A Move To Professionalism: The 1960s
"The mood was a bit chaotic but a lot of fun" - Charles Coffey '63
"Exciting, fun, innovative. Very clever engineering talent got us on and kept us on the air" - Eugene Zeltman '62
WBCR entered the sixties striving to develop a more professional station, in spite of the archaic facilities and equipment. The first half of the decade was marked partly by Carl Balson's departure from Beloit in the Fall of 1961. Although he would return three years later, his influence lingered, as Charles Coffey, class of 1963, explains: "Carl Balson had an excellent relationship with the student broadcasters and accorded them an admirable degree of independence. [When] he left for a position at William and Mary in Virginia, though later returning to Beloit, he was succeeded by Leslie Hinderyckx. Hinderyckx tried to assert his authority as Faculty Advisor, and was resisted by the Radio Board. Rather successfully, I might add."
In the Spring of 1961 a consistent programming schedule was organized: 7:30pm to 12:30, seven days a week. Through an increased recruiting program that semester the station doubled its staff to over sixty members. By early May of 1962 the programming hours were expanded to 120 hours a week, compared to only 20 three years before. WBCR also became the second largest organization on campus, finally garnering the top spot by the end of the Spring. The wide variety of music and other programming established at the turn of the decade was kept alive throughout the early to mid-sixties, with rock and roll, classical, folk, Jazz, and even country-western and blues. "There was every kind of music," recalls Dudley Carpenter, class of '67, "and it was usually in blocks. It wasn't highly predictable as to when it would be, because you were dealing with volunteers. So as far as being attractive to a listening audience, that probably hurt the station. But nevertheless, it was the philosophy of Carl Balson and the administration at the time that the station should be all things to all people."
Unpredictability also applied to the shows themselves, as Coffey remembers: "...There was the time that a custodian in Scoville Hall, entered the control room just as the disc jockey had thrown the switch to turn on the microphone. What went out over the air was a voice in the distance that was saying, 'You'd better make an announcement. Someone has left their dentures in the Men's Rest Room.'..."
Carpenter recalls the show he programmed with Mike Lowrey: "The morning radio show I had was definitely considered silly and foolish by upperclassmen, and yet today, though, you should hear the morning shows - they make our shows seem like Mister Serious. The show we had was called 'The Sound and the Fury': It was a two-man morning Zoo type show. We had the voices of professors who would cut in, telling the kids to get out of bed so that they could make their eight o'clock class. I remember the little cuttings we had to do were on three-inch tapes, which was a tremendously difficult proposition. Carts were around then, but the station didn't own any. It was a real problem - we had to make them on big reels and cut them down and put leader on them so you could cue them quickly. Then they had to be run on these old Ampex 601s. That show was full of inanity and silly characters who came in and out and goofy music...We had a morning weatherman played by our engineer who came in with his German accent - He called himself Dr. Michelob Lowenbrau...I played Ma Slater of Ma Slater's food service. We would go over at the beginning of each week and get the whole week's menu for breakfasts. We would then broadcast that via Ma coming in and telling what it was - she would insult the food and tell the "truth" behind what was really in this food. At first everyone was worried - Sure, from Balson on up that this was all wrong and that no one would eat the food. Well, I was told later by the head of the food service that we increased the usage of breakfasts - we were advertising them after all - by today's standards that was tame. It was 6:30 to 8:30am, six days a week and went through a whole semester. We created our own program schedule for just that two hour block - it was the only way we could make sure it flowed smoothly. People would say that we were acting juvenile. I know that we obviously did such a good enough job that it appeared to be off the cuff, and yet an awful lot of it was highly structured - it was transparent - of course that's the best compliment I suppose you could have."
"Commentary, touching on everything from religion to politics, will be featured. Interspersed throughout the day is national, local, and campus news. Special events as they occur on campus have WBCR coverage..." (RT 10/9/64) Specialty programming expanded to include discussions on topics such as unilateral disarmament and the campus Judicial Board, and the continued broadcasts of "programs of interest" from the Chapel (especially the Sunday Vesper Service), the Union (now the Smith building), and the Field House. One of the most ambitious programs was the weekly "Beloit College Bowl" series, started in late February of 1962. "The program, broadcast at 3:30 in the afternoon, will continue to feature competition between sororities, fraternities and independent groups throughout the semester. Questions asked on the College Bowl range from such topics as the 1954 World Series to the author of the first humanitarian novel, with math problems thrown in for spice...many professors have not as yet sent in their question to the station, and...the questions are urgently needed." (RT 3/9/62).
