Tag Archives: Extracurricular


Ed Rothchild edits tape for a show at WRMC

Ed Rothchild edits tape for a show at WRMC

The program was Ed Rothchild’s inspiration, to be called “Insomnia”— A solid three hours of home-grown comedy to be broadcast live from the studios of WRMC at Middlebury College in Vermont. It was the early spring of 1958 when Ed and I were freshmen.  By then I was heavily involved in the radio station; everything there was so much more exciting than anything my professors had to offer in the seven classes (including Phys Ed and ROTC) that I was signed up for.  Of course, I went to my classes, took illegible notes, attended chemistry lab, did some of my math homework and passed some of my exams. And whenever I could escape these dreary and overwhelming duties, I headed for the WRMC studios. After all, I was the News Director had to check that the UP teletype machine hadn’t run out of paper or worn out its ribbon.

I have forgotten most of the actual content of the Insomnia marathon, but I remember what I had to do to prepare for it. It was my job to produced tape-recorded sound effects for the show, including background music. And how did this assignment come about? Well, I owned a tape recorder, and could borrow a second one, no less. The editing job required recording sound snippets from various records onto one of the tape machines, and cutting the recorded tape segments to exactly the right length. Then I spliced white leader tape between all the sound effects segments and wrote what the segment was on the leader. For the section requiring lots of chickens clucking, I wrote “chickens” on the leader preceding it.

The chickens were needed for one of the commercials to be used in the show—for a bogus product called “Furdsot,” a sheep dip.  Furdsot was a product of Ed Rothchild’s fertile imagination. To Ed, who grew up in the New York area, anything suggesting farming was funny, including the early morning agricultural forecasts that we heard on the radio. After all, Middlebury College was located in an area dominated by dairy farms, but to Ed it might as well have been Dogpatch.  Ed didn’t read the Furdsot commercial himself; instead the job fell to a student who could muster a better hillbilly accent than Ed could.  In the control room I cued my tape machine and brought up the barnyard sounds as the commercial began.

This preparation consumed a huge amount of time, far more than I devoted to my studies. In the rush to get ready for the Insomnia broadcast I worked late one cold winter night with Ed and other students. We took a break in the larger of the two studios, a room with a couple of old arm chairs and a worn rug. On the wall was a faded reproduction of a romantic era painting: a partially draped woman reclining on a couch. “Look at that sly nipple,” Ed had commented when he first spotted the partly revealed breast in the painting. I relaxed in one of the arm chairs right under this picture and decided not to go back to my dorm, but to sleep right there in the studio.  I didn’t get much rest and by dawn, I was exhausted. I dragged myself back to my dorm and flopped on my bed, missing two of my morning classes. It’s no wonder that I flunked out the following year.

If Rothchild wasn’t up to a convincing farmer’s accent, he was a natural for the heavy Russian enunciation required in the next bogus commercial—for a Soviet product called “Sverdgorsky’s Preboiled Instant Borscht.”

Comrades, don’t spend hours shredding beets and other vegetables when you can save all that precious socialist labor for something more worthy. Instead, use Sverdgorsky’s Preboiled Instant Borscht. It’s flavor buds leap from the pot and belch at you. On your next rip to Siberia, pack a can or two. You’ll be glad that you did.

Epilogue:  Even the new transmission system installed by John Bowker in 1960 couldn’t reach all the college’s dorms with a good AM signal and by the mid sixties it became clear that a conversion to FM was needed. In 1967, the FCC granted the college a license for a ten-watt FM transmitter, with a broadcast antenna to be located on top of the tallest campus building, Mead Chapel.  In the years following the switch to FM, WRMC experienced just as many technical crises as we and our predecessors had. There were periods when the station was off the air, just as there had been when I was a student, according to the 1981 history written by Don Kreis. Today, WRMC thrives with a 2900-watt stereo FM signal that covers the Champlain Valley in Vermont and can be heard worldwide over the internet.

Ed Rothchild in 1961

Ed Rothchild at graduation in 1961

Many of us who volunteered for WRMC believed that we might find careers in broadcasting after college. I visited an AM station in Boston and even auditioned for the WESX, the local station in Marblehead where I grew up, but nothing came of it. Instead, I went on to graduate school in psychology. Ed Rothchild, sold office machines after college, worked in the music industry, and became a pioneer in the promotion of compact disc recordings. He married his longtime girlfriend Gail but died in 1992 after a long illness. Lorrie Kittredge Rogers lives in Connecticut, has grown children, and retired after a distinguished career as a pension actuary. Leelaine Rowe Picker also lives in Connecticut where she directed a nursery school. Peter Talbot, who had the best radio voice of any of us, became a director of the NYNEX telephone company and retired to Florida. So did John Bowker, Jr., WRMC’s founder, after his retirement from RCA.

