Looking Back on Formative Days in College Radio

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Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a liberal institution with a glittering list of alumni, faces a financial crisis that could force it to close next year. During better times, Antioch was a cauldron of creativity. That's especially true of the campus radio station, WYSO.


On our Reporter's Notebook, NPR's John McChesney remembers the tiny public radio station where he once worked. WYSO, Yellow Springs, Ohio, is a part of Antioch College. The school has financial problems and may have to close but John says the crisis apparently won't silence a little radio station.

JOHN McCHESNEY: During the 1970s, WYSO was the starting point for many who've gone on to remarkable media careers. WYSO was the homiest and the homeliest of radio stations in those turbulent years. Eggshell cartons were glued to the wall for sound deadening, and the newsroom was lined with burlap over fiberglass roof insulation.

In 1973 two years after the birth of NPR, WYSO began broadcasting beyond the campus to the Dayton metropolitan area. Students from Antioch, a college that encourage thinking outside the box, flocked to the station.

Randy Thom presided as program director back then. He's since been nominated for 12 Oscars and has won two for the soundtracks of "The Right Stuff" and "The Incredibles." He just finished the sound for "Ratatouille."

Randy Thom says Antioch College was the right nutrient for WYSO's petri dish of creativity.

Mr. RANDY THOM (Former Program Director, WYSO; Sound Designer): The Antioch was a place where people explored things and, you know, tried their best to break new ground. And I think sometimes, you're lucky and you got up an organization, an institution like WYSO that not only attracts people like that but mixes them together in a certain kind of way.

McCHESNEY: Carol Greenwald is another famous WYSO alum. She produces the Emmy Award-winning PBS children's program "Arthur." She credits that little station with launching her media career.

Ms. CAROL GREENWALD (Executive Producer, "Arthur"): There was an amazing group of people. I particularly remember the newsroom crew and there was a real skill you learn by working there. You know, you had to cut tape and you had to learn how to interview people. There was an attention to making it sound professional because the radio station didn't just exist in the campus.

McCHESNEY: It's worth listing just a few more of the WYSO graduates of that period - Francis Ford Coppola's vice president for technology, the creator of Youth Radio whose productions are frequently heard on NPR, the executive producer of NPR series, This I Believe, and Jo Anne Wallace, WYSO's manager then and now manager of KQED in San Francisco, the nation's most listened to public station.

I'm proud to have been there then and saddened that the college that nourished us all may be shut down. The station, much different from those wild days, will apparently stay on the air.

SIMON: NPR's John McChesney.

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