Letters

Celebrating WRTC and Its Legacy

Cover illustration
Illustration by Shaw Nielsen

Editor’s Note: A recent issue of the News from Trinity College e-newsletter included a call for submissions about WRTC and the memories that alumni have of the campus radio station. We received numerous responses, so we’re devoting this issue’s Letters column to them. Read the feature article The Enduring Voice of Trinity College.

Wow, 75 years! That puts us just beyond starting out, back in the mid-’50s, when I was involved with WRTC. I was music director, and my roommate, Steve Bowen [’57], was station manager. I had a weekly jazz show, Jazz from Tiny’s. The show was sponsored by a West Hartford record shop. We arranged that instead of being paid in dollars, we would have access to the latest arrivals from the top jazz labels. That way I was able to air and comment on the newest and freshest jazz releases. One Homecoming Weekend, Steve and I broadcast a marathon jazz show. It was absolutely exhausting, but enormous fun.

Back then, WRTC was AM. The reason that changed was due largely to the genius of our brilliant head engineers, Dan Miller [’55] and Sam Stone [’57]. Those guys could do amazing things, one of which was to rebuild our transmitter with new, um, capabilities. Our AM coverage was supposed to be limited to the campus and surrounding neighborhoods (our top-40 show used to attract flocks of neighborhood teens to the studio). However, at one point we got a cluster of fan mail from Philadelphia—somewhat beyond our coverage limits. The story goes that a station in Philadelphia with our same frequency had lost its antenna in a hurricane, and listeners had been able to pick up our signal in the evening. The FCC shut us down, later agreeing to allow us back on the air as a carrier current FM station strictly limited to the college campus.

Even though we were a small group with limited facilities broadcasting from a basement, we ran a proper station. Station IDs, logs, etc. were observed precisely. UP provided a telex, which enabled us to air summaries and reports of the latest news frequently and accurately. There was a lot of talent, energy, and know-how pumped into the station back then. For me, the entire four-year experience was marvelous. Unforgettable. Which is perhaps why my first job after college was in the broadcast department of an advertising agency.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your project. And happy 75th to WRTC!

Bob Stevenson ’57
Edgartown, Massachusetts

I hosted a radio show called Ape Self Prevails in Me Still from the time I was a freshman until I graduated. The show was biweekly, every other Friday from 7:00–10:00 p.m. I hosted the show with Charles Criss, also ’07. I have a couple stories.

A few months into our show freshman year, we got a call from a listener asking if we could play the song “Real Life” by Tones on Tail. I never heard of the song or the band. I searched the record collection for it but couldn’t find it. The listener then offered to bring the album to the studio so we could play it. He’d drive over and be there in a few minutes. Before he hung up, he asked if we liked “hydraulic sandwiches.” I didn’t know what that was but said yes. A few minutes later, he showed up with the record and a six-pack of hydraulic sandwiches: beer. We had a beer and listened to Tones on Tail. It was a strange but fun experience to have a listener visit the studio, but sadly he never called into our show again. 

I’m from New Jersey, so I spent summer there during college, growing more and more listless as the summer got hotter and hotter, impatient for the new school year to start. One day in the summer between sophomore and junior year, I decided to drive up to Trinity for the afternoon. It was about a three-hour drive, which was a better way to spend my time than sitting on the porch at home. The first thing I did when I got to campus was visit WRTC to see what new CDs they had in and plan what I was going to play that fall. I said hi to the DJ, who was hosting a jazz show. A few minutes later, he came up to me and asked if I work at the radio station. I said yes, I have a show. He said the DJ who was supposed to follow his show hadn’t shown up and asked me if I could fill in for him. Although I didn’t have any of my CDs or records on me, I jumped at the chance and DJ’d a spontaneous, impromptu show. After the show, I drove back home.

On a personal note, WRTC meant a lot to me. It was great to have a forum to share my music with the local community and learn about new music by listening to the station’s collection. I’d wanted to be a radio DJ since high school, listening to my local college radio station, and am grateful WRTC gave me the opportunity to have a steady Friday night slot my whole four years of college. It was a great way to feel connected to the campus, and it was a lot of fun to bring friends into the studio to chat with them on the air.

Peter Chansky ’07
Queens, New York

While at Trinity, my brother, Pete Campbell ’53, was one of the voices at WRTC. I remember listening to him while I was at Trinity. He has passed away, but this is one of my memories of him.

Sandy Campbell, ’54
Virginia Beach, Virginia

I am winding down a very successful career in TV and now (hopefully) feature films, and it all began at WRTC. I was stunned when I went back for my 35th Reunion and found that the “Thought Power Crew” concept I had created was still being used by the student of color DJs. I am eternally grateful for a career that began there. I entered premed, switched to prelaw, but the things that really clicked for me were The Tripod, the Ivy, and especially WRTC.

