A personal look back at WBOE

Students viewing a slide show with the narration for the slide show being broadcast on WBOE.  This way, many schools in the District could view the lesson simultaneously.  

WBOE was on the air for 40 years, from 1938 until 1978.  It got its start producing and broadcasting instructional programming for the Cleveland Public Schools. Back then, its broadcast day would mirror the school day, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. In 1976, the year I began working there, the station was in the process of becoming a National Public Radio affiliate.  

Much of WBOE’s rich history has been preserved, including many 16-inch electrical transcription (E.T.) discs, which were used to record programs before reel-to-reel tape.  These large discs help 15 minutes of audio on each side, and would spin at 33&1/3 rpm.  The programs recorded in the WBOE studios were known as “soft recordings” because they needed to be played back with a tone arm that was significantly lighter than the one used on regular 78 rpm record players of the time. 

Public schools in the district were given special radios that picked up only WBOE’s broadcasts. There were programs for every grade and for every curriculum area.  

Cleveland school teachers, administrators and students were involved in the production of the programs,  most of which were read from scripts.  Some programs were broadcast live and recorded simultaneously for repeat later.  Others were pre-recorded.  Additionally, WBOE used the resources of other radio stations to access educational programming from the major radio networks. 

Imagine sitting in a classroom in, let’s say, 1949, with a film strip or Lantern slide projector projecting pictures on a screen while the narration is heard from the WBOE radio sitting on a table in the front of the classroom. Often a student would be asked to run the projector and advance to the next slide. 

I’ve worked to preserve WBOE’s history for decades, by keeping representative samples of programming and by transferring the 16-inch discs and reel-to-reel tapes to CDs. I have also offered to upload the discs onto the “Historical Archive” site of the CMSD website.  As I’ve listened to what I’m preserving, I’ve found numerous fascinating items, from lessons in the 1940s on dating etiquette to current events lessons covering World War II and more.

About the author

John Basalla is the A-V/Archivist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

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