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!
One of the more perplexing pieces of archival audio we’ve discovered while combing through WPRB’s deep freeze storage facility is one from February of 1992 which I’ve taken to calling The Proto Punk Production Tapes. For some reason that is long lost to the ages, DJ Arthur Fenno spent the evening of February 11th barricaded in WPRB’s production studio with the goal of merging song snippets from the MC5, Iggy & the Stooges, The X-Ray Spex, and the Avengers into…well… something.
The recording embedded below features repeated takes of the MC5‘s legendary “Kick Out the Jams” intro, and then quickly segues into the brutal riff from “TV Eye” by the Stooges. That is followed immediately by Poly Styrene’s opening screeches of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” by her band X-Ray Spex, and then finally, the closing refrain of “The American in Me” by the Avengers.
In the days before digital audio software, editing tight transitions like these required a razor blade, splice tape, and an ungodly amount of patience. Arthur’s challenges were exacerbated by the fact that the MC5 segment is very much not-ok-for-the-radio, and since no apparent final version of the recording was contained on this reel, I can only assume that Arthur threw down his razor blade, kicked over a few chairs in the production studio, and stormed angrily into the Princeton night.
We may never know. Nevertheless, I find that the five+ minutes of WPRB’s Proto Punk Production Tapes offer unique insight into the studio challenges of 20+ years ago. It’s also a weirdly inventive listening experience that quickly divorces itself from its individual parts, and becomes something all its own.
I remember a lot of failures. Failing to cue the right song, failing to turn on the mic, failing to read the weather report. Near-failing grades, too. Every DJ has nightmares of irrevocable failures and total chaos, only to wake up and be thankful that real mistakes are quickly lost in the atmosphere.
There were failed promotion stunts, like the rain of nerf balls dropped by the Raritan Valley Flying School over the live Communiversity broadcast on Nassau Street. The lucky person who returned a certain colored ball to Axel’s booth would have won a weekend to Florida, or something like that. However, the wind carried the balls away from the center of town. I don’t know if anyone claimed the prize.
I remember the WPRB night at City Gardens in conjunction with the Mekons concert. We promoted it heavily, but the small enthusiastic crowd was mostly ‘PRB staff. And there was that paid promotional audience-involvement stunt for the First National Bank (Adam, check that.) For weeks we advertised the first annual Bank Vault Cram-In. The group that fit the most people into the vault would win a new CD player. No one (but a few enterprising ‘PRB staffers who thought we needed a new CD player, myself included) showed up. The bank manager was not very amused.
Everything seemed to break or was broken when I was a DJ. The headphones were always broken, as were the chairs; the turntables in Studio C were rarely working at the same time; cart machines and their remote control buttons were always fickle or feckless. Not to mention this production director’s love affair with the elderly Scully reel-to-reel recorder. I also remember the valiant efforts of the helpless engineers, Charlie and then James and then Steve, to reconstruct the scene of the technological crimes. All i can report to have built were some record shelves; setting off the fire alarms by burning the wood with a very dull radial saw is admitted, too. But why dwell on failures? WPRB also fostered many wonderful memories…
Pictured: WPRB’s trophy wax Naughty by Nature 12″s
With thanks to WPRB History’s newest digital archivist Joan Hsiao, we present two recently digitized drop-ins from the station’s storied era of Thursday night hip-hop shows (The Raw Deal, Vibes & Vapors, Club Krush, etc.)
First up, this drop from Jeru the Damaja from the Vibes & Vapors era.
And then from the Raw Deal, we present Treach from Naughty by Nature.
And finally, just because it’s an easy excuse to post a great song, here’s the late, great Tony D, who was a contributor to all of the above mentioned shows, as well as a WPRB DJ in his own right. “Check the Elevation” is a critical slice of local hip-hop history.
Photo: The Daily Princetonian
Things have been pretty quiet here at WPRB History Central for a long time, but with several new volunteer archivists itching to cozy up with our trusty Otari MX5050 reel-to-reel player, we’re aiming to get back to regular posting. And what better way to re-launch the ship than with this brief James Brown phone interview from 1996, performed by the great Lily Prillinger!
At the time, the Godfather of Soul was busy promoting the “Live at the Apollo 1995” album, and Lily managed to contact his management and secure access to The Man Himself for this brief phone interview. Lily is obviously nervous, but hell, what 20-year-old who’s about to speak to JAMES EFFING BROWN wouldn’t be?! For his part, Brown delivers on every level you could hope for—fielding Lily’s anxious questions with a mix of sincerity and almost mechanically-deployed James Brown-isms. (Put another way, it’s either like James Brown doing an impression of himself, or Eddie Murphy’s legendary “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” parody.)
The lead up to Brown taking WPRB’s call is also kind of fascinating, as Lily is given stern instructions by (presumably) Brown’s agent, as to what she may (and may not) ask about. Listen or download below.
James Brown performed in Princeton’s Dillon Gymnasium in February of that year (to mixed reviews.)
Text: Edward Labowitz ’70
[Download Princeton / NYU Basketball Excerpt, 1968] (19.5mb MP3 File)
Gregg [Lange] and I broadcast the (Men’s, as there were no Women’s) Basketball games on WPRB during our years, 1966-1970. During freshman year, ’66-’67, the team was ranked third in the nation and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, as fledgling freshmen, we did not broadcast many of the games, but watched and listened to our mentors, John Barnard ’69 and Hal Pote ’68.
We were the regular broadcasters in ’67-’68, ‘68-‘69, and much of ‘69-‘70, until senior theses began to occupy our time and our successors took the mic.
I recently found a ¼ tape of the last 18 minutes of game time of the NYU-Princeton game, in early December 1968. I transferred the tape to digital, and it is a good thing I did, because it was beginning to deteriorate. The first 1:15 is a bit garbled, but the rest is fine. I am doing the play-by-play, Gregg does a bit of color toward the end of the game, and John Barnard does the post-game wrap-up. Our engineer was either John Bongiovani ’70 or Tom Kendrick ’72. This was the sixth game of the season, which Princeton won, making it 3-3 at that point. The Tigers went on to a 19-7 season, which was Pete Carril’s second year at Princeton. NYU, of course, eliminated its intercollegiate basketball program many years ago. This may be the last extant recording of any NYU basketball game. (more…)
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.
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.