During that visit, I was stunned that the multiroom station in the basement of Goodwin (I think that was it, right next to the archway leading to Hamlin Hall) had been relocated to a one-room digital space in High Rise, but so it goes.

I’m coming back for Homecoming this year and am looking forward to seeing the campus.

James Perez-Gillespie ’76
Las Vegas, Nevada

Trinity had its own radio station, WRTC, and I wanted to be part of that. When I applied, they told me that the only opening was to select the records that would be played by Tom Bolger [’55], who had a late-afternoon popular music program. I gave him a list that included, along with 20 other recordings, Eydie Gormé’s “Frenesi,” which turned out to be Bolger’s favorite record—so I was hired. …

I stayed with the radio station in various capacities until I was partway through my junior year at Trinity. Soon I was doing the Saturday Night Dance Party, which I had taken over because I never had a date on Saturday night. I did not think a lot of people were listening, although WRTC was a real station that broadcast to downtown Hartford (not a very strong signal). The Saturday Night Dance Party was a request show, and one night a friend called in a request for Bartók’s “Music for Celesta and Percussion,” which is about 20 minutes of mostly dissonance and odd rhythms. I thought no one really listened, so despite most of the music on the show being swing and popular songs (a “dance party”), I honored the request. There were no complaints at the time, so maybe I was right about the lack of listeners.

Sometime after that, I persuaded the station to let me switch the Saturday night show to one featuring classical music of the 20th century. I still think of “Infernal Dance of King Kastchei” from Stravinsky’s Firebird as my theme—it was used to introduce the show—and am a bit thrilled to hear it. Bartók was back on the air, but this time in a more appropriate context.

In my junior year, my roommate, Ron Richardson [’56], was an avid opera lover. Somehow, we got the idea of doing a radio show devoted to Madama Butterfly (technically 20th century since the first performance was in 1905), in which Ron would impersonate several faculty members reminiscing about performances of Madama Butterfly that they had seen. Ron was a very good mimic and could do accurate impressions of many of the Trinity faculty. For the show, I think history professor Norton Downs supposedly had seen Butterfly in the desert during World War II, French professor Louis Naylor had attended a performance in Paris, and the school’s assistant chaplain, who had a Southern accent, saw it in Mississippi. I taped interviews of Ron’s version of each, and for the broadcast we played the interviews between arias. Ron and I thought the program was very funny. Apparently, the Trinity professors involved did not agree. There were complaints, especially because Ron did such a good job that the professors were complimented on their radio appearances. A day or two later, Norton Downs had lodged an official protest to Trinity radio, claiming fraudulent representation of his views. I was notified that this was yet another infraction on the station’s reputation. Apparently, the station manager also knew about the Bartók on the Saturday Night Dance Party.

A few nights later as I was closing the station at midnight on a Saturday night, I could not find the recording of The Star-Spangled Banner that we usually played at sign-off, so I sang it instead. Next day I was fired from the station staff. WRTC, like most college radio stations, wanted to be taken seriously, and I was not helping.

Bryan Bunch ’57
Pleasant Valley, New York

I am writing to share a WRTC story that may be of interest. It pertains to my interview of Robert Frost for WRTC.

I am a member of the Class of ’63 and did an interview of Robert Frost in the fall of 1962 for airing on the radio. I did the interview at the request of the college even though I was not a member of the WRTC staff.

The interview was taped and lasted about an hour. It covered a wide range of topics, including the meaning and the worth of a liberal arts education, something Frost said, wryly, was about learning to “shrug your shoulders.” 

I prepared an edited transcript of the tapes (two big reels), which I still have. I also prepared an accompanying short commentary. I sent copies of the bound transcript to the Trinity library, as well as Dartmouth, Harvard, Amherst, and the University of Michigan. Frost was a student at Dartmouth and in residence at some point in his life at Harvard, Amherst, and the University of Michigan. My questions were excessively sophomoric, though I was a junior at the time. His answers were elegantly senior and tolerant.

It is a thrill, even to these days, to hear the sound of his voice.

Stan Marcuss ’63
Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: The Watkinson Library at Trinity retains Marcuss’s transcript.

CALL FOR LETTERS

The Trinity Reporter welcomes letters related to items published in recent issues. Please send remarks to the editor at sonya.adams@trincoll.edu or Sonya Storch Adams, Office of Communications, Trinity College, 300 Summit Street, Hartford, CT 06106.