in hoc signo static

by John Bellairs
December 12, 1958, Scholastic #10

As I went out one evening to take the pleasant air, it took me instead and wafted me in the direction of the I. A. O'Shaughnessy Hall of Liberal and Fine Arts (you may imagine a crash of cymbals now if you wish). Not being one to fight the Jet Stream, I went along, and once inside, began to make the ascent of Mount Parnassus, in order to visit the radio station. I fought my way past the janitor, who extinguished my cigar with his water pistol, and soon found myself before a great nail-studded door, over which were emblazoned the station's call letters, done in Old English. I opened the door and found before me an imposing flight of stairs, at the top of which was a mural depicting the Spirit of Rock-and-Roll routing the classical composers. When I got to the top of the stairs, I found on a marble pedestal a bronze bust of the Program Director, crowned with a wreath of bay leaves intertwined with enchiladas. His castanets were lying on a table nearby, so I deduced that he was in. Thus, with fear and trepidation, I began to inspect the outer office.

The first thing that caught my eye was a list of regulations in a gilt frame on the wall:

1. The new six-hour Spanish music program, entitled "Fandango Fiesta" shall be announced by a serape-clad announcer, who shall take the name of Pouncin' Pancho. This shall be considered a very good program.

2. The announcer of the Rock-and-Roll program shall bounce up and down slightly in his seat as the program begins. Rapturous exclamations after each number shall be limited to "Golly Whiz" or "boy-o-boy," uttered in a tone of quiet awe.

3. Someone has stolen the teletype sound record which the news program uses. Until it is found, the announcer will make appropriate sounds by clacking a pencil across his teeth, and breathing heavily into the microphone.

4. Those who have painted mustaches on the oil paintings of Elvis Presley and Pancho Villa will please have the decency to own up to it.

5. A record of fist-fighting has just arrived, and will be played during lulls in the debates on Student Government.

When I had finished reading this, I cautiously opened the door of a broadcasting studio, and discovered that the five-minute Classical music program was already in progress. I caught four bars of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony between commercials for Botticelli's Pizza Palace, and with that I shut the door quietly.

A few minutes later, I observed a number of young men and women filing into another studio, and decided to follow them. These people seated themselves around a large table, at one end of which was an announcer, who signaled for silence, then began to speak:

"Rooty-toot-toot and Vo-do-deo-do,
This is the station you all love so!
Be it quadrille, mazurka, or gavotte,
We've got the program you'll like a lot.
Rah-rah RADIO!! The medium of American Culture!"
"This is your old announcer, Grovelling George Gobeaune, bringing you the fascinating panel show, 'Why in the World…?' in which our brilliant panelists match wits with a mystery guest, and attempt to find his occupation and a place that he has been in the recent past. Here is our first guest."

At this point an usher, with St. Elmo's Fire playing about his epaulets, led into the studio a small, rather timorous man. He was wearing a pair of smudged coveralls, and wearing a miner's helmet with the lamp on. In his hand he carried a small metal pick. The announcer began to speak again:

"Now, panelists, for the garb of our guest, can you guess his major subject? Introduce yourself, mystery guest, and give the pane its first clue!"

"My name is Simeon Feldspar and I am a senior. My clue is: You might say that I have rocks in my head. Ah-ha-ha-ha...? One pretty young woman began to jump up and down in her seat excitedly. She pressed a buzzer and exclaimed:

"I know! You are a Physical Education major. 'Rock' is a very clever reference to gymnasium, is it not?"

"Nhhh….no"

"Are you a mountain climber?"

"Nawwwww."

The guest began to gloat obviously, as it was clear that he had stumped the panel. The announcer broke in:

"Well, time's up!! Mr. Feldspar is a lapidary and majors in rockhounding. Now you must guess where he has been lately."

The questions began to fly, and it was variously guessed that he had bee to King Solomon's Mines, the steam tunnels, and the Ozymandias Brick Quarry in Elkhart. All these guesses were wrong, and the guest proudly announced his secret:

"I was over to the Huddle this morning fer breakfast. I had a cup of black coffee, an' three jelly bismarcks an' I read the paper an'..." At this point I ducked out a side exit, with gay laughter ringing in my ears. On my way out I stopped to light a firecracker, and threw it hopefully into a wastebasket full of ticker tape.

CHRISTMAS DEPT.

A few days ago I heard a radio version of Dickens' Christmas Carol. In order to play down the commercialization of Christmas, the director had omitted all commercials. Instead, the plugs were subtly inserted at various points throughout the production. For instance:

"...Yes, old Marley was dead. But he had the honor of being buried by the Thanatopsis Funeral Home, in a Scroggs Bros. Coffin. Yes, even in those days..."

"...You may be a fragment of underdone potato. But there's never a fragment in Grunch's Instant Potato. Yes, never a Marley's ghost of a chance of trouble with this fine…"

Anyway, you get the idea.


Commentary

This is the only article that Al Myers still remembers to this day, "perhaps because I was peripherally involved. But first a little background data.

"The article refers to the student-run radio station WSND. Its studios were located in the tower (too grandiose a word: 'modified castle keep' would be more appropriate, but even that's too pompous) of O'Shaughnessy Hall, which during our era was the most recent academic hall to be erected. It was and is essentially a nondescript marriage of college Tudor and utilitarian modern with a fancy entrance topped by a square promontory (the tower) at one end. The hall was the object of much derision on campus because to two unfortunate features: drinking fountains that must have been designed for elves (Or leprechauns?) because they were only about a foot high, and windowless classroom doors that opened out into the long, straight hallways. These were a menace to life and limb, as you could be walking down the hall and get your brains knocked out by a suddenly-opened door. (The doors have only recently been refitted to open inward.) A year or two before he died, the aged Frank Lloyd Wright visited the campus and stated that O'Shaughnessy was the worst new college building in America. When asked what could be done to improve it, Wright replied, "Plant vines and pray for rain!" Anyway, the WSND studio occupied the entire top of the tower and was accessible only by a flight of stairs leading up to it.

"Bellairs's article was actually a broad dig at the WNDU station manager, John Casey, who was a classmate of ours. Casey was a very bright individual but rather self-absorbed and something of a stuffed shirt. He hailed from Louisville, Kentucky (I think) but for some reason was quite fluent in Spanish. In fact, he had one or more Latin American girlfriends. It was his conceit as manager of the station to have his own program which he conducted entirely in Spanish, for the presumed benefit of ND's (& St. Mary's) Latino students. This program was the object of some fun on campus. One of the other students at the radio station wisecracked that he could stand in the hallway of any of ND's residence halls and hear the radios being clicked off in every room as Casey's program came on. Anyway, that explains all the Spanish and Latino references (enchiladas, castanets, Pancho Villa, etc.). Another unfortunate aspect of Casey's management that John properly skewered was his tendency to try to imitate commercial radio station programming rather to encourage cutting-edge or niche-market fare that one would expect of a college station.

"Casey was furious at this article, which made it all the more amusing to John. I was a classical disc jockey on the station at that time, and one afternoon John ascended the steps into the studio to meet me after the show for some reason. Casey spotted him and actually tried to rally the rest of the staff, who couldn't have been more indifferent, to physically throw him out of the studio."