Recently, I’ve been involved in a really fun project regarding the history of Hamilton College’s radio station, WHCL. The station’s lineage goes back a long ways – right now I’m discovering that there was a radio club on campus somewhere in the start of World War II, with the call letters of WHC. The station and frequency I know of (WHCL-FM, 88.7) signed on in 1963, and boosted its power from a 10-watt monaural station to a 250-watt flamethrower in 1983.
But in digging through old issues of the Hamilton College Spectator, I discovered something that I had totally forgotten. And it all goes back to a syndicated radio show that we were offered for free … and I argued that it should not air on our station.
Perhaps I should explain.
In the late 1970’s / early 1980’s, there were several free radio shows available for college radio stations, so long as the shows aired with their commercials intact. Probably the most memorable program of this genre was the King Biscuit Flower Hour, which featured in-concert recordings by the top stars of the day.
It’s 1983, and I was in my first semester as music director for WHCL-FM. Being “music director” meant that you had to get record companies to send you product, rather than having the station go out and buy the records. Trust me, I was good at needling record companies to get them to send the station their product. I can speak pesky.
At one point, we received an offer to air one-hour live concert recordings that were similar to the King Biscuit Flower Hour, it was produced by the BBC and it would arrive in our station’s mailbox every week. All we had to do was play the records, and that was it.
Oh, and the shows had some sponsorship, in the form of a pair of magazines.
Omni Magazine, a publication that focused on science fiction and science fact…
The other publication was Penthouse Magazine.
All we had to do was air the concerts – which contained mentions of Penthouse magazine every other week – and that was it. Free programming. Easy peasy.
But something bothered me. Bothered me deeply. And I needed to think about this.
I’m not naive. Penthouse Magazine was one of the unholy troika of adult magazines – not as highbrow as Playboy, but tamer than Hustler. And if you could get past the photo spreads with a naked girl with a publishing staple in her abdomen, and the articles by Xaviera Hollander and the letters pages in which each letter seemed to start with “I never thought this would happen to me…”
If you could get past all that, then there were some amazing articles in Penthouse. Groundbreaking interviews and thought-provoking essays.
If you could get past everything else.
My problem was … I couldn’t get past everything else.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude or a puritan. But this was 1983 – heck, Hamilton was less than a decade into co-education. And whether anybody wanted to admit it or not, female students on campus weren’t always considered in safe spaces. I mean, it’s easy to joke about the proverbial “walk of shame” the morning after a frat party, until you understand that Hamilton in 1983 only had one coed society (ELS) and the rest of the fraternities were all men-only.
“I never thought it would happen to me” takes a new meaning when it’s said by a student who’s sitting in a cold chair at the campus health center, wondering what happened, who touched her, and what her next life’s step would be.
Plus – cards on the table – I knew of at least one friend of mine who was sexually assaulted on campus. The location and the situation are not important. But what is important was that the person who did assault my friend would later brag about his “conquest” to his buddies. Classless.
And I remember my friend telling me never to speak of what happened, because she was afraid of repercussions. She was afraid that she would be told that “she deserved it” or “she was asking for it” or any number of factors.
I had to make a decision regarding this radio broadcast.
And at that point in time, I had three choices. I could:
- (A) air the program as advertised.
- (B) air the program only on weeks when Penthouse Magazine wasn’t a sponsor.
- (C) try to bleep or edit out the commercials, while keeping the audio as intact as possible.
In the end, I chose Option (D).
At the next station board meeting, I recommended that the program not air on our station. Immediately I received blowback from other boardmembers. I was turning my back on some great concert audio, it’s free, it takes only an hour of radio station time, let’s enjoy it for what it is.
No. I couldn’t do it. I explained that having this as an advertiser is tantamount to complicitness in what the advertiser promotes.
Still, I received more blowback.
Time for me to play my ace.
Prior to the WHCL board meeting, I visited the college Women’s Center, and asked to speak to members of their board. I explained that WHCL had received an offer to air a syndicated radio show, which contained advertising from Penthouse magazine. I personally was not interested in airing it, but I wanted to include the Women’s Center in the discussion.
Naturally, they did not feel that the concert series – with its advertisers intact – would be a good message for one of the college’s media proponents.
I mentioned to the WHCL board that I had spoken to the Women’s Center board about this. And that if they had a problem with my decision, they could use the rubric that the syndicator wouldn’t let them air the concerts without the advertisements, so they had no choice.
The board meeting was confirmed. The Penthouse Omni Magazine Concert Rock Concert series never aired on our station.
And I had totally forgotten about the situation … until yesterday, when I parsed through old Hamilton College Spectator issues, and found this letter from the members of the Hamilton College Women’s Center. Heck, I didn’t even remember seeing this back in 1983.
Understand something. I totally understand that during my early years at Hamilton College, I was a bit of a knucklehead. And I know that there were times when I didn’t do the right thing.
This time, though … I felt like I had.
And I’ll take that win against any of the hundreds of previous losses.