WBCR's programming was also enhanced by associations with Networks. Over the Summer of 1963, WBCR became the first college radio station to join a major national radio network when a one year contract between the Mutual Broadcasting System and WBCR was signed in New York. "WBCR may now use the worldwide facilities of MBS to update all newscasts. The network also carries many specialty programs which will be programmed by WBCR."(RT 11/15/63) The News Department also benefited when in late December of 1961, WBCR became an affiliate of the CBS radio network: "We received authorization from CBS Radio to carry their news programs," Coffey explains, "provided we could acquire the approval of the CBS affiliate from which we received the network programming, either over the air or by telephone line. Such approvals were granted...Local news programming consisted of one or two campus reports each week."
In the Spring of 1960, WBCR broadcast a basketball game against Knox, the first sports event the station had covered since WBWR (eight years before), but with a new twist: "The staff of WBCR has announced that they will broadcast the Knox-Beloit basketball game Friday, January 8, from Galesburg. Arrangements with the Telephone company and the athletic department will make the broadcast possible...This will be the only broadcast of the game available in the Beloit area." (RT 1/8/60). Carl Balson explains how both home and away games came to be: "In a sense, we could run a pair of wires through the phone company out to the stadium and the Field House. Then we had little amplifiers that would push the signal back here. The early attempts at away games were a lot of hum but we got on the air. The students were interested enough at that time and the costs were such that we could get from the Student Senate moneys to support away games, which was a matter of getting a signal through the phone company - not a regular phone line but a line dedicated to sports coverage. Our people would sometimes travel with the team - that wasn't always convenient so we would have to get a college vehicle for them."
The newly revived sports broadcasts, especially away games, led to some interesting situations. Charles Coffey relates this story: "I was a member of the broadcast team that was providing play-by-play coverage of a basketball game at Knox in Galesburg. The broadcast was sponsored, in part, by Pepsi Cola. Their commercial was the one song, I believe by Joanie Summers, 'Now it's Pepsi for those who think young.' It ran 58 seconds. When we were broadcasting a home game, we could monitor the broadcast and know when the commercial was over. On the road, we had to watch the stopwatch, and after 60 seconds we would start talking again. In this instance, I said something to the effect, 'We'll be back after this message from Pepsi.' My partner on the broadcast remarked at that point, 'These cheerleaders at Knox are really sharp...a lot better than ours...I wish we had cheerleaders like them...' I said to him, 'You'd better be careful. If the engineer back at the studio is fiddling with the equipment and has missed the cue, you're in big trouble.' Both were."
The advertising Coffey mentions played a minor part in the AM station's existence, making sporadic appearances throughout the 1960's. Although it was licensed as a non-commercial station, WBCR-AM's carrier-current status allowed a small amount of advertising (not entirely legal) for the purpose of funding away games. Carl Balson recounts: "The advertising was more loosely controlled than The Round Table's. People would go out and get a little advertising - get some money. Everyone knew that it was just a token gesture - a gift. No one was terribly serious about it...Maintaining a sales staff was difficult: you were always having constant turnover (of students). It was an idea whose time had not come and soon went." By 1964 home and away football broadcasts were added to the roster.
In the continuing pursuit for a better transmission, the station's placement on the AM dial changed almost every year in the early sixties, until it finally rested on 640kc. WBCR had carried on its project of wiring the campus on the new antenna system, but since weather conditions had to be just right in order to do the delicate task of outside wiring, it took until the Fall of 1960 to complete.
