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1940s

Robert Blizard Recalls Early Days at WPRU

Text: Robert Blizard ’44

I don’t think I had joined WPRU before the opening on December 15, 1940, but it wasn’t long after that when I was recruited by Lloyd Schaefer and went to work under Jim Robinson, the Chief Engineer. As I remember, the studio was in H. Grant Theis’s (didn’t we call him “Hank”?) dormitory room on the top floor of Pyne. When Theis gave it up, the room and the adjacent one were rented by Harry Bonner, Bob Cheney, and me. The studio remained where it was, and we lived in the other suite. Theis was a high powered executive, and we young fellows were a little afraid of him.

We designed and built most of our own equipment. Schaefer was the RF guy. I specialized in power supplies. The transmitter was in the basement and was coupled to the University’s power lines, which pretty much limited radiation to the campus, but there was some reception in the town.  We did broadcasts of sporting events, but I’m damned if I can remember how the signal got from the remote location back to the studio – I guess we must have used telephone lines. The operating engineer in the studio always had a soothing piano recording by Carmen Cavalero to put on the air whenever the regular programming failed.

After we got the Royal Crown Cola advertising account, we always had plenty of pop to drink.  That’s about what I remember, except for sitting at the controls with stupefying awareness that we were on the air, and any screw-up that I made would be heard by hundreds of people.

WPRB in The Daily Princetonian: The Early Years

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Rob Schuman ’74 sifted through The Daily Princetonian‘s extensive archive, looking at all 8,000 unique mentions of WPRB. He’s compiled the most interesting into a series of slideshows. This post documents WPRB’s early years. Beware those kilocycle gremlins.

WPRB in the Daily Princetonian: Recruiting

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Does modulation excite you? Asking for a friend. WPRB has used all sorts of different methods over the years to lure new student DJs. This slideshow documents some of the best from the 1940s-1970s.

Rob Schuman ’74 sifted through The Daily Princetonian‘s extensive archive, looking at all 8,000 unique mentions of WPRB. He’s compiled the most interesting into this series of slideshows.

Announcing WPRB’s Public Exhibit!

We’re thrilled to announce the long-planned second phase of WPRB’s 75th anniversary celebrations (the first being the launch of this website): a physical exhibit of station history and esoterica, which will be on display at Princeton University’s Mudd Library through May of 2016, and which is open to the public!

Titled “WPRB: A Haven for the Creative Impulse”, and curated by WPRB’s Mike Lupica and Princeton University Archivist Dan Linke, the exhibit is a meatspace version of the kind of materials we’ve been highlighting on this website. On display are vintage photographs, playlists, documents, selections from WPRB’s vinyl record library, vintage broadcast equipment, and much more. There is also an interactive content station that allows visitors to browse audio selections and WPRB-related news clippings from the last 75 years.

“WPRB: A Haven for the Creative Impulse” is a free exhibit which is open to the public. The exhibit is housed in the Wiess Lounge at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, 65 Olden Street, in Princeton, New Jersey. (Right around the corner from Hoagie Haven!) Viewing hours are Monday – Friday, 9 AM – 4:45 PM.

More info.

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“The Princeton Freedom Station is On the Air!”

[By Warren Fales ’43. Pictured: Unknown WPRU Engineers]

I started out with The Daily Princetonian and, in early 1941, part of my news-writing assignment was to cover the new student-operated radio station, WPRU. I became more and more interested in the station’s operations and even began to fill in as an announcer from time to time. My superiors at The Prince, pointing out that WPRU was a competitor to the newspaper, told me to make up my mind who I wanted to work for, so I finally quit the Prince.

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1949 WPRU Sign On—Awaiting “the Magic Hour”

[By Nelson Runger ’53]

I drew the job of morning man in September of my freshman year, 1949. I had about an hour’s instruction the day before my debut—all about how to turn the station on in the morning, etc. There was no separate engineer. I was the whole staff on duty.

I cajoled my three suite-mates to get up and listen to my debut (which was a three-hour stint that began at 6:00 a.m., as I recall.) I showed up about a half-hour early, turned on all the switches and gauges I had learned the previous day, selected the records I would play during the first hour, read over the FCC announcement that had to be read aloud at the beginning of the broadcasting day, cued up the Star Spangled Banner, and awaited the magic hour. (Ed note: The routine steps of morning sign-on, then as now, are required to be chronicled on every radio station’s daily programming log. See above for example from roughly the same era referenced in this story.)

At 6:00, I played the national anthem, read the FCC announcement, and launched into my three hours of recorded music, zippy banter, occasional news items, (mostly read from that morning’s Daily Princetonian), and frequent solo work on the Jew’s harp (also called a mouth harp and a jaw harp.) At the end of my three hours, I turned the station off, there being then a period of some hours before the station went on the air again.

I rushed back to my room and found my three suite-mates staring glumly at me. They hadn’t heard a thing, the one switch I had forgotten was the one that turned the transmitter on.

WPRU Remote Broadcast Mystery

This is one of the oldest original photos we’ve discovered in the station’s archives, but no details as to the subjects, location, or year it was taken have been revealed. The mic setup suggests a remote broadcast, the WPRU banner places it somewhere between 1940 and 1955, and the combo’s setup indicates a live jazz gig at a… University eating club? Some long-shuttered venue in Princeton?

Do you recognize any of the subjects in this photo or have any information on the event it depicts? Please comment below and help us unravel this mystery!

UPDATE: Rob Schuman says: “I don’t, of course, recognize the group, but the station aired live jazz from very early on in its existence. I doubt its the same group, but here’s a clip from the Princetonian, October 9, 1941.”

 

WPRU Artifacts Reveal Station’s Early History

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since initiating this history project, it’s that once the research bug bites you, the related fever is hard to shake. Case in point: these just-rediscovered artifacts from the mid 1940s, when WPRB (then called WPRU) was still in its infancy, which sent a considerable thrill up my spine. A huge part of the fun of digging into the deepest recesses of the station’s history is noting how doing so keeps moving the marker for the oldest-known (document/photo/recording/etc) further back.

While we have unearthed a few yellowed letters and documents from station founder H Grant Theis that detail the plans which lead up to the station’s launch in December of 1940, the assortment of scans presented here offers one of the oldest-known insights into what the station’s programming was like.

These clippings were discovered by current WPRB staffers Zenala and Misha in the bottom of a filthy file cabinet during an otherwise routine cleaning project. The documents were actually sent to the station back in 1992 by Stanley Abensur ’42. Huge thanks to Stanley for anticipating their relevance 25 years ahead of time, and to Zenala and Misha for bringing them to my attention!

Without further delay, we are pleased to present the following:

Exhibit A: Early floorplan of the station’s old studios in Holder Hall. (See above)

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