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About John Last Updated: Sep 8th, 2009 - 08:07:52


Ohliger Dies; Guided WORT

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Educator Co-founded Station

The Capital Times :: METRO :: 3B
Friday, January 30, 2004

John Ohliger, a co-founder of WORT radio and an adult educator, has died at the age of 77.

Ohliger, a longtime resident of his beloved Bay Creek neighborhood, died Sunday at St. Marys Hospital of complications from a brief illness.

He moved to Madison in 1973 for a one-year visiting faculty appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. That year, he joined four others in founding WORT, an alternative, public access radio station that continues to broadcast to this day.
Ohliger was the station's organizing secretary and was host of the show "Madison Review of Books."

"He was a very unassuming, pleasant guy, a nice sense of humor, and a handsome, soft voice. I know women who fell in love with his voice on the radio," said Bob Israel, a volunteer at WORT during the early years.

Ohliger's primary contribution to WORT, however, was away from the mike as part of the years-long discussion about whether to make WORT into a more professional-sounding radio station or to invite all comers to the mike.

"The tug of war between those extremes and polarities has threatened to tear WORT apart on more than one occasion," said David Devereaux-Weber, another of the station's five co-founders.
Ohliger always came down on the side of access, Devereaux-Weber said.

"He had an interesting view of what a radio station should be like," Israel said. "Anybody could literally come in off the street and get on the radio right away."

Many described Ohliger as a father figure for the station to whom people often turned for advice.

"We were a bunch of 20-year-olds, he was definitely over 30, which at the time made him an elder statesman," said Danielle Devereaux-Weber, David's wife. "He acted like we hippies were a nice, normal group of people."

Ohliger, born in Cleveland, spent three years in the Army during the occupation of Germany. He later worked for several radio stations in Berkeley, Calif., in the early 1960s. He received a doctorate in adult education from UCLA in 1966.

He was the first director of continuing education at Selkirk College in British Columbia and later served as professor of adult education at Ohio State University, where he was a faculty adviser for Vietnam Vets Against the War.

In 1976, after he had moved to Madison, he was a founder of a nonprofit organization called Basic Choices, a Midwest Center for Clarifying Political and Social Options. Through its newsletter, he published his opposition to compulsory education, especially the move to push adults back to school.

"John believed that learning is too precious to be forced," said his wife, Chris Wagner, whom he married in 1989. "Learning must be joyous, individual and voluntary."

He worked at the UW Library as a clerk and taught classes at various universities, Wagner said.

They lived in Springfield, Illinois for three years before moving back to Madison.

Ohliger loved living by Monona Bay during his first stay in Madison, and it took him several years after his return to Madison to find another home there.

In an e-mail message to friends three years ago, Ohliger quoted an ancient Chinese philosopher about the value of living by water. He concluded the message by writing: "Perhaps applying more personally here, since it took me so long to understand why the Bay Creek neighborhood is home, is that old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: We get too soon old, and too late smart."

There will be a private cremation service for Ohliger. A memorial service will be announced later.

E-mail: anathans@madison.com

© Copyright 2004 John Ohliger.org

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