If you walk down into the Bloomberg Hall basement, there is a chance you might come across faint music emanating from behind a locked door, punctuated by mic breaks relaying the names of the songs and artists that have just played.
This is the home of WPRB, a non-profit, commercial radio station that operates out of Princeton University and serves parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, whose cheeky slogan is “New Jersey’s Only Radio Station.”
If you walk through the door, you will be greeted on the right by the main studio, where behind a window you might see one of the radio hosts broadcasting their show. On the left, you will find rows of tall grey shelves that house WPRB’s collection of records and CDs, a section of the station colloquially known as the stacks. Most vertical surfaces (the walls, the sides of the shelves, the doors) have an eclectic collection of stickers and posters stuck across them, creating a space that looks like what it is: a place where music lovers have gathered as a community for years, all of them leaving behind traces of themselves.
WPRB can be accessed by either tuning in to 103.3FM or going to wprb.com/chat. Each day, a different schedule of DJs host shows, switching off every two or three hours. There are dozens of DJs, many of whom are not Princeton University students, but other members of the WPRB community, who come from the greater New Jersey and Philadelphia area.
“The hosts and the board and stuff are all very chill,” said Grady Trexler ’24, a new WPRB DJ who joined the station this fall. “It's all people who care a lot about music, like in some way or another even though everyone I think has pretty different tastes. Everyone has the baseline that they all enjoy music. And I think it takes a certain kind of person to … want to do a radio show every week.”
Trexler’s show runs from 7–10 a.m. on Tuesdays. The show is called “White Flower Radio,” a homage to the Agnes Martin painting of the same name. Another new DJ is Paige Cromley ’24, who runs her show, “Pool-pah,” from 11 p.m.–1 a.m. on Tuesdays. Cromley’s show name comes from a term in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle.”
“I think I knew going to college that I wanted to do college radio,” Cromley said. “And when I found out about WPRB, it just seemed like the perfect extracurricular to get involved in. It seemed like a great community. I wanted to expand my music taste. And also I love listening to the radio. So it was perfect.”
Cromley is a News, Features, and Prospect writer for the ‘Prince.’
Each week, the DJs spend a few hours carefully listening to dozens of songs, picking songs that they like, and curating their shows from those songs, usually the day before their show. Then, they arrive in the studio and play their music, breaking up the songs with occasional commercials or mic breaks, during which they talk to their listeners. New DJs have to use exclusively music from the stacks, rather than their own libraries of music.
“I knew that going in I would have to exclusively use the stacks, so going through them every week is kind of what I expected,” said Andi Grene ’24, who is also a new DJ this fall. “But it’s actually been a lot easier to curate my show than I thought it would be. Essentially, I’m going through stacks at random and choosing records that look interesting and have good reviews, but once I sift through all the ones I’ve chosen, it’s been really nice to create a cohesive set list for the night.”
Grene’s show, “Not Your Mother’s Dance Party,” runs from 1–3 a.m. on Tuesdays.
“I play things that are sort of off the beaten path, but they are still appