Reviving the “Ever-Evolving” Studio B

By Anna Holshouser-Belden

 

If there’s one student organization that reaches every nook and cranny of Oberlin’s campus culture, it’s WOBC, Oberlin College and Community Radio, broadcasted from Wilder Hall every day of the week during the college’s semesters. With its over 150 shows and it's just over 70 years in operation, I would be shocked to stumble upon a student or alum who’s never listened to the beloved station. WOBC is an integral piece of Oberlin’s campus culture, a part of its life force, made evident by its survival during the last year and a half of pandemic living. Whether you’ve had a show in the past, sat in with friends or subbed, or even are a frequent visitor of Wilder’s third floor hallway, you’re probably aware of the location of the studio from which years of countless radio shows have been produced. With its exceedingly colorful door and bulletin board filled with posters from the ‘Sco and promotions for various campus organizations and events, it's pretty easy to spot. For the purposes of this article, let’s call what’s behind that door “Studio A.” What’s harder to catch is that there is a second studio right around the corner, a smaller studio accessible by key to only 4 fourth-year students: “Studio B.”


“Studio B,” alternatively known as Live From Studio B, is Oberlin’s only in-studio live performance radio broadcast series. It was formed in 2013 by Charles Glanders (class of 2014), a TIMARA major active in Oberlin’s DIY and punk scenes, who wanted to create a space where the college and community could put on live acts and broadcast them, inspired by programs like KEXP, AudioTree, and NPR’s Tiny Desk. Before the pandemic, Studio B would bring in a different touring artist or student band every Sunday at 2:00 pm for a live performance broadcast over WOBC’s airwaves, mixed and produced entirely for free. In addition to a live recording, the artists received a video of their performance, shot and edited entirely by students. In fact, every aspect of Studio B is entirely student-run, from its initial creation to its video and audio production, management, and booking. The leaders of Studio B also teach an ExCo, started in 2017, to bring in fresh voices to the program each semester. Physically, the space is small, with floor carpeting, soundproofing on the walls, and a lighting setup that gives it a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It’s held in WOBC’s classical archives room, and stacks of everything from Handel to Prokofiev can be found on bookshelves lining the walls. Through a window is the sound booth, complete with a soundboard and plenty of photos of old staff and posters of the bands that have performed. All in all its a professional-level space for recording and videography, entirely student-created and an incredible resource located right on our very own campus.


This isn’t the first time The Grape has run an article covering Studio B, and if the organization manages to pick up where it left off pre-pandemic and continues to create unique and high-quality content on a regular basis, it won’t be the last either. In April of 2018, Grape writer Nell Beck wrote a piece entitled “The Ever-Evolving Studio B.” This title is indicative of Studio B’s evolution thus far, having come an impressively long way from its original position in Oberlin’s community. After Charles Glanders and some others from Oberlin’s DIY scene transformed the space known today as Studio B from a Wilder room used for one-off recording sessions and a radio drama show into a professional recording and video studio, most of the content produced for the next two to three years was solely punk and DIY bands made up of entirely cisgendered white men producing the same genre and quality of sound. Not that this was necessarily a bad sound, but it didn’t really allow Studio B to stand out from the crowd. In around 2015, there was a pivot in leadership, brought about by the leadership of Becca Winer and the admittance of non-men to Studio B’s staff.


Taking a look at Studio B’s youtube channel or website, which double as video archives for the organization and its progress, there is a distinctive shift in sound and style around this point, with less of a punk aesthetic using warmer lighting and a diversity in both sound and performers. In the ExCo, students are shown a comparison of “before” and “after,” to emphasize Studio B’s focus on amplifying a variety of sounds and performers. Though Glanders and those who set the scene for Studio B with an emphasis on DIY and punk are credited with pushing for the program to exist and creating a foundation for a creative musical production space at Oberlin, a step towards accessibility and variety was needed. Today, Studio B produces artists of every genre from soft pop to neo-soul to jazz, spoken word, TIMARA, folk, stand-up comedy and even classical. The organization has clearly covered a substantial amount of ground in terms of musical diversity, though the 2018 article covering Studio B brings up a lack of racial diversity within the staff. With almost three years between then and now, it appears that some progress has been made on this front, though the staff is considerably smaller post-pandemic and made up entirely of graduating seniors. The staff clearly values diversity, which is evident in their emphasis on giving non-cis-men a platform for exploring the field of music and video production, a field they are drastically underrepresented in. Since 2018, the first year with no men on the staff, non-men have made up the majority of the staff.


In its time, Studio B has brought some pretty well-known names to Oberlin and to WOBC, such as Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos, Yaeji, Whitney, and Current Joys. Though bringing in bigger names adds to the appeal and the publicity of the studio and makes it easier to draw in touring artists, especially during the pandemic, when reviving Studio B to where it was pre-pandemic and getting artists to perform without pay after a year and a half out of a job makes this considerably difficult, Studio B’s primary function is to amplify smaller bands by providing them with a professionally created product that can help lead to further success. With a physical record of a performance, artists can get discovered, book tours, record albums, and gain visibility much more easily. Studio B was originally created to actualize a collective musical and artistic experience for people in the college and the community, for people starting out in performing or music production to further expand their skills through hands-on experience. The organization works through a multi-media approach to create a visual and musical experience that diversifies radio programming, and is an extremely unique space which is hard for many to access outside of the liberal-arts college bubble.

Studio B has led to positive careers for many who have participated in its programming on the production side, in addition to helping to launch publicity for bands and artists. Charles Glanders, credited in Nell Beck’s 2018 article as the founder of Studio B, has gone on since his graduation to be a sound engineer for touring bands and several films, a front of house engineer in venues in Chicago, and a member of the band Whitney. Becca Winer, executive producer from 2015 to 2018 and the subject of the 2018 interview has worked in video production for AudioTree, and now works as a writers’ assistant at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, according to her website, which still heavily features Studio B as an important accomplishment two and a half years after her graduation.


Unfortunately, with the sudden transition into pandemic life, Studio B had to pause programming due to a lack of touring bands and access to the studio itself. WOBC began doing remote radio shows during the 2020-2021 school year, and though Studio B has had remote sessions in the past, this didn’t really catch on with all the restrictions set up and was hard with the live component of the show. Aside from a recording of the Coverband Showcase that has yet to be published online, there is not much content Studio B was able to produce until the post-vaccination era that began in the summer semester. To accommodate artists’ needs and bring in more opportunities for producing content, Studio B has moved from holding sessions solely on Sundays at 2:00 pm when the live broadcast happens to whenever artists can make it, even mid-schoolweek. There is still a radio show broadcast from Studio B every Sunday at the usual time, though sessions happen more sporadically. Studio B also wants to push the college for funding to pay artists, which feels like a necessary budgeting change after artists having to live without pay for so long due to the pandemic.

Just as unfortunately, the pandemic has cut off the chain of information passed down through the generations of Oberlin students on Studio B’s function. With three semesters passing without any new members added to the staff, the path that Studio B will take after this year’s staff graduate is a mystery. Reviving the program seems to lie in the hands of whoever inherits it, and upholding an image and values that are “ever-evolving” is no simple task. Being more well-known and appreciated as a fairly new organization within the student body is an important aspect of Studio B’s survival, and is what will keep it going as a community performance and production space. The vital importance of the arts is more evident than ever now, and upholding a legacy of one of our more unique spaces here at Oberlin will allow us to thrive. A new generation of performers in our community should have the ability to showcase their creativity and gain the opportunity to make art.