I wore an old motorcycle helmet just to look the part and gave reports like '...I'm here in the headquarters of 'Barnacles Anonymous' watching them polish off their third anchovy pizza and, let me tell you, they look like they mean business...'"
Problems such as theft and obscenity still existed, as Snead explains: "Occasionally serious matters came up - records being stolen, or problems with programmers - and these were dealt with by the board. One of the jobs of board members was to monitor the station to make sure we were complying with FCC obscenity regulations. Not that we thought that the FCC was actually paying attention, but it seemed to be a responsible attitude. The trickiest things in this area were requests by listeners with which programmers weren't familiar – they play it and realize the mistake too late. There was one Marianne Faithful tune, ["Why D'Ya Do It"] that was pretty raunchy which I'd hear every so often. I'd call down to the station and the programmer would say 'Ya gotta believe me! I had no idea!.' We got into a first amendment thing with one programmer who accused us of repression (following this someone put up posters with his face on them saying 'WANTED BY THE FCC. Foul Mouth. Looks Sleazy.') but that didn't happen often."
From 10 to 100
Four years after the FCC first took action on the 10-watt stations, approval for a power increase to 100-watts was given during the summer of 1982. "The only holdback to this milestone increase in WBCR's power is money. The College's Development Office is in charge of getting the necessary funds...they have several good leads on contributors and expect to get the money sometime this year." (RT 9/3/82)
There was some improvement in the equipment since the seventies, but much of it was still the same old apparatus, some dating back to the sixties. James Snead: "The equipment during this period was fairly antiquated but kept in good repair by a series of engineers who kept things wired together - Alex Squitieri and Bill Keaton, in particular; Carl Balson also invested time in this. The production equipment, with which I was quite familiar, can also be described as basic; a reel-to-reel tapedeck, a couple of turntables, and a machine to record the 'cart' tapes that were used for public service announcements. Messages produced with this equipment were basic but did the job, and the room could be used as an alternate control booth if necessary.
"We were hooked up to the Emergency Broadcast System in my final year. Previously we had a tape recording of the standard message (THIS IS A TEST...) but it was a fake. Made people feel good, I guess. Anyway when the real thing was put in we had a connection to a station in Madison which broadcasted the signal. It went off one morning when I was substituting for another programmer and scared the hell out of me."
"We ran the whole range," Keaton explains, "including the old Harris Solid Statesman board which was in the control room when I started here in '81 - it was 5 feet long - and that was getting a little old but when they bought it, it was state of the art...in 1964. Some old Tapecaster cart machines were the kind where you had to put the cart in the machine and then pull a lever before you could play the thing. Pulling the lever started the motor which had a belt that actually spun the capstan. Then you pushed the button and the controller came up and the tape moved. What would happen is somebody would put the cart on the machine and forget to pull the lever. They would go to push the button and it would go 'clunk clunk' and the tape would go zzzzzuuuuummmmnn as it got up to speed, all of which you would hear on the air. We replaced them with the Audicord machines which were a little better. Probably the biggest problem was the cart machines."
Meanwhile, by December of 1982 the station still didn't have the financial capability to move to 100 watts. "Because the College doesn't have the available funding to directly finance the wattage increase, a donation from an individual or foundation is being sought to pay for the new equipment that is needed. 'The ball is in their court,' Balson says, 'and the general College policy is that all fund-raising of this magnitude has to go through the Development Office, so we couldn't do a fund-raising campaign by ourselves.'" Rumors circulated that WBCR might soon cease to exist, so the endeavor was stepped up. "In an attempt to persuade the administration to hasten its effort in attaining funding for the station, a petition circulated one night last week at Commons." (RT 12/10/82) The next Spring, one of the two Senior gifts proposals was for WBCR's 100-watt transmitter: "Students who support this fund have chosen WBCR as a fund project because we feel that contributing to WBCR will have wider reaching effects on campus. WBCR has long served the campus and we feel by initiating the fund, we are recognizing the radio station and its significance on campus." (RT 4/15/83)
Finally, a year after the FCC's approval, WBCR achieved its goal: "With help from a member of the Board of Trustees, the station received a new one-hundred watt transmitter during the summer. According to Carl Balson...WBCR will have the potential to reach ten to twenty miles off campus, or an additional 55,000 to 60,000 listeners.
"During the summer, the Development Office contacted David Myers, 'a trustee of Beloit College with connections in the communications business,' said Balson. 'He worked out a deal with Nick Martin industries in Early August' and the transmitter became a gift to the school." (RT 9/9/83) By October of 1983 WBCR was on the air with its 100-watt transmitter, now at 90.3 on the FM band. James Snead: "In sum this was an interesting time to be involved with radio at Beloit. The small wattage of the station removed some of the regulatory responsibility, which allowed for considerable freedom of expression; yet a sense of professionalism was generally present. It is my opinion that WBCR provided a good model for a student-run operation. I have no idea what has happened to it now that it can be heard by thousands of people; I expect, however, that some of the old traditions died hard."
Now that the station's future was secure, attention quickly turned to a change in venue. "It is anticipated that Pearsons, originally built as a science building, will be adapted and used as a multi-purpose facility to serve the needs of the entire college community." (RT 11/12/82) Ten years after WBCR's plans to move from Scoville to Pearsons in late 1972, the prospect came up a second time. Pearsons was still the decrepit hulk of a decade before, though now in considerably worse shape. The 89-year-old building still housed Maintenance (for storage), the theatre department (for props and costumes) and the college print shop, but was also structurally sound and a significant work of architecture. A year after Pearsons was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, a renovation committee was formed. In November 1982 The Round Table reported that the committee had joined with architects to "determine the needs of a new campus center." The same article included WBCR in the arrangement. "There were a lot of negotiations," Balson explains, "because there were a lot of demands put on the spaces in Pearsons. But in a sense what happened was that the third floor got labeled - for lack of a better word - the communications floor, so that at least two of the principal student activities on campus ended up on that floor." Along with The Round Table, Gold, Avatar, and Community Senate, WBCR would now occupy the top floor of a revitalized Pearsons. The concept of centralizing all or most of the major student organizations was first made public by the college administration in 1976, but the opportunity and the funding were not available until later.
By January of 1984 the financial end of the deal was complete and construction began the next month. The rest of that Spring Carl Balson and Engineer Bill Keaton worked with the architects to map out the station's "suite of rooms." WBCR's assimilation was not without its hurdles, however. The station lost over approximately 250 square feet of space (including one room) from the original third-floor plans and, as Balson remembers, were close to not transferring at all due to the unaesthetic nature of its broadcasting tower. "At one point the administration was upset; we almost lost the whole thing. They wanted to keep the general shape of Pearsons and not have something attached to it that was foreign. We talked about it enough that we prevailed and said OK, look: This thing is going on the back side, if you stand in the front it isn't going to stand out as some big sore thumb and at the height we were going we would be OK." So reason triumphed, and the tower was allowed - at the back of the building.
While construction progressed, that October WBCR sponsored a concert by the Jazz trio Northwind in Eaton Chapel, with a substantial student turnout. During the year the necessary paperwork for the move was sent off to the FCC for their approval, including a request to move up to 130 watts "...which we could do with the equipment that we had at the time," Keaton explains. "It didn't require getting any new transmitters or anything, just better use of what we had." Studio furniture was designed (turntable bases, etc.) by Keaton and Balson and built by a stagecraft class in the Theater Department.
By December almost all of the renovation was complete and WBCR went off the air for Christmas break a week early in order to pack up. At least 20,000 records were boxed up - "A monumental task in itself," Keaton recalls. The record racks were dismantled, and a tower company was hired to move the tower from the side of Haven to the back of Pearsons. All of the equipment was hand carried up four flights of stairs because the elevator wasn't yet cleared by the safety board. The wiring and connecting was completed by Keaton and Balson before students returned that January, an extensive process that took at least two weeks. As Keaton recounts, the move was made none too soon: "We were lucky we got out of there when we did. Carl called me one morning and said, 'You didn't have anything stored in the basement of Haven any more did you?' I said, 'No I got it all out the other day, why?' 'Good, because a pipe broke on the second floor and there's 4 inches of water on the floor in the old studios.'...Everything would have been ruined."
1985 through 1994
Finally, WBCR had a satisfactory home. No longer crammed into the basements of buildings built for other purposes, Beloit College radio had returned to its residential roots, a little over sixty years since WEBW commenced broadcasting on the top floor of Pearsons Hall. For the first time there was adequate space for all areas of the station, in above-average facilities.
