The Archive Sounds: Oberlin Activism in the 1980s

The Archive Sounds: Oberlin and Activism in the 1980s engages critically with found sound from the largely neglected collection of old radio shows, news reports, and station IDs that make up the WOBC audio archive. The project highlights the peculiarity of an archive created and cared for haphazardly over three decades by various DJs and station staff. The Archive Sounds weaves interviews, speeches, and recordings of public events together to present an imagined, curated, narrative of Oberlin activism in the late 1980s.

With this project, I’m not looking to create an objective historical account of activism in Oberlin. Rather, I hope to present my version of the story as the archive might tell it. The program covers several themes including labor and union organizing, race, racism and gender in the city of Oberlin and within the institution of the College, and the anti-apartheid struggle for divestment from South Africa. In addition, the program draws on various audio ephemera played on WOBC in the 1980s and 90s in order to situate the social and political content within the more general context of WOBC programming during that time.

The Archive Sounds: Oberlin and Activism in the 1980s

Produced by Will Floyd, Senior Project in TIMARA, originally broadcast Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 4pm

Read on for more information about the project and listen to the original source recordings used in the program.

About WOBC’s Audio Archive

Housed in the WOBC studios, WOBC’s archive of audio recordings includes more than one thousand 1/4″ reel-to-reel audio tapes that have endured 20 or more years of hot summers and chilly winters. The archive is by no means a definitive collection of events or radio programming of any particular type or from any particular era. Rather, the collection reflects the seemingly accidental nature of its creation and maintenance by a revolving cast of characters. Most radio broadcasts on WOBC were not recorded and those that were recorded to tape were at risk of being taped over in order to create new programming. Recordings that survived in the WOBC audio archive are a minute sample of the programs once broadcast on the station.

The vast majority of the items in the collection are copies of syndicated radio shows presumably broadcast once or maybe twice on the air and then saved to be erased and used again by the station. Many of the unexpected gems in the collection are poorly labeled recordings that were recorded over syndicated programs, making the archive hard to navigate. In many cases the only way to know what is on a particular audio reel is to play it. After digging through the archive for titles and labels relating to Oberlin’s activist history, I found several recordings of interest; however, I certainly did not undertake an exhaustive survey of the archived material. The following are recordings I sampled in the final program.

Recordings Referenced in the Program

Caesar Chavez speech in Lorain, Ohio, 1979

Labor Pains: Working People Talk, November 28, 1986 – Interviews with Lorain steelworkers from USWA Local 1104.

The Other Oberlin – an alternative commencement forum held by student activists May, 1987 (year of Desmond Tutu Commencement address).
Part 1 – Catherine Barnes – 4 year history of Oberlin
Part 2 – Dereic Dorman – racism
Part 3 – Dan Jaffe (affirmative action)
Part 4 – Tony Houston (communications/divestment) / Don Driscoll (politics of Education)
Part 5 – Carol Moeller (women in academic institutions) / Question & Answer

Racism In Oberlin – An interview with Oberlin resident Margaret Smith produced by Anita Jacobs, date unknown.

Student-Trustee Discuss Divestment – Date unknown.

Student-Trustee Confrontation on South African Divestment – Held in King 106, December 6, 1986, speakers unknown.

Correction: Earlier versions of this post incorrectly attributed Part 2 of The Other Oberlin to Eric Dorman. (12-8-2013)

8 thoughts on “The Archive Sounds: Oberlin Activism in the 1980s”

  1. This is wonderful history! Is there any tape of the “Oberlin 59” hearing in front of the Community Board? I know WOBC broadcast it live.

  2. I didn’t find it when I was looking through the archive in 2012, but I also wasn’t looking for it specifically. This could be a good project for the WOBC librarian or maybe someone’s Winter Term project in the future.

  3. Thanks for this treasure, Will! This certainly brings back memories having worked at the station alongside Dan Jaffe, Catherine Barnes and Anita Jacobs. Anita graduated in 1989, I believe (same year that I did). So her interview would probably be in the range of 1987-89. She went on to work in public radio in Boston and then World Café or Afropop Worldwide.

    Rick, we did indeed surreptitiously broadcast nearly 90 minutes of your hearing. Dan Jaffe snuck a recorder in a backpack snaking cable under the seats in the hall. Originally we reasoned that since the administration deemed the meeting “public” we were within our rights to broadcast the hearing — only 50 or so people could actually fit in the hall.

    But we got cold feet. The participants did not know they were “on the air” throughout Lorain County and could not give consent (even passively) to broadcast their statements. While the hearing was going on we made the rounds consulting Dan Goulding (WOBC advisor) and a lawyer to figure out where we stood legally. We decided to pull the plug but much of the hearing had already been broadcast. I do not know if the broadcast was taped and whether it might be anonymously sitting in the pile Will unearthed.

    Oh, and it has been a blast working with you to get our urban neighborhood low power FM station, WEQY, up and running here in St. Paul. As soon as we started swapping college radio stories I could tell we were both talking about ‘OBC before we figured out we worked in the same studios 25 years apart from each other.

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