FEB. 29, 2008 IMAGE UPDATE
FEB. 19, 2008 RADIO REQUESTS
WOBC-FM, our student-operated radio station at Oberlin College, sometimes took music requests over the phone. We had an all-request classical music program on Saturday nights, just as WQED-FM in Pittsburgh has today. The name of the WOBC program was our campus phone number, "3157."
Our pop music DJs also got requests. Imitating what they'd heard on big-time Top 40 stations, they sometimes tape-recorded the calls. Then they could rummage around to find the requested record, cue up the tape, and let the magic of radio happen. "Um, could you play No Milk Today by Herman and the Hermits?" "Your wish is my command!" No Milk Today plays immediately.
That technique is commonplace now, but in 1968 it felt as though we were pushing the envelope of possibilities.
One night Marc Krass and Randy Bongarten took it a step further. They arranged for the Rathskeller, a tavern in the basement of the Wilder Hall student union building, to play WOBC through its sound system. At one end of the Rat they set up a microphone stand. To raise its signal to line level, the mic was connected to a small amplifier the same one that I took to basketball remotes. The output of the amp was connected to a pair of wires in the stairwell that led to our control room up on the third floor.
A sign invited Rathskeller patrons to speak their requests into the microphone. It almost looked like a prank. The mic was not connected to a loudspeaker, and patrons got no confirmation that they were being heard. The mic might not have even been on. But a few brave souls risked looking foolish. They dutifully walked up and spoke their requests.
Upstairs at the radio station, we had no idea when someone was approaching the mic, so Randy and I threaded a reel of tape onto a deck and started recording. There would be long minutes of nothing but background noise. Eventually we'd hear a request. I'd mark it by inserting a scrap of paper between the layers of tape on the takeup reel while Randy scurried off to find the song. After several requests, we'd start a second recording on another machine. Then we rewound the first tape to the most recent request, while my scraps kept tabs on the older ones. We cued the request up for Marc.
"Uh, hello? Is anyone there?" "Yes, indeed, this is Marc Knight, your WOBC disk jockey. What would you like to hear?" "Uh, can you play Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells?" "Sure can! Here it is."
Off-duty DJ Dave Webster was in the Rat that night. He made another request. "Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to play Takin' Care of Business. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds!"
FEB. 14, 2008 MELANIE
Last weekend, someone on an on-line message board mentioned the song "Brand New Key." I realized that I never knew much about the singer/songwriter, Melanie. What to do? Google her!
I found much more about Melanie on the Internet. I never knew, for example, that she's done cover versions of songs that I remember playing as a '60s college radio DJ including "Ruby Tuesday" and "Lay Lady Lay." She still performs, with her son Beau-Jarred on guitar. A year ago on her 60th birthday, she blogged on her website about the passing of another year.
I enjoy watching high-definition television documentaries on the History Channel and National Geographic and Discovery and PBS. But somehow I enjoy this kind of learning even more: searching for the story online, discovering low-definition video clips and pictures, digging up facts and interesting details one by one, like my research last month on the Scharf. It's more interactive and involving than just staring at a TV show. I recommend it.
What subject have you always wondered about?
FEB. 8, 2008 SAY IT AGAIN. AGAIN. AGAIN.
My fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, John Merriman, used repetition to drill into us the terminology of fractions. For example, in the fraction 2/3, the 2 is the "numerator." (What number tells us how many parts we have? Two.) The 3 is the "denominator." (What denomination are those parts? Thirds.) One day Mr. Merriman had us go around the room with one student calling out "Numerator top!" and the next student responding "Denominator bottom!" It seemed a little silly, but we had only to recall this experience to remember which was which.
When I got a tape recorder for Christmas 1961, I experimented to see whether it could aid memorization. I spliced a foot of recording tape into an endless loop, so that the machine would replay the same three seconds of sound continually.
What three seconds? The box of splicing tape was marked with an item number. I'll say it was 7745, but in actuality it was something else. (For security reasons, I'm not telling you the real number.) The box also showed the length of the tape. I'll say it was 200 inches.
I read that data into the microphone. "Number seven seven four five. One-quarter inch by two hundred." Switching to playback, I listened to my voice repeat the data over and over.
It worked. Forty-six years later, I still recall the sound and the actual numbers. When my bank wanted me to choose an account number for on-line transactions, I used the old splicing-tape data to come up with nine digits like 774514200. It's a number that I can always remember.
JAN. 25, 2008 SHALL THE LAST BE FIRST?
When one writes a diary, one begins at the beginning and adds new entries to the end. That seems normal to me.
But when one writes a blog (or a web page like this one), one adds new entries to the top of the page, so that the most recent posting is the one that visitors find first. That seems a little odd. If you haven't visited in a while, you'll find yourself reading the older posts in reverse chronological order. And if you scroll down to the archives, you'll find that I've listed the months backwards as well.
The jury is still out on which method should be used for television graphics like the one below, showing the World Series winners since the Yankees last claimed the title.
My colleagues and I sometimes debate whether to use chronological order (left) or to put the most recent on top (right). Any preferences?
Representatives and Senators alike can introduce all kinds of legislation, with only this one exception: a Senator isn't allowed to introduce a tax bill. I never really understood why not.
But now I've found the answer. I shouldn't be surprised to learn that it all goes back to Benjamin Franklin.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the delegates could not agree on voting representation in the new Congress. Populous states like Virginia felt that they should have more votes than smaller states, because they had more people. One man, one vote. But small states like Delaware felt that they were just as important as their bigger brothers and should have an equal voice. One state, one vote.
It evolved from his earlier "ingenious plan." That plan had proposed that most legislation should be subject to voting rules friendly to small states, to protect their liberty, while financial legislation should follow rules friendly to large states, to protect their money. The new expedient was to establish a Congress not of one house (which Franklin would have preferred) but of two houses with slightly different powers.
The small states would have, in the Senate, the equal status that they demanded, along with the sole power to confirm appointments. But they couldn't use that power to raid the wealth of the large states, because in the Senate they couldn't introduce any revenue bills. The large states would have, in the other House, the proportional representation they demanded.
JAN. 9, 2008 ELECTRICAL ENGINEER
When I woke up this morning, it seemed darker that usual. I discovered that my electricity was off.
"That's not surprising," I thought to myself. "A cold front is moving in, and we're under a Wind Advisory from midnight to noon. High winds have probably knocked down a power line somewhere. My neighbors are dark too, so it's not my power line that's down, but people on the other side of the river do have lights, so the outage isn't a major regional disaster. The electric company undoubtedly knows about it, and they'll probably get it fixed by the time the winds subside. It's nothing to worry about."
I went back to bed until there was enough daylight to sit by the window and read. Eventually, the lights came on for one second, then went off again.
"That's not surprising," I thought to myself. "They've probably fixed the downed line, but when they re-energized it, the power surge tripped some circuit breakers. Now they have to go around and reset the breakers."
An hour and a half later, I glimpsed an electric company vehicle, a bucket truck, heading down my street.
"That's not surprising," I thought to myself. "The transformer for this neighborhood is around the corner. They're going to reset the breaker, and the lights will be back on in five minutes."
In five minutes, the lights came back on.
I'm beginning to understand these matters too well.
JAN. 5, 2008 GRANVILLE ROAD
Do you think it's tough to sell your house in today's real estate market? You should have tried it my way, as a student just beginning the academic year in kindergarten. See my new article with pictures from Newark 1952.