And finally, WBCR also had a more satisfactory wattage (130), initiating its broadcasts at 90.3 FM in February of 1985. "All of a sudden the student attitude was dramatically dffferent," Balson remembers. "They saw that the administration had wanted this station enough to give us this kind of space and that they wanted it to happen." The move to Pearsons, coupled with the other major changes of the past year and a half, boosted student awareness and interest in the station even more than the switch to FM nineteen years before. "After the power and frequency change, the students that came in and wanted to take a leadership position realized that this was not a toy. It was still fun but the attitude was much more serious." The improvements were especially appreciated by those who had dealt with the earlier "rag-tag" studios. Yet the friction that arose at the end of the seventies was still evident.
"Haven was loose, very loose," says Jeff Smalley, class of 1985 (in an interview from the Fall of 1985). "It was a dump to say the least. Back in the old days people would be so frustrated as to whether somebody was listening (Someone once offered 5 bucks to the first person who called and told that they are listening...and no one called). Also, the place was falling apart and it just was not a good environment to be in. Here in Pearsons you're a lot more limited in what you can do to a point...we have better facilities, a better record collection and things are a lot more advanced. I think the problem is that people don't like to get criticism. We try to be more constructive rather than just straight out criticism - some people just can't take that. We want to try to be more professional. We are here to give people a taste of what radio is like."
Now that WBCR had a wider broadcasting range (about twenty miles), the responsibilities were greater. Although the primary audience was still the student body, there were many more potential listeners beyond the campus (as far away as parts of Janesville and Rockford). One reason behind the FCC forcing the 10 watt stations to a greater power (or disappear), was to insure that they were more than just training facilities, that they would be accountable to a larger audience, that they would broadcast in the public interest, convenience, and necessity, instead of just entertaining a few friends. It wasn't necessarily any specific area of WBCR (such as the type of music played) that had to change, it was the attitude of the staff. Snead's statement, "I expect, however, that some of the old traditions died hard," was accurate. Those who looked upon radio as trivial, whether involved with the station or not, were going to buck. This was especially difficult in the mid to late 1980s, since some of the staff were still of the "broadcasting from Haven" mentality. Disagreements would rise over the station's goals and purpose, and thus WBCR's direction would sway between the different poles of opinion, depending on who was involved. Rich Allen, class of 1986, describes some of these difficulties: "I have the feeling that as much as the pendulum swings one way it's possible to swing the other way...Students come to Beloit College - many of them without any past history of radio experience or broadcasting experience, and when they get on the air they want to do things their way - they have no sense of a history of radio, how it operates and how one speaks to their listening audience. It's hard to train your peers when you're in classes with them and partying with them and doing everything that they do, it seems." But the overall effect was there: programmers, board members, and other staff did begin to take the station more seriously (though not without some sense of fun), and although WBCR would occasionally waver, it would still continue to progress.
One way to fulfill WBCR's 130-watt license was to reawaken Summer broadcasting, the first significant post-Haven move. Going off the air every summer (starting in 1979) didn't encourage the station's community listenership any, as Balson explains: "When the Beloit Plan quit and we went back to the two term system, we went off the air for the summer. We didn't have to stay on. It was just way too difficult - or so we thought. We didn't bother to do it. We obviously knew that whatever audience we built up all of a sudden, well, 'goodbye we'll see you later, try to find us in the Fall sometime.' We knew that our re-start was always very difficult because then we would have to get publicity out. We were back on the air, the schedule had changed, and we had to re-educate the people that we were back on the air. We still have some students...because this is where they live, taking on the attitude that this is primarily a Beloit College station; but it's not, as we broadcast and get feedback from a lot of people off campus. I think that was part of something that had to be solved with the station." Also, record companies didn't take too kindly to stations that would go off the air for three months every year. Three weeks for Winter Break was acceptable, but why service records to a station that would lose a number of its listeners for a quarter of a year, and then struggle to get them back, which would often take another month or two? Thus, servicing remained at a low level until WBCR could prove that it had potential listeners year-round.
