"The Princeton Freedom Station is On the Air!" - WPRB History

“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.

Shafe and I were both dissatisfied with the way the station was operating. For example, only broadcasting about 5 hours a day — something like from 3 to 6 pm, then a 2-hour off-the-air to go to dinner, then back again from 8 to 10 pm. And not much push to gain more advertising accounts. So I recruited the Assistant Business Manager into our cabal and simply said that we should walk in and take over the station and run it the way WE wanted to. And one day, with some trepidation, we did just that. Current management were members of our class, but none of them were present when we walked in that day in 1941, just a few announcers and an Assistant Engineer. We said we were taking over. I sat down and began to run the music program while Shafe moved into the Engineer’s seat. The staff didn’t know what the hell to do about us, just stood and goggled until our new Business Manager ushered them out.

Eventually the official management wandered in (some one had raised the alarm) and muttered “What the Hell?” We were too busy to talk, just told ’em to get lost, so they eventually did. I announced to our listeners that, effective immediately, the station would broadcast from 2 pm to midnight, with no supper break. All music, no talk, a “Classical Music Hour” at 8 pm. So we were off and running.

As staff members wandered in, we told them that the station was under new management and began to reschedule them. They were a bit puzzled but took it calmly. After about 2 weeks of take-over, I was called into the Dean’s office. Former management had finally decided to complain. The Dean asked me what the hell I thought I was doing, taking over an officially established student activity. I said I was taking a course in Social Psychology and that we had been studying coups d’etat in Europe and South America, and I wanted to find out if it would work in a practical application. After staring at me for a minute, he said that if any one could learn anything practical from a course in Social Psych, he was in favor. Then he laughed and said that he listened to the station and really liked our all-music-almost-no-talk programming. So go ahead, but don’t do anything that would give Princeton a bad name.

Officially, we went off the air at midnight. But I did have to hit the books now and then, so I usually did my studying after midnight. And, since I like to study to music, I used to sit there in the station, playing records, with the transmitter off. The war was on in Europe, and there were illegal “freedom stations” all over the map. So one night I made the sign-off announcement and mentioned that, in a few minutes, the new “Princeton Freedom Station” would come on the air. My roommate, Bunny Whitaker, told me that he would hear guys around the quad throw open their windows and yell “Hey you guys, the Princeton Freedom Station is on the air!!!”

One night, I cut in at about 1AM. to say that I had missed dinner and would have to shut down the station for half an hour while I went to the Balt for a sandwich. The phone immediately rang and the caller said please don’t shut down and we’ll bring you a sandwich and something to drink. A couple of guys showed up with a galvanized iron bucket of Sea Breeze (grapefruit juice and vodka) and two sandwiches. After my second drink they asked if they could play a record they brought with them — a really great boogie woogie piece, they said. I carelessly said sure go ahead and they put it on the turntable. It really was a great piece of boogie, but its title was “You Always Push My Button But You Never Ring My Bell”. The next day, I was called into the Dean’s office and accused of playing dirty records. Actually, it was not a dirty record; the Dean just had a dirty mind. I asked him what he was doing up listening to the radio at 2 in the morning and he replied that students weren’t the only people who had to catch up on their work late at night. And dammit don’t EVER play that kind of record again. OK, sir, I’ll be more careful…

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