Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I received a nice story tip from Kat Kulke, Summer Promotion Director for WPRB in Princeton, NJ. WPRB is now celebrating its 75th anniversary as a college radio station. By the way, story tips are always welcome for SPARK! Email me directly at

WPRB [link] is not only a historic station, it is a one-of-a-kind: a commercial licensee operated by a nonprofit organization.  It has an endowment that pays some of the bills. WPRB is staffed by students and alumni, operates like a community station and is the center of several music scenes in the Princeton area.  Here is WPRB's coverage area:

 WPRB’s 75th is officially being celebrated this fall with a comprehensive exhibit at Princeton University’s Mudd Library this fall.

WPRB’s life and times are documented on a fun (but sometimes incomplete) tribute blog at [link].  The history of WPRB is told by decade beginning with the 1940s.  It features lots of photos, groovy audio cuts and personal stories from WPRB alumni, told in dishing detail.  My only criticism of the history site is that it seems more intended for insiders.  But who knows WPRB better than the folks who made it their college home.  Case in point, the testimonial from a woman who says she Majored in WPRB while at Princeton.


WPRB began as WPRU in December 1940 as an AM carrier-current operation.  WPRU became WPRB in 1955 when it began FM broadcasting on 103.3 – likely the first college student station on FM in the nation.

Over the years WPRB has had many program formats: Classical, jazz, middle of the road, underground rock and college rock. During each era, WPRB was (and is) the essence of life at Princeton. In 1984, SPIN magazine named WPRB the best college rock station in the nation.

Here are a few of my favorite images from the WPRB history page.

H. Grant Theis, founder of WPRU/WPRB stayed up all night soldering components in his dorm room.


WPRB live club broadcast in the mid 1960s. 

The first album played on WPRB when it changed from middle-of the road music to underground rock in 1967.


Mike Lupecia is in charge of WPRB. He started as a DJ in the 1990s and then moved on to gigs at WFMU and WNYC. Lupecia returned to the station in 2011 as the educational advisor for the station.  Students handle the day-to-day tasks – it is THEIR station.


In an interview published in College Media Journal (CMJ) he talked about his love for the station:


I’ve been geeking out on radio history ever since I saw Empire of the Air documentary… Radio as a tool for the creative impulse… so much of our reputation is built on unpredictability. Every generation describes WPRB as “a sanctuary” from the rest of campus life. Given the academic demands at Princeton, it makes me incredibly happy that so many people recall WPRB as the one place on campus that not only allowed them to stretch out and be spontaneously creative, but also encouraged it.

WPRB is governed by a group of alumni trustees, as opposed to being a department of the University. The autonomy we’re afforded by being truly independent.


According to 2013 tax filings, the majority of WPRB’s $625,000 came from the station’s endowment of $3.8 million. Earned income, money not coming from the endowment, was around $160,000.  Expenses for 2013 were around $240,000. So they dipped into the endowment to keep the doors open. This brings up questions about WPRB’s long-term sustainability.

WPRB’s revenue potential is hampered by its commercial status.  The station sells 30-second commercials with so many restrictions it is a wonder that anyone would buy one. WPRB pretends it is a noncom public radio station. They should decide to either be a commercial or noncommercial station because now they have the worst of both business types.

1 comment:

  1. FYI, Ken. WPRB is not unique. WBRU at Brown University is another commercial licensee that's owned by an independent non-profit entity. Ditto for WHRB at Harvard University, WVBR at Cornell University, WYBC AM & FM at Yale, WFRD at Dartmouth (and I believe WDCR was like that at Dartmouth, too, but they handed in the license a few years ago).

    I don't know why so many Ivy League school stations were set up that way...a nonprofit, independent-from-the-college entity that holds a commercial radio license...but they did. There's also WPGU-FM at the Univ of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, which is owned by Illini Media Company. I think there's a handful of others out there, but the call letters are escaping me.

    There's also a few commercial radio licenses held directly by the parent college, too. I think WFRD at Dartmouth either is or was like that (when they turned in WDCR I think things changed at WFRD as well). And of course WHCR at Howard University.

    Also, things are fuzzy about who's the first "college FM radio station." Because what we think of "college radio" as a FORMAT didn't really exist until the late 70's/early 80's, and many ways didn't exist until the early 1990's. The "underground" or "basement" radio that's block-formatted was kind of the norm at a lot of commercial FM radio stations in the 70's and even 80's.

    That said, WBUR at Boston University dates back to March of 1950, WOI at Iowa State University started in December of 1949, and WERS at Emerson College beats that by a few months; they went on air in November 1949. I believe these are the first college-owned stations in the non-commercial FM band.

    But it's a fuzzy definition; there's several college-based broadcasting facilities that date back to the 1920's. Many didn't "survive" WWII and came back to the air much later (the 1960's, 70's and 80's) in their current form of NCE FM's: WRUC at Union College and 1XE at Tufts University come to mind.

    There's also many, many stations that started as AM stations...either licensed or carrier-current...and were quite successful as such at the time (FM really wasn't popular nor commercially viable for most stations until the early 70's) and later added an FM license at the nadir of the FM band (the mid-60's) or during the rise of the NCE band in the early 70's.