In the summer of 1962, the chief engineer of WCLO in Janesville completely overhauled Beloit's transmitter and a new aerial pattern. However, by mid-October the station was already looking for a new transmitter to handle the much busier schedule in effect. "The present transmitter is quite inadequate for the 120 hour per week schedule which the station now runs...in addition to the 60 cycle hum now produced by the old machine, Beloit's radio station has also suffered from breakdown 20 of the last 100 weeks of programming." (RT 10/19/62)
Through 1963 the staff of WBCR continued its mission to strengthen the station's quality. Besides a new transmitter, "...a completely rewired and redesigned studio control room has been outfitted in Scoville Hall. A new Ratheon Audio Console, given to WBCR by the Zenith Radio Corporation's Chicago FM station, WEFM, represents a very significant change in the studio operation. The console is now integrated with two used turntables purchased late last year from WCLO, Janesville..." (RT 11/15/63) Despite an improvement in the quality of the equipment, it was still insufficient: "For the first few years I was associated with WBCR we used homebrewed equipment," remembers James Torley,'65, "including the coax to AC line couplers. The studio equipment was fairly simple and crude but of commercial manufacture. In 1963 (I think) we got a dual rail console for the studio (Line and Monitor simultaneously) which allowed us to cue up records, tapes and remote lines. We had a dual head Ampex tape recorder, two turntables, a number of studio microphones and the portable remote console. We would lease Class D lines for remote feeds which did not allow the remote guys to hear what was going out over the air so timing was everything!! I remember many instances of sweating out the last few seconds before 'air time' listening to a 'dead line'!!...There were some times, however, when the cable system would break down 'spilling' our signal. Since our transmitter, a converted Heathkit DX-100 Ham Radio Transmitter, was typically running about 150 watts, we were occasionally heard in Milwaukee overriding the 'Grand 01' Oprey' which did result in a few phone calls from the FCC, however!!"
The Move to FM
After very slow growth from World War 11 through the 1950's, FM started to boom in the mid-60's on its merits, including superior sound quality and the ability to broadcast in stereo. In 1947 the FCC had attempted to boost the FM band's potential by broadcasting the same material simultaneously on AM and FM, known as simulcasting. Thereafter, through independent FM stations and noncommercial stations, FM began to get a grapple on the radio medium. As a result, FM acquired two other characteristics: longer periods of uninterrupted music and fewer commercials. Between 1957 and 1964, FM radio continued its development, with FM stereo stations commencing in 1961 (Stereo albums were first released in 1957), and the introduction of FM car radios in 1963. Also, audio equipment in general began catching up to the sound quality of FM, sparking a greater interest in the medium. By 1962 there was one FM station for every four AM stations. And by the mid-60's FM had adopted a different style from the AM band. With longer, uninterrupted airplay, rock and pop songs began to go beyond the 2-3 minute restriction. FM became the only major "voice of the underground," willing to broadcast songs and political and social views that television and AM stations wouldn't touch. Colleges and Universities began to experiment with this more flexible, clearer-sounding medium. So, under improved conditions, Beloit College radio made a second attempt to go FM.
The initial plans were announced in the March 27, 1964 Round Table. A 109 page report on FM development was submitted to President Miller Upton and the College's Executive Committee for review. As if to accentuate the need for a change, disaster struck two months later. Torley explains: "In May of 1964 I had the 'pleasure' of shutting our transmitter off for the last time...with a fire extinguisher! It was located in a closet in the basement of Haven Hall (fed by telephone line from the Scoville Hall studios) and had overheated a few components which were never designed to run continuously anyway). I subsequently liberated the transmitter for my own cannibalization (I'm a Ham operator) and we persuaded the student council to buy us a new transmitter over the summer. It was even crystal controlled for frequency stability! (Whenever we would 'leak' to the adjoining neighborhoods and couldn't fix the cable plant immediately we used to 'slide' up or down the AM band a little bit to a more clear frequency). The new transmitter was located in my fraternity house, Sigma Pi, located on Emerson Street [now a college dorm]."
Meanwhile, The Beloit Plan, which commenced at the time of Balson's return in the Fall of 1964, did not seem to make much of an impact on the station itself, with the exception of the Summer term as Balson notes: "Now we had people here all year around and so that helped us: We didn't have to shut down for a period of time."
On January 29th, 1965, The Round Table outlined the specific reasons for FM: "The necessity of an FM station at Beloit arises out of the virtual impossibility of getting an AM channel. The FM signal is also of much better quality than AM, not subjected to static through atmospheric disturbances." The station's power would be 10 watts, at a frequency of 88.1 megacycles. Later that March, the WBCR Board of Directors decided that Beloit would hold on to the AM station even when FM began that Fall. In the meantime the Board of Trustees looked over the FM proposal and gave their approval that April, after which the application was sent to the FCC. The strictly carrier current days were almost over.
The long wait came to an end on Friday, September 17, 1965 when a telegram was received from the FCC accepting the station's application for a construction permit. The college quickly gave the go-ahead to purchase the necessary equipment. The transmitter arrived in mid-November and the antenna three weeks later. WBCR-FM went on the air January 10, 1966.
