Remembering WDBS

The Campus Radio Station of Duke University (1950-1983)

David Manning

July 10, 2017

I arrived in the summer of ’73 and left, roughly, in the fall of ’74. Though I don’t seem to have made much of an impression on the recollected history in that year, I am very proud of some contributions to the magnificent cause. For one thing, I created a nickel and dime multi-media promotion campaign that, for a few hundred dollars cost, tripled the station’s ratings and, by extension, revenues (credit there to John Rocap). I also wrote spots for those new advertisers (Lillypad Water Beds, Villa Teo, Poet’s Corner, He’s Not Here ...) — and sponsor ads on the station’s first National Lampoon programs that rivaled some of great fake ones. I don’t recall the sponsor but Tom Guild did the voice. (“You’re in good pants with ... ” somebody). I also took the printed program listings started by Bruce Babski and turned that into a small lit/arts/ent magazine that I edited. That venture produced a much-needed extra revenue stream (credit, again, to John Rocap), though revenue in those days was measured in tens of dollars.

I left in ’74 to write a dystopian satire about garbage (just recently published as “A Brief History of the Recent Future”). Rob Gringle took over “The Guide” and further expanded it (and its station-supporting revenues). He quite graciously offered me a monthly column to be filled with whatever my dangerously unbridled imagination could come up with, which I did for a year or so under the title “Blurbs.”

I see no mention here of the amazing Morning Glory Cafe — an iconic DBS program — with Ken Ross and Kathy Dunn, now “Kathleen” and a longstanding (just retired) host on Wisconsin NPR.

WDBS was a truly remarkable place that defies description, though some of the flavor is captured in anecdotes. (I remember the moment Nixon’s resignation came in over the news wire.) Given that it was a low budget, self inventing, idealistic, ground breaking cause, it got pretty intense sometimes. I recall an ad I wrote for the Poet’s Corner (“what foods these morsels be”) that ran on the classical program. The ad was clever the first time, but got downright irritating after a half dozen repetitions. The very loyal classical program listeners howled and the ad was replaced with something more mundane (sedate). The station needed the money and the listeners wanted their tranquility; as it turned out, everyone won.

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