So, WBCR revived year-round broadcasting in the summer of 1985, under the direction of a hired Summer Station Manager (who was elected by the board the Spring before). And Balson was able to keep an eye on things during the Summer as well: "My own particular jobs haven't changed much over the years in terms of summer employment - I work with the theater - so I would be here to help keep the station going." Even though the summer hours were shorter (usually 4pm to midnight), there weren't enough students to program all the shows, and so WBCR turned to the community for summer disc jockeys. This made, for the first time, a direct link between the community and the college station. Previously, it was extremely rare for anyone off-campus to have a show. Though students still had first priority, some of the community programmers carried on through the school year, such as Fred Paysen's "Bel-Col Ballroom" (1985-1993) or Jack Hodge's reggae show (1987-1993). This provided some year-round continuity to the programming, as well as adding to its diversity. (As this book was going to press, plans were being made to make WBCR more community oriented). With the foundation in place, the most current period (1985 through 1994) for WBCR was set.
The programming structure itself did not alter that much from the first half of the decade, though attempts were made from time to time to make the schedule more consistent, such as placing eclectic shows only in the midnight to three slots or "new wave" (also referred to as "new music") shows from six to midnight. The station still involved an average of 10% of the student body during the course of a year. Another crack was made at the twenty-four hour schedule in the Spring of 1988, but it soon buckled under the weight of the same difficulties it had created in the seventies, and was gradually scaled back to twenty hours a day by the Fall of 1990. It was attempted again in the summer of 1991, but led to disastrous circumstances. 24 hours a day was laborious enough to maintain during the school year (with a full board of directors keeping an ear on things), but with only one manager (Summer management was split into two positions the year after) and a tiny percentage of experienced programmers, there was too much to keep track of. Widespread theft, vandalism, and other abuse insured that more manageable hours would be brought back the next year.
Perhaps THE predominant genre of music programmed at WBCR from 1985 through the nineties (if not the first half of the eighties) was "alternative". Also known at the station as new music or progressive, this catch-all term referred to the music that made its first major appearance in the late seventies, supported mainly by independent record labels. It eventually encompassed Punk, Hard-core, Industrial, vaguely named genres such as "new rock," "grunge," "new wave," "techno-pop" and a variety of other modern underground (and mainstream) styles, all grouped together in the New Wave section of WBCR's record library (much to the chagrin of purists). Though some of the artists in the section had a high profile (ie: Elvis Costello, REM, Nirvana) the bulk of them were quite obscure. College radio quickly became the bastion of the new alternative sound, while holding on to the other musical genres (obscure and otherwise) it had been known for from the sixties through the mid-seventies. Of course, WBCR would emphasize certain musical styles over others, depending somewhat on the interests of programmers, while excluding most Top-40 fare and eventually, the so-called "Classic Rock" of the AOR (Album Oriented Radio) stations as it has done throughou t most of its existence. Towards the end of the eighties Heavy Metal, Rap, "World Music," (for lack of a better name) and Gospel appeared, while Folk and Country & Western faded to a degree. The station re-emphasized diverse programming in the Spring of 1994 (after a few years of an almost monolithic "alternative" format), balancing the above mentioned genres with Jazz, Blues, and Reggae. In 1985, the Classics Department, its own musical entity at WBCR, was moved to 1-3 pm, seven days a week. By the nineties New Age was added to the Classical roster.
Specialty programming was the usual hodgepodge of shows. After the move to Pearsons, student interest began to decline in the semesterly Trivia Contest. According to Steve Frevert, this was due to a decline in the prize value: "Even by the time I started playing, it [trivia] was dying a little because they couldn't give out beer anymore. If you won a keg of beer, people were ready to strangle each other to win!". By the last contest in the Spring of 1990, it had been reduced to one team playing against itself. Trivia officially folded in the Spring of 1991. Ethereal Theatre, the latest incarnation of the Beloit Radio Players, lasted from about 1986 through the Spring of 1989. But while some programs were on their way out, others were on their way in, particularly the first broadcast of the annual Beloit College Folk & Blues concert in the Fall of 1989. Taped programs began appearing at the same time, including The Progressive, Live From The Knitting Factory, and The TDK New Music Report. And of course there was a variety of other programming such as, Spanish, Women's, roots music and comedy shows, and the occasional in-studio musical performance.
