Frank and Robin Wood: The Birth of WEBN

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Frank Wood: In the early in the days of ’EBN we had a lot of phony commercials for a fictitious company called Brute Force Cybernetics, which invented lots of strange products: The three-dimensional television, which was a TV mounted on a rail that went back and forth really fast. Or the portable hole.

Robin Wood: If you needed to disappear quickly you could pull the hole out of your pocket, lay it on the ground, and jump into it.

Frank: We’d run frogs for council. One of the most famous things we ever did was a parade—we’d broadcast a parade on April Fools’ Day. And it was a completely fictitious thing, but we’d describe the floats as they came down the street. It started in the morning with Rob’s show and it was hilarious. It got to be such a cult thing that by the third year, people started showing up on Hyde Park Square to watch it. And they would bring chairs and stuff to drink, and they would cheer the parade, even though they were just listening to it on the radio: There was nothing there. We call it the willing suspension of disbelief. They knew better, but they wanted to believe it. It was just funny. And people were like that then.

The ratings got huge in 1975, which coincided, by the way, with Rob taking over the Morning Show. It was a strange thing because there were no women on the radio then. No female personalities. FM listening developed first at night because in the early days, the only FM in the house was a stereo in the living room. The morning was the last to develop. And part of it was because nobody was much good in the morning, and part of it was because that wasn’t the habit, but gradually the habit caught up.

Robin: And FM converters started being added to car radios. There was finally something to listen to on FM, too. FM had been sort of a big wasteland before that. It was easy listening and classical, and it was very soft.

Frank: The radio industry pretty much all had FM stations, but they all put elevator music on them. They just used them to hold the license. They thought that it was going to catch on some day, but they didn’t spend any time or energy helping it. And we thought, _We don’t need no stinkin’ AM, so we came on and foundered around and figured it out. It was good timing, well executed.

Robin: But our father [Frank Wood Sr.], I think, did have some foresight to see that happening and when he bought the frequency, it was the last vacancy on the FM dial.

Frank: He got it for a filing fee.

Robin: Music sounded so much better on FM and he knew it because he was a big music fan. He loved all kinds of music—except rock.

Frank: My father wanted to make it jazz and classical music. And that’s what it was for the first year or two. But the third week it was on the air I started a show on Saturday nights that played sort of the new music that was around in 1967—that was when Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and The Blues Project and all sorts of things were hitting, and there was a new kind of music that wasn’t heard on Top 40 radio. So we waded into that and eventually that ate up the radio station. It was more than a business for a long time. It was on one side of the continental divide in Cincinnati. There was a major change in lifestyles and consumption patterns and we sort of landed right in the front of it. It was very Us vs. Them. It was big fun.

Robin: Jerry Springer used to be a guest three times a week on the Morning Show.

Frank: That was his first broadcast job.

Robin: Jerry would write one-minute commentaries, which were very thoughtful and funny.

Frank: The Springer Memorandum.

Robin: But he never got a key, so I’d have to run down three flights of stairs and let him in every morning. He’d call from the corner.

Frank: Jerry has never forgiven us for that. But you couldn’t have too many keys out there.

Robin: The beginning of the fireworks was really wonderful. They were for the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the station in 1977. My brother the pyromaniac thought “Let’s have a fireworks show. I wonder if someone would come.”

Frank: We thought we’d throw a birthday party, really to thank the listeners. There was a fireworks company here in Cincinnati, Rozzi, and they were one of the major fireworks companies but they’d never done a big show in their own hometown. We decided to do a big show, and then to try and synchronize it with music. We told the cops we were going to do it; they didn’t do anything. That first year, there was no police protection. Nothing. They just didn’t pay any attention to it. And probably a quarter of a million people showed up the first year. It was phenomenal. We had no idea what was going to show up. We were on a boat over on the Kentucky side and this crowd kept getting bigger and bigger. And the minute we looked at the crowd we thought, “Uh oh. We’re in this business now.” And the cops hated it for the first three or four years. The second or third year, the cops got on One Lytle Place and had a photographer taking a picture of Sodom and Gomorrah down there. And of course everything bad that people could do, they would take pictures of. They took a picture of people carrying a coffin full of beer. That was the symbol of how bad things were. But it was great. It meant that we had arrived.

 

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