"Similar to the campus itself, the atmosphere smacked of extraordinary people doing the unusual, nonconformists out on a lark. There was a serious attempt to provide better programming than the local radio stations, too." - Mary Kay Sousa, '69
Broadcasting over FM had a few direct consequences. First, even though the AM station wasn't abandoned, interest declined considerably, and as a result the AM operations became irregular: there were periods of time (even years) when the AM station was off the air completely. Second, WBCR's mid-day canned music had to be dropped, since the increased range of the station brought an increased risk, as Balson states: "...I don't remember doing it on FM because we were a little more nervous about the FCC at that time." Third, a broadcast range beyond the boundaries of the college meant that record companies were more likely to service the station, thus increasing WBCR's record library. "When we first started we had two and a half rooms," Balson explains. "We had a control room, we had a little studio, and then another room in which we put a few records; it didn't matter because all we had was a few records. But the thing kept growing and we made some contacts with record companies and so more and more records came in. Our storage became a bit of a problem, so we wanted to expand. We found out, prowling around down there that there was a considerable amount of space that the library was not using in the basement. We prevailed on whoever at that time and said if you don't want to use it we would like to use it. There was an area right adjacent to ours but there was this brick wall between the two...to get there you would virtually have to go out of the station, down a hall and through a lot of the library archives to get to this other room. If we were going to keep records in there it would be a 5 minute trip to go and get a record. If no one cared and it seemed like no one did, we would blast through that wall - not literally - it was just a little brick wall as far as we were concerned. You should know that Scoville Hall was a very old, old building: It turned out that this interior wall was four walls thick. So we would go through a wall and we would come to another wall. We did that 4 times and we thought 'how thick is this thing?' Finally, we broke through and we made our own doorway. It just seemed like it took forever. What we were dealing with was a 3 by 7 space door and we weren't going to put a door in it but we were going to frame it up. We knew that we weren't going to injure the building once we got into how many layers thick this wall was - it wasn't going to come down anyway. We more than doubled our storage space. It also gave us a little more room to give people who were taking on leadership, managers and so forth - they didn't have any office. They could sort of share one desk but now we could get more desks down there."
Equipment through the mid to late 60's was moderately preferable to what had come before, but it still kept Balson and the student engineers busy, as Carpenter and Walker Merryman, a Beloit College student who later transferred to Emerson College, explain: "Balson just made sure we didn't break too many things - he didn't give us too much to break. There was never enough money. Once in a while you would get a new piece of gear, but half the time the board was down and he was in there with the soldering irons with somebody constantly fixing old equipment." The station, of course, was still in Scoville hall, but as mentioned earlier, WBCR had expanded. Bob Wieland, '71, describes the studios of the late sixties WBCR: "There was a black red-and-gold UPI News decal on the door and admittance was by buzzer. Students with job titles or regular shifts had keys to the door. About 1969, a change was made to key-cards. The AM studio and FM production room opened off of Mr. Balson's office. You could enter the FM production room from the rest of the station, but could only enter the AM studio through Mr. Balson's office.
"The first cart machines were Marathons, which took a special cart with a curved front. We later got two Tapecasters that used standard carts such as Fidelipaks. We had two bulk tape erasers, a hand-held job and a large desk-mounted one that was home-made.
"The record library was mostly classical, although we had a wide variety of Andre Kostelanetz-type instrumental music with some generic Jazz. In time, we added a lot of rock and Jazz.
"The newsroom at first was entered by a separate door off the downstairs hallway in Scoville Hall. An entrance to the studio was later knocked through the wall. The newsroom had a Model 15 UPI teletype that used yellow paper and purple or black ribbons. We had an old Royal typewriter and eventually the Magnecorder. I had a Sony TC-100 cassette recorder and an EV-635A microphone I purchased in 1969."
James F. Schaefer, Jr., class of 1970, remembers the equipment this way: "The studios were in the basement of Scoville, with a single studio, I believe, at first. The equipment was terrible. Two rumbling old turntables, a small board, a couple of old manually-switched Ampex tape decks. The turntables were just like those drawn in the diagrams of my old theater texts showing how to do back-stage sound effects: a big platter with a long tone arm (with no evident anti-skating or careful counter-weighting) and a large piece of loose felt on the platter, under the record. You would cue the record with a full half-turn's backspin, start the platter going while holding on to felt, release the felt, then fade up the pot as the disc got up to speed. It was absurd, but it was RADIO! All ten watts of it....