Though Chuck Savage's comment on varying departmental activity in the seventies ("That always varied from term to term depending on the interest and the energy of the Directors of those departments") of course still applied, the Music Department had grown dramatically by the nineties partly as a result of external circumstances (though special credit must be given to Kristin Davis, '87, who during her two year term as Music Director single-handedly redefined the department). The increased wattage and summer broadcasting alone helped WBCR's position with record companies, but by the nineties special college promotional departments were set up by the major labels, who had noticed that more and more of the popular bands were getting their start at the college radio level. Thus, by this time the money formerly spent on new releases was now used for phone calls to the numerous companies servicing the station. The station subscribed to trade magazines, particularly The Collegiate Music Journal (started in 1979) where since the mid-80's WBCR has sent its Top-35 lists (as well as Top-10s for specific musical genres) of new releases played. The record companies read the listings to see if any of their releases receive air-time, and then get back to the station they're servicing. This three-way communication is the present musical lifeblood of WBCR. It resulted in a policy that requires programmers (except Classical and certain specialty shows) to play at least five new releases an hour, and a healthy weekly supply of new albums, and later, CD's. As a rule, the smaller independent record labels are given more emphasis, since college radio is the only real exposure they can get. Coupled with the outgrowth of a video show (started in the Fall of 1990) on Beloit Access Television, the Music Department (with never less than two directors) is one of the most complex, time-consuming, and essential branches of WBCR.
Other departments were more at the mercy of their directors. Programmers were still required to read news at the top of the hour (the station switched from UPI to Associated Press for its wire service in 1985), but the News Department usually concentrated on the longer news shows, with uneven success, as Steven Everse, class of 1988, explains: "...Some semesters we had News people (1 to 2 people/show) come in and do a 10-30 minute show at either 4pm or 6pm. The amount of emphasis that News got really varied from semester to semester and was VERY dependent upon how active the News director was and how many friends they had and whether they could twist their friends' arms into reading news." At the time this book went to press, a modification of the wire service, which would allow programmers to select AP news items by way of a terminal, was being looked into.
By 1985, the Public Affairs Department returned to its original form of programming, shedding the "special events" and other miscellaneous shows, all of which were taken under the wing of the Program Director. "Public Affairs (PA) was an integral part of WBCR," remembers Everse, "and varied very much with the directors we had in this position. Some were quite active, going out and doing interviews that they edited and played back, or bringing people to the station to discuss things. Others were quite lazy and just played the PA tapes that we bought from some company."
Sports broadcasting was reborn, made into an official department (with a director position) in the Fall of 1984. Sports shows began to appear, and broadcasts of home Basketball and Football games were brought back, though not consistently. But after an uneasy period all three departments were able to make dramatic improvements. Sports and Public Affairs programming were both given a boost in 1989 by a sudden increase in student interest, lasting through the next two years. Broadcasts of the home Basketball and Football games in particular were met with an enthusiastic reaction from students, Alumni, Faculty, and Administrators. For the first time ever, broadcasts of home Beloit College Baseball games were made in the Spring of 1991. That same year the News Department was given a hoist by the involvement of the college journalism department. Weekly news shows focusing on college events and issues appeared, and that Spring WBCR even scooped the Round Table via a live interview with the newly elected President of Beloit College, Victor E. Ferrall. Jr.
By the late eighties the radio vignettes made in the Productions Department had all but disappeared, and almost all Public Service Announcements were taken from pre-recorded material sent to the station. But a late sixties WBCR practice of recording musicians' voices on station id's ("This is WBCR in...") was brought back, and by late 1991 a number of them were in circulation at the station. The year before a small effects board (with sampling, time-delay and other capabilities) and the BBC Sound Effects record set were purchased to add to the imagination of the id, radio show promotions, and campus announcements, all of which were still "home recorded." In the Spring of 1988 new Technics turntables were purchased, as well as a new Arrakis console and a CD player (the first the station ever owned) for the broadcast studio and a mixer (replacing the ancient early sixties board that was used) for the productions room. Another CD player was bought in the Fall of 1990, as well as a new cassette deck. Also, the Optimod acquired in the summer of the same year to replace the Compressor/Limiter and the faulty Stereo Generator, gave WBCR a much greater broadcast range, volume, and (for the first time) clear stereo separation. "We were in Haven when we first tried stereo," Balson explains, "and it wasn't terribly successful. When we got to this building and changed equipment, and had a better stereo console, then we tried it and still didn't have good stereo separation and equipment until just very recently." A computer was purchased in 1985, which was shared with other organizations until WBCR was able to buy its own in the Fall of 1988. This was a crucial improvement in WBCR's operations, especially for publicity (program guides, show publicity), the music department (lists of Top-35's, record label listings, a log of albums and CD's), and its all-around use as a word processor.
