JUNIOR COLLEGE STUDENTS live a half life. Accelerating into two years the matriculation that takes four for bachelor candidates. Maybe that goes for experiencing life as well. Pack a lot in because in May 1971 it’s all over – that is if graduation is held amid calls for strike, strike, strike.
Being broadcast journalism students we feel this obligation to move beyond keeping students informed about the length of the line at the Food Circus. We have available to us what looks like a studio for a small radio station. One that is seriously overstaffed. On the evening of the so-called Harvard Riots, the room with a single ancient teletype machine, nearly a dozen beat-up manual typewriters and a bunch of scratched up wooden desks that might have been props in a production of The Front Page, the regulars are there in force. Holding their breaths each time the phone rings and it is one of our two reporters on the scene in Harvard Square.
With a distinct absence from the room of anyone over the age of 22, it has never occurred to us to consider even for a moment that our radio station is broadcasting only into our college’s dormitories. The signal introduced into each building’s electrical system by way of a very low power transmitter. Lacking Arbitron ratings on our listening audience we don’t even know whether we have any listeners considering it’s possible to hear WBZ in one’s dental fillings. Classical music from WBUR, the new public radio station run by Boston University next door, can be heard in our stereos when the volume is turned low enough.
FINDING THE TRUTH. We are student journalists and we have an audience that is depending on us. We think it wise, at least, to send two reporters, not one. So off to the “T” they go for a quick ride on the Green Line, a slightly longer ride on the Red. Harvard Square. Last northbound station. On the surface, they finally report breathlessly from a pay phone, there is a maelstrom of rocks and bricks, police billy clubs, burning storefronts and, who knows, maybe a burning car or two. In the aftermath it is unlikely that Store owners in Harvard Square ever connect the dots between opposition to the Vietnam War and crimes against their enterprises other than an ill-chosen location.
We learn from our reporters that the Red Line is fueling the melee in the way an open staircase fuels a fire. Wave upon wave of young people, many of whom might also fail in connecting dots between Vietnam and broken store windows, are pouring forth into the square. Our reporters realize the situation is way too hot for a couple of twerps lacking bon a fide press credentials and who look strikingly the same as the people throwing the rocks. Except for the oversized Norelco cassette tape recorder they carry with them (the station manager having warned that he has just taken delivery of the new units and wants no harm to come to this one).
DON’T BREAK THE TAPE MACHINE. Our staffers retreat to the underground hoping to catch the next Red Line train south (they are not planning to obtain a receipt for their fare). But there is no Red Line train. The police have ordered it shut. No trains arriving and thus no trains leaving either. Tear gas from the street is flowing into the station and our colleagues are choking on it. Or have the police tossed a tear gas canister down the stairs? Somehow the radio newsmen-in-training manage to reach the surface again. Buses are cut off as well and they find a cab.
We do get a few of the phoned reports onto the “air.” And add a long report when the two adventurers finally return. But there are no awards forthcoming. The Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA to the initiated) is not listening. Fortunately neither is any of our parents.
Tags: 1970, anti-vietnam, anti-war demonstrations, boston, broadcast journalism, grahm jr. college, grahm junior college, harvard square riots, march on boston commons, moratorium, pete seeger, student demonstrators, student journalists, tear gas