“Snuggled in the Warm Cleavage of the Peaceful Purple Valley…”
So began the iconic opening line of the introduction to the Ephman series broadcast on the Williams College radio station, WMS/WCFM. For those in our class in need of entertainment, or background companionship while studying, the campus radio station was a high-tech source of collegiate humor and sophistication in the heavily forested, mountainous wilderness that surrounded us.
After all, we of the Class of 1968 were children of the first television era, we were the insiders who had already grooved on the cool early era of FM, we were mainly from the urban areas of the United States offering many channels and stations, and yet we were suddenly thrust into an alien world where television was restricted to the tube room, and the only radio transmissions outside of campus that could be clearly picked up consisted of local programming on a North Adams station and mostly bubble gum pop music from the Tri-Cities area of Albany-Troy-Schenectady.
Fortunately a respectable College radio station already existed to entertain us when we arrived. The station featured news, rock, jazz, and even American songbook standards (Sinatra 101 et al.). The mid-sixties, however, brought auspicious innovations in programming: Our own Tom Pierce created the adventures of the aforementioned Ephman, and Frank Ferry ’69 introduced the famous, all-night trivia contest.
In keeping with the Superhero Zeitgeist of the Sixties, the cape-wearing Ephman appeared anonymously to save the day. His alter-ego was mild-mannered student Jim Lunch. This highly topical serial, abounding in Williams references and rampant puns, was featured on the station from fall 1966 to spring 1968. Here’s a sample of the adventures chronicled on this satirical romp, which aired during Tom’s weekly Friday night rock show: Ephman’s mission is to battle the dreaded D.R.A.F.T. (the Directors of the Rural Alliance of Freedom Thwarters) and its number 1 villain, 1-A, a giant mushroom head who lurked in the steam tunnels with his henchmen, the Fun Guys. In one three-episode cliffhanger, DRAFT captures Dean of Faculty Chandelier (aka John Chandler) and spreads a report that he has been appointed president of fictional Shamilton College. D.R.A.F.T. plots to destroy Williams by luring unsuspecting undergrads to Mount Hope Farm, where they’ve gathered a secret weapon: women! In the final episode, the Williams alum who invented napalm, Louis Fieser, is tricked into creating a Stymie gun to hurtle Ephman backward in time, where he persuades Ephraim Williams not to name his college after his friend Jeffrey Amherst. Of course, truth, justice, and the American way always prevail in the end.
The other innovation that sprang up on WMS/WCFM during our years, the semi-annual trivia contest, ran during the eight-hour, graveyard time slot from midnight to eight am. From its inception, it was a team competition, and most often it has been presented just before final exams. In the inaugural 1966 match-up, Williams D was leading at 7 am but fell asleep and lost to Garfield. In 1967 the combination trivia and music oldies format that is still used was created. Carter House began a winning streak of three consecutive contests. A freshman entry, Morgan, won the second semester of our senior year; they were awarded the privilege of creating the next contest. Top contestants went on to retire the televised G.E. College Bowl, after Williams bested institutions of lower learning five weeks in a row. Dave Redman ’68 was the alternate on that team. The trivia contest has remained a staple of the radio station’s programming to the present.
In our day WMS/WCFM proclaimed itself to be “the voice and choice of Williams College”. This student activity, by the way, involved more students than any other on campus. And it was truly a beacon in the wilderness, a unifying experience and source of comfort during four years of our young lives.