But even with all of this overhauling, desperately needed anyway (and not accomplished in twenty years), WBCR's equipment suffered a series of hammerblows beginning with a transmitter breakdown in late 1987. Then on November 15, 1988 the twenty-year old broadcasting tower was split in half (also smashing the transmitting rings) during a major storm, putting the station off the air until the next February. Insurance provided a replacement, but by the end of 1989 the stereo generator was continuously malfunctioning. The Spring of 1990 was possibly the worst semester ever for WBCR's equipment. Transmitter problems forced the station to run off at less than half-power. Then on March 12 WBCR was hit by lightning during another major storm, knocking out of commission the AP printer and satellite, the compressor/limiter, and the studio console and power supply. WBCR ended up broadcasting out of the productions room almost up until the end of the term. It was also discovered that the equipment was suffering wear and tear from power drains/spikes. The third floor of Pearsons may never experience floods, but this frequent occurrence made for a shortened life-span for the equipment. Power surge protectors were purchased and installed, but the damage was already done, as the piece-by-piece breakdown of the computer over the next year proved, as well as the ongoing failure of the cartridge machines. That semester's calamity of near-comic proportions may never repeat itself, although when the console broke down at the beginning of the Fall 1991 term, some were led to make the sarcastic claim that WBCR was "back to normal." Still, equipment hassles are nothing new for WBCR (if not "traditional"), and the station will undoubtedly survive them.
Another impact of Pearsons was the decrease in record theft (no exit door to the outside, and Security is in the basement of the building), although unfortunately the problem still exists. Thus, money is still needed to replace stolen albums/CDs, as well as worn and damaged ones. Some of the station's budget is procured through fundraisers such as the campus phonathon or the WBCR disc jockey service (started in 1985). The bulk of funding still comes from Community Senate (Com-Sen), which, for the most part, has been quite supportive of WBCR. One major exception was a period from about the Fall of 1988 through the Spring of 1990, when certain members of Com-Sen with a meager knowledge of broadcasting felt that the station needed almost no money at all. In the Spring of 1989, WBCR found out at the last minute that their next budget allotment was going to take them back to the age of Aquarius, resulting in a near-fatal situation. Luckily, a more suitable arrangement was hammered out, bringing them back only to 1984 levels. Relations were strained throughout the F'89-S'90 year, but problems were attacked and eliminated, and by the next school year the situation was back to a more healthy state.
The FCC bestowed two other major dilemmas upon radio stations during this period. A new and very obscure definition of obscenity was attempted (by the FCC), and the "safe harbor" hours (8pm - 6am), which allow a limited amount of "dirty words," were in danger of extinction. Also, in the Summer of 1990 a $35 fee was slapped onto applications for operator's licenses, threatening to turn away people who couldn't afford it. Fortunately, by the end of 1991, the elimination of the safe harbor period was ruled unconstitutional and the fee was revoked for non-commercial license applications. But other external forces have helped WBCR to continue its broadcasts, even improve upon them. A Communications Department at Beloit was an aspiration that did not seem likely until WBCR's critical upgrades in the middle eighties. Once Beloit Access Television Studio (BATS) was able to secure a new contract and rebuild in the Spring of 1988, the foundation was established, and in the Spring of 1989 a communications major was organized. Although not a separate department (it's a track of the Theatre Arts Department), it was a significant step towards developing an academic base and focusing more attention on WBCR (and BATS), and drawing more students interested in the broadcast media.
"WBCR served its role as an "electric sandbox" very well," claims Kent Sidel, class of 1972. "It and other stations across the country provide energetic young with their first exposure to the power of mass media. Many quickly realize that radio is something fun to play with while in college, but they wouldn't want to make a career of it. Some are smitten by its magic and never leave. Still others (to paraphrase G.B. Shaw) decide not to do it but teach it." WBCR's bond to its listeners was strengthened by improved technical achievements and the continued diversity of its programming. Regardless of the size of their audience, programmers will take with them (whether they continue in broadcasting or not) a memory of that distanced, yet intimate contact. Chris Albright, class of 1960: "It seems like when you leave a station you feel like you are losing friends, because these people that you develop relationships with, even if you never see them, you know that there is a connection because they comment on what you are doing and you have feed-back from time to time...This relationship with listeners...is like developing friendships of a strange nature."