Robinson ’24 spins classic tunes

For about 40 years, and for a few hours each week, the masterpieces of Mozart and the enduring operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan have filled the airwaves of Dartmouth radio.

Only those devoted connoisseurs of opera and classical music who have been around long enough would realize that one man, former Mathematics Professor Robin Robinson, has produced and broadcasted “Opera Showcase” and “A Little Night Music” on WDCR since 1959.

And only those who look beyond the music would realize that Robinson’s radio shows are only part of his almost lifelong association with the College.

Marveling at the comfort of the couch in a newly-renovated lounge in Robinson Hall, Robinson, now 93 years of age, reflected upon his 70 years at the College.

As a graduate of the Class of 1924, professor, registrar, consultant on enrollment patterns, and disc jockey at the College, it would seem fit to have the building from which he has broadcast his show week after week, year after year, to bear his name. However, this is only coincidence.

Although there is no building named after him, Robinson’s affiliation to the College extends back to the previous century. His father was a member of the Class of 1890, and he said he also had a few uncles who graduated from the College.

His aunt even earned a Dartmouth degree. Robinson said she was one of the approximately seven women that earned a degree before the College coeducated in 1972. She earned her masters degree in mathematics through summer courses.

Robinson followed in her footsteps. During his undergraduate days, Robinson majored in both mathematics and ancient Greek. After Dartmouth, he earned his masters and doctorate degrees from Harvard University.

“I knew I always wanted to teach while I was still at Harvard,” Robinson said. While at Harvard, the chair of the math department at Dartmouth had asked if he would like to teach.

And teach he did — for 40 years as a professor of mathematics at the College. Specializing in geometry, he taught from 1928 to 1968.

By the time he started teaching, Robinson had cultivated a taste for opera and classical music. From then on he has begun to amass quite a collection, he said.

His position as faculty member led him to the radio shows which he broadcasts to this day. Robinson said during the 1950s there was a radio show called “Faculty Favorites,” in which faculty were invited to come in and play their favorite tunes.

Robinson in 1955 began broadcasting a show consisting mostly of works from Gilbert and Sullivan. Later on he added more light operas, and in 1959 the program became the “Opera Showcase.” At the same time, WTSL had him play classical music once a week. This became “A Little Night Music.”

That same year the shows switched from WTSL to WDCR. And since then — for over 40 years — he has produced and broadcasted his show.

Professor, Registrar, and DJ

While providing listening pleasure to his audience and teaching mathematics, he was also in charge of the department which organized the academic lives of thousands of students.

At the beginning of his last decade of teaching, the College figured his mathematics skills would suit him well as a registrar, he said.

So between 1958 and 1968 he served as registrar, a period in which the College began to mechanize, introducing computers to replace manual methods of organization.

After retiring from teaching in 1968, Robinson took a trip around the world. He returned to Dartmouth and joined the administration.

He participated in a committee which was instrumental in creating the D-Plan — a system which today still incites both gripes and praise from students. Robinson said the D-Plan had originally been thought of to ease students’ course loads.

From 1970 to 1981 Robinson was the consultant on enrollment patterns for students.

Turning back the clock

Having been associated with the College for more than 70 years, Robinson has witnessed firsthand many of the memorable events and major changes the College has experienced.

Robinson turned back the clock to Dartmouth during World War II, during his early years as a professor.

“At the time there were only 160 civilians on campus, whereas there were over 3,000 naval students which were being trained and had to be taught,” he said.

There were only about eight professors on campus at the time, while the College needed about 32, he said.

The College brought in professors from other disciplines and people from all walks of life to train them to teach. Among them were Benedictine monks and retired army colonels, he said.

Another of Robinson’s fond memories of Dartmouth was the Great Issues course — perhaps one of the first interdisciplinary courses at Dartmouth.

“This wasn’t solely the social sciences, a humanities, or the sciences,” he said.

The show must go on

While these strides took place his radio show continued, and his devotees continued to listen. However, Robinson said he continually meets people who say, “We used to like to listen to your show.”

Many think his show was canceled, but actually his show only switched from the FM to the AM station.

“Listeners also got used to Vermont Public Radio, not knowing that my programs still exist,” he said.

Another hindrance, he said, is that the program does not carry much outside of Hanover.

But, “there are people who listen regularly and tell me that they never miss it.”

Robinson said what he enjoys most is preparing the programs — even though it takes up to six hours to prepare a program. He enjoys finding a peculiar piece and doing research on it.

“I want to be able to tell the story of the opera if I want to play it,” he said.

Among his favorite pieces is “Magic Flute” by Mozart.

“Opera Showcase” is broadcast from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sundays and “A Little Night Music” is broadcast between 6 and 9 p.m. on Mondays on AM-1340 WDCR.

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