"At some point, Carl Balson managed to get a hunk of money, and we soon had a much improved facility. The main studio was equipped with a Gates Diplomat board and new turntables, a patch-panel with the big double-phone-plug wires, and the two Ampexes were joined by a 10 inch Crown tape deck with solenoid controls that rewound at a thousand miles an hour. The old mike was also replaced - by an even older one. Somewhere, in the old false ceiling, as I remember, they found an old cardioid mike, a big monster. It had a wonderful tone. The rest of the studio was expanded into a big back room (with that old couch and the teletype) and the front area was cut up into a second studio and, as you walked in the door, the library. The second studio had all the old equipment."
Reign of the Sigma Pi's
"My first day on campus, I visited the station and met Neal Goodman, who was playing classical music. He sat me down and let me read a newscast - I was hooked. We had a wide range of talent take part in the operation of WBCR. A lot of friendships and relationships stemmed from the friendly atmosphere. Many of the male staffers were either members of Sigma Pi Fraternity or pledged the fraternity after getting involved in the radio station. [Jon] Shimberg and I became Pi's after getting to know Pete Eggebrecht and Jim Sampson. Sampson was my pledgefather." - Bob Wieland, class of 1971
WBCR's move to FM was paralleled by another change: Sigma Pi, the Fraternity that was located on Emerson street (now 609 Emerson dorm) became the "radio Frat" as more of its members took control of the station. "Sigma Pi fraternity was the nominal 'WBCR Frat.'" recalls Thomas Dickinson, class of '72, "The big guns at WBCR were all or mostly Sigma Pi...It was a rigid hierarchy that ran the place. You had to get a 3rd class license and four to five hours of training before you could go on the air, but almost everyone who wanted to eventually got on, or got a full "show" for 2-4 hours. The managers (students) tried to run it professionally and set a good example. But there were some wild times and inevitable conflicts and threats that you would be booted off the air and banished if you violated any FCC or station rules." Under the "reign" of the Sigma Pi's (whose house was home to one of the WBCR AM transmitters), the professional programming on WBCR-FM ("an educational and cultural approach for the entire Beloit Community") provided a heavy allotment of Classical, News, Sports, and Public Affairs, replacing the station's more diverse format of the early sixties. Simulcasts of the FM station and Rock music (which increased through the late sixties) was delegated to WBCR-AM ("programming especially appealing to the modem college student"). "When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1967," Wieland recalls, "WBCR-FM was programming classical music and news to the campus and community. WBCR-AM was off the air. The FM station also carried live broadcasts of Bucs football games with Al Dogger and Tim Reynolds and rebroadcasts of lectures and public affairs programs. With Carl Balson's help, a group of freshmen put the AM station on the air and played hard rock. Many of the Dj's used air names - Jon Shimberg was the Fat Angel."
Al Thurley,'71, describes the programming of the late 1960's: "we played mostly classical music and opera, with some network news from Mutual (we had to block any Mutual commercials, of course, with public service announcements) along with several local newscasts produced by the student staff of the WBCR-FM News Department, live play by play of Beloit college football and basketball, and Jazz. We also aired recorded public service programs from various sources: German radio network, South Africa radio, Newsweek magazine (I think the program was 'Campus Voice)', and others, but none from any military services. Music was from our own record library; the music director worked with record companies to obtain free 'promotional' copies of new releases; we also had a small budget from which to purchase (at very low prices) records from Record Source International (R.S.I.) which was a division of Billboard magazine. (Many of us added to our own record collections with purchases made through this service - we paid for them!)
"We had a firm policy against playing 'rock & roll' music [on FM], although all of us listened to it in our rooms! I remember I had to call Bob Wieland when he played Chad & Jeremy's 'A Summer Song' at 10:30 P.M. one night because I thought it was too 'harsh' for our classical music listeners." Wieland himself remembers the programming policies: "Nobody ever told us what to play or report, although there were instances in which we were told not to play hard rock on FM. Some banned material on AM included the Fugs, whose songs included 'Coca Cola Douche' and 'Saran Wrap.'