Next week: Montreal

WRMC Revived

The WRMC staff in 1960.  Back row: Gary Hoover, Dave Martindale, Ron Wysocki, Pat Parsons & Chris Baker. Middle row: Dave Hulihan, Dave Crowley, Leelaine Rowe, Fred Busk, Frank Sutherland, Conrad Wettergreen, Phil Clickner, Pete Leone. Front row: Joel Pokorny, Lorrie Kittredge, Ed Rothchild, Mike Marcus, Marty Chamberlin, Greg Nagy, Dave Rubenstein, Jeff Entin, Mark Skolnik

The WRMC staff in 1960. Back row: Gary Hoover, Dave Martindale, Ron Wysocki, Pat Parsons & Chris Baker.
Middle row: Dave Hulihan, Dave Crowley, Leelaine Rowe, Fred Busk, Frank Sutherland, Conrad Wettergreen, Phil Clickner & Pete Leone.
Front row: Joel Pokorny, Lorrie Kittredge, Ed Rothchild, Mike Marcus, Marty Chamberlin, Greg Nagy, Dave Rubenstein, Jeff Entin & Mark Skolnik

Over the summer of 1958, the College tore down the Student Union for replacement with a new structure. They built a temporary studio for us in a small building on campus, Recitation Hall, where we continued to produce some programming. Our hearts weren’t in it, though, because we knew that few dorms could receive our signal. Nonetheless we continued to cover out-of-town sports events. Middlebury College was a major power in collegiate hockey and one our strongest competitors was St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.  I was on duty with another staffer at the studio the night of the St. Lawrence game in the fall of 1958. We were anchoring the play-by-play which came over a leased phone line from Canton, New York.   Suddenly the feed from the hockey game went dead. We couldn’t communicate with our reporter at the game; we just had to fumble with every control we could find in the studio and attempt to reach the phone company to check on the integrity of our line.  At this point, the president of Middlebury College, Samuel  S. Stratton walked in.  Just like the others who gathered in the studio to hear the game when they couldn’t receive it at home, he wanted to follow the excitement of one of our most important contests.  I was terrified because I would have to explain the technical problem to him.  Instead of the explosion and summary expulsion that I feared, he said that he understood and might try back later.

After flunking out of college in mid-sophomore year, I spent the spring and summer semesters of 1959 at Boston University as a night student, working during the day.  When I returned to Middlebury in the fall of 1959 as a junior, construction of the new student union building to be called Redfield Proctor Hall was well under way.  Dave Hulihan, a classmate headed for a career in architecture, took me on several tours of the new building after the workmen had gone home for the day.  He pointed out every detail, from the steel studs that had just come into use, to the flexible “Modernfold” doors that separated sections of the dining hall. When we could get into the basement, we visited the new WRMC studios. They occupied the same relative position—the northwest corner—that they had in the old building.   The last time we saw them before completion, the studios were just at the stud stage.

By this time the station had been off the air for over a year.  I don’t remember how we kept this student organization going during this tough period. There was a lot of conflict among staff members, but some strong personalities emerged.  Chief among them was my junior year roommate Ed Rothchild and two women in my class, Lorrie Kittredge and Leelaine Rowe. I had been burned in the infighting and decided to remain on the sidelines for a while until things calmed down. Our spirits lifted when the college showed its commitment to WRMC by building the new studios that Hulihan and I had toured. But new quarters wouldn’t fix the transmitter problem.

Our FCC license restricted the range of our broadcasts to the college campus; any external antenna that could reach all the college buildings would also project our signal into the town of Middlebury, as our predecessors had learned in 1950 when the license was suspended.  Someone in the college administration, or in WRMC’s student leadership, had the good sense to contact John Bowker, Jr., the station’s founder at RCA’s David Sarnoff Labs, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he worked.

Bowker and one of his technicians designed and built a number of small transmitters, one for each college dorm, that would attach to the electrical wiring and carry the radio signal throughout the building but not beyond.  The college covered Bowker’s expenses and provided dedicated telephone lines from the new studios to the electrical panels in the basement of each building.  One weekend in 1960, before the opening  of our new studios,  Bowker and his technician came up to Middlebury to install the new transmitters, comprising what they called a carrier current system.  I watched the installation in Starr Hall, one of Middlebury’s oldest buildings, where we had to stoop to move about in the cellar.

Back row: Bill Custard, Lorrie Kittredge, Jim Dreves, Mary Hart & Dave Gannett. Front Row: John Wallach, Mike Black, Ed Rothchild, Pete Frame & Pete Leone

Back row: Bill Custard, Lorrie Kittredge, Jim Dreves, Mary Hart & Dave Gannett. Front Row: John Wallach, Mike Black, Ed Rothchild, Pete Frame & Pete Leone

It went quickly. They removed the cover of one of the electrical panels, attached a couple of wires, screwed a bracket for the transmitter onto a wooden board, ran another wire to the telephone jack, and took a reading on a device known as a field strength meter.  They replaced the panel cover and moved on to the next building.

With new studios and a signal that could be received fairly well in each dorm, WRMC prospered. Many talented students joined the staff, while I withdrew to focus on my studies, and on a new set of friends among the psychology students who, like me, were headed for graduate school.  Three days a week   I did a morning newscast and then went upstairs for breakfast in the new Proctor Hall dining room, where, if I was lucky, I would find one of my friends.

Next week: Insomnia