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WPRB in Miniature

Words: Kelsey Halliday Johnson

1- This photo collage (above) was on the door to the music office for my tenure as music director. The photo was taken of me when Dan Ruccia (outgoing music director) and I were starting to really unpack and decorate (rehanging some old posters from [WPRB’s old studios in] Holder [Hall] and hanging some new ones, along with junk CDs and other summer staff/intern coloring book doodles among other things that made it the cavern of greatness that it is today). Bloomberg Hall (then known simply as “The Ellipse”) was made into a home over the course of one semester and one summer …..Where the moose collage element came from continues to mystify me!


WPRB in the Early 1970s

Text: Rob Schuman ’74

I started at WPRB in the fall of 1970. During the previous spring, four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State in Ohio. When President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia in late May Princeton, along with many other schools across the country, went on strike and officially shut down the University in protest.

The WPRB news department was deeply involved in covering the protest demonstrations and “Teach-Ins” on campus. We were the only instant communication outlet for the community, and took our mission seriously. Our news and actualities from both students and professors were fed to an ad-hoc network of Ivy League radio stations as well directly to the newsrooms of the major commercial radio networks.

I vividly remember crowding around the WPRB UPI ticker machine with others in my class waiting to see what my draft lottery number would be. With student deferments cancelled, if you got a low lottery number you could be plucked out of Princeton and conscripted to fight in Vietnam.

In 1972, I sold commercial airtime to the George McGovern for President campaign. (Cash in advance of course). We covered the Presidential election, crowding into studio A to broadcast election returns in between musical breaks. We also sent station reporters to the New Jersey candidate’s headquarters to cover the election night speeches. That’s how I learned that the open bar for the press closes as soon as your candidate is declared the loser.

I have lots of other memories of WPRB including a sports road trip when the PA announcer boomed to the entire arena, “WPRB—call your station, you’re off the air”. There was also the first summer on air, paid for in part by joining the New York Mets radio network. And I still have the now useless skill of being able to “slip cue” a record album.

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.

Radio Striptease on “The Magic of Radio”

Text: Marc Fisher ’80 | Photo: Rob Schuman ’74

The Magic of Radio was a late-night, sometimes all-night, program that aired once a week from about 1977 to 1980. It was a mix of music, juvenile nonsense, brilliant satire and pathetically bad taste.

We tried to stay as close to the legal and moral edge as possible. We had a weatherman with a speech impediment that rendered him entirely incomprehensible. We had a substitute weatherman who was sentenced to stand at an (imaginary) outdoor phone booth in Kingston whenever there was significant snow or, his personal favorite, freezing rain. We had a sports reporter who never once made it on the air; he always seemed to be delayed at a bar across the street. The news was read by Gus Gil, whose booming voice made the acts of a New Jersey state magistrate seem like the coming of the Lord.


John Catlett Reflects on WPRB at 75

Here’s another great reason to support WPRB during this week’s 75th anniversary membership drive from John Catlett ’64—a man with a fascinating radio résumé that extends well beyond WPRB (as you’ll hear in the clip below.)

John further recalls his time at WPRB:

“It was that Fall [1963] as I recall that one of our students who had spent his summer in Europe came into our studios with a single record by a new singing group he said was getting a lot of attention in England. I don’t know if he had brought with him a pressing from England, so I don’t know if there’s any chance we were the first station in America to play “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but we must have been one of the first. By the Beatles, of course.”

The Era of the Derek

[Text: Bill Rosenblatt ’83]

WPRB is one of a very few student-run radio stations in the country with a commercial license, meaning that it can sell airtime. The station has always sold ads, but the highest level of ad sales was undoubtedly the early-mid 1980s, and the man responsible for this was Derek Berghuis ’83 – a living legend in WPRB history.

Derek – his last name is pronounced “Berg-hice” – was drawn to WPRB by his brother Brian Berghuis ’81 and Brian’s friend Ashley Ellott ’80, respectively the station’s Business Manager and Station Manager, and all alums of the same prep school in Toronto, Canada. He got on air quickly during his freshman year as a member of the news department and as the “news sidekick” on a show called WPRB Weekend, which Program Director Jason Meyer ’80 did with Ellott and Derek as a commercial-sounding “chatty morning show” on Saturday mornings. WPRB Weekend left the airwaves when Ellott and Meyer graduated.  Derek did not find his position as Mercer County News Editor very exciting, so he switched to sales.


WPRB: The View from Outside

[Words: Mike Appelstein. Photos: Rob Schuman]

In the summer of 1986, I was a student at Rutgers University and a DJ at the campus radio station, WRSU-FM. I had grown up in the area, and listened to both WRSU and WPRB as a teenager. In those days before the Internet and streaming audio, you had to seek out cultural avenues by yourself, and I was very fortunate to have resources like these to light the way.

I’d heard my friends Gene and Bryan, both Rutgers students and WRSU DJs, on WPRB as well. One day I asked Bryan how he managed to get on WPRB. I assumed you had to be a Princeton student to qualify for airtime. “Call Ken Katkin,” he suggested.


WPRB, the Devil, and Me

[By Stephanie Obodda. Photo by Dr. Cosmo.]

I have a lot of WPRB memories, but the most important is my first. When I got to Princeton in 1998, the social life seemed so homogeneous and it didn’t take me long to realize I wouldn’t fit in with the [University’s] eating club scene. I was already resigned to spend the next four years in my dorm room listening to music alone when fellow freshman Alex Wood and I decided to check out the radio station. The first time I walked into the tech shop and Phil Taylor handed me a soldering iron, I knew I’d found my happy place!

Even pulling a 2am shift, you were never alone in the studio. You were in the company of hundreds of former DJs who’d left their handwritten reviews on record and CD covers.

Pictured below, by Stephanie’s request, WPRB’s copy of Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Silence is Sexy”—a favorite of her era. (Hilariously tagged as “German R&B” by former WPRB DJ and Treblequake host, Brian Farmer.)

Click for larger version.


Skipping Prog Rock LPs, Hot Coffee on My Pants, and Lies I told the Program Director

[By Ted Stern ’76]

Yes, there actually was one summer where I spent my vacation doing the 6AM morning show. It seemed like a cushy enough job, and no one else wanted to do It. I soon found out why. With only a skeleton crew of students around, and most of them here because they partied too much during the semester, some late nights sort of tended to develop. Soon I was dragging myself out of bed just to make it to the station in time to play the opening cart with all those fascinating statistics (how far does 17,000 watts go anyway), never mind shove a cup of coffee down me first. But then I developed a system: There were a few eclectic German bands in the rabbits [aka vinyl stacks] with some twenty-two minute tracks—boring avante-garde gibberish, but just long enough to Iet me make it to the deli just off of the main drag, grab a doughnut, and scoot back. (more…)