Specialty programming during the Sigma-Pi era included a notable variety of "foreign language" programs: Rossiya ("a panorama of Russian literature and music"), "The Sounds of Latin America," as well as French, Spanish, and German shows, hosted by professors. "These...half-hour shows feature music from the...countries with explanation and interesting commentary in the native language."(RT 2/28/66). Many other shows were also of an academic nature, such as Beyond Antiquity, "...a program which should be of great interest to Anthropology majors, professors, as well as students with just a layman's interest."(RT 7/13/67) Student Senate Report featured "topics developing out of the results of that afternoon's senate meeting."
In September of 1966, COED 66, a show for women, was added. Running from 5 to 6pm once a week, "Dates, dances, recipes, fashions, hair styles, entertainers, campus news - all are fair game for the new show which runs with a liberal amount of records and the unusual quality a feminine voice can give to radio.
"COED 66 is designed for neither the married nor the college set exclusively. Rather, the show integrates everything of interest for women; notice not girls or ladies, but women." As The Round Table admitted, "Girls are usually the unsung heroes of a radio station, spending all of their time typing correspondence..." (RT 9/22/66)
Sports coverage continued to prosper throughout the late 60's, with the usual home and away basketball and football games, and with the usual hi-jinks, as one WBCR sportscaster remembers: "I lost my control a couple of games, particularly in one home game when Jim Jones won with a basket with three seconds left. I believe the quote was: 'Jesus Christ! He made it! We won!' I also recall driving through a blizzard to get to a b-ball game at Carleton. We arrived at 7:28 with tip off at 7:30. Being in somewhat of a hurry and hooked up to the phone, [I] said 'sure hope this fucking thing is working' (which it was - on the air) and proceeded to call the game. Mr. Quality broadcasting - that was me."
"News broadcasts were rip-and-read," remembers James Schaeffer Jr., class of 1970, "until we got a bit more editorial organization, when it became rip-and-tape-and-read." But as Kent Sidel, class of 1972, explains, "I was struck by the sense of commitment on the part of the news producers. They took their job much more seriously than I as the reader." The News department increased their efforts in the late 1960's, with more emphasis on local reporting. This sometimes led to uncomfortable circumstances. Walker Merryman related this incident from the Fall of 1966: "Henry C. Schadeberg [a former Congressman, at that time a candidate for the first district of Wisconsin], a very conservative Republican, was scheduled to speak on the campus, I think at the invitation of one of the government professors. It was a very well attended speech...I remember going over there to cover it as a news event; I took my little tape reel to reel recorder. There were students out front picketing - apparently the man was VERY conservative. Some of the students were exercised over his conservatism and they were concerned; protesting the war, etc.
"I went in the auditorium and was just a little late. Everyone was seated and I sort of scooted down front and started to set up my tape recorder. The Congressman got up and stopped whoever it was who was introducing him, and demanded to know what that tape recorder was doing there. I simply said that I was recording it for use on the newscast on the station and he gave me the third degree about that. 'How long are these excerpts going to be? I don't want you distorting what I'm saying! You people, you know you do that sort of thing all the time!' It was terribly embarrassing for me to be in front of three or four-hundred people, and here is this member of Congress pressing me down and I'm just, y'know, this naive kid who's trying to do something I thought was kind of interesting. I finally did convince him that I wasn't a member of the liberal press - 19-year old freshman at Beloit College, for Christ's sake! I didn't know the difference. Had I been asked, I would've told him that I supported Goldwater in 1964 - it was true! I grew up in South Dakota - we don't know from liberals..."
In 1968 the addition of the United Press International (UPI) teletype service, gave WBCR an immediate source of news, and helped to fulfill a part of the FCC license agreement. "The local newscasts were mostly, in the early years I was there (1966-1968), copy from either a newspaper or copy that was discarded at WGEZ-AM." explains Thurley. "Then, during my last years at Beloit, we had the luxury of working with our own teletype service, United Press International, or U.P.I. This was a vast improvement over the clips and discards of others. However, we did conserve paper by shutting down the wire printer overnight! We even connected a tixner to the printer (one of those huge old black boxes - the teletype printer - on a stand) which turned the machine on before sign on in the morning so the announcer would have current news, sports and weather." Their arrangement with WGEZ had run into problems, as Balson recalls, "The times we were trying to do news casts and the times WGEZ's people were trying to prepare newscasts was creating too much conflict - We were after the same piece of copy. So, they put a stop to it. It was amicable but it was bad timing." Also, the improved range and sound quality of the three-year old WBCR-FM had sparked greater interest in the News department, as well as a greater responsibility (in the eyes of the FCC) to serve the listening area. The time for Beloit College to have its own wire service was long overdue. The role of a news-wire at WBCR was, and is, crucial to its existence. Balson explains: "A lot of it has to do with my vision of why we run a radio station here at Beloit College, a vision which is shared by a lot of people in educational radio in other institutions. There are two reasons: from the FCC point of view, you want to run a station that provides programming in the public interest, convenience and necessity. The primary reason in my view also was to provide good service to the public; but close behind was to provide a training facility for the students. For a student training facility you want to be able to turn out students who could make a smooth transition into commercial radio - that they have learned to read news; they have learned to read copy. We needed to provide them with tools, and in this case that particular tool."
The addition of the UPI wire provided some dramatic moments throughout the Vietnam War. "In the fall of 1969, we carried live the first draft lottery," Wieland remembers. "We got the numbers from the UPI teletype and I announced them. The program probably had the highest listenership of anything we ever did. The lottery began with No. 1, the most eligible for call-up. A birth date was drawn from a large wire drum in Washington. I believe they said there was a good probability that young men with birth dates assigned to the first 200 or so numbers would wind up in uniform. When they got to No. 12, my birthdate, Dec. 7, was announced. I don't remember much else from that broadcast. I went home to the Sigma Pi house and got very drunk on martinis. (I took my draft physical in Milwaukee in the summer of 1971 and was judged 4F, unsuitable for military service, because of an old injury.)"
The tension and conflict over the Vietnam War and other issues inspired a sharp increase in Public Affairs programming in the late 1960's, sometimes in conjunction with the News Department. Although Public Affairs did handle concerts, the main concentration was on the non-musical end. An array of shows were broadcast, including a World Affairs Center discussion, "Africa Moves Forward." "This prerecorded discussion concerns the modern progress of the African nations. Selected African students from the college will present their views on modern day Africa." (RT 11/3/66). An "Editorial Comment" show, made up of newspaper editorials, was attempted as well: "The emphasis will be on a fair representation of all views from various parts of the country. Each show will be centered around a different theme of national concern." (RT 11/3/66).
"Forum," which began in early November of 1966, dealt with issues such as "South East Asia's current problems," the space program, and LSD. "These were discussions recorded via a telephone connection to various buildings on campus," recalls Al Thurley, class of 1971. "I think they were hooked up to the Chapel, Field House, Pearsons, and the Student Union. (About the only connection I'm sure of is the Chapel and Field House). We'd know about lectures and discussions that were scheduled to take place at those locations, and then tape the audio available via that phone loop system. Often times, we forgot to ask permission of the visiting guest lecturer, and simply flipped the switch at the studio which then tied into that building's public address system, recorded away, all unbeknown to the guest!
"We used the system to record musical concerts from various guest artists, too (I think one of them was classical guitarist Julian Bream). That series was called 'Recital'. We would spend time editing the various recordings, provide the proper intros and exits, and schedule the programs to rotate during the school year." In 1967 a Public Affairs department was created, hosting "Focus," "a new program in which faculty and students discuss a variety of controversial topics"(RT 1/19/67). The FM show aired topics ranging from "Narcotics on the College Campus" to "Homosexuality in the American Male" to the radical Right-Wing's theory on rock music. Another attraction, "On Campus", featured a mix of lectures and concerts. Late that October WBCR dedicated a great deal of its programming to the United Nations Week (Oct. 22-28). Throughout the next few years Public Affairs related programming thrived, featuring discussions on campus security, poverty in the Appalachians, and the story of the Beloit College Volunteer Tutoring Service.
The cultures and issues explored in Public Affairs and other programming on the FM station soon seeped onto WBCR-AM. Highlights in 1969 included "The Afro-American Hour," "A show for and about BLACK PEOPLE. Can you Dig it?" (RT 2/17/69), and WBCR-AM's expanded rock programming: "On Wednesday, October 1, bursting into rooms and minds will be the ecstatic sound of rock music. WBCR-AM (640), with its new one thousand dollar transmitter, opens its programming at seven o'clock Wednesday morning. Seventy nine hours of rock weekly!...Whether you are lulled into ecstasy by Dylan's funky voice, excited by Ginger Baker's drum solos or merely happy after listening to the Lovin' Spoonful, just remember to dig it...'Even if [President] Miller Upton won't listen to it, the students will'"(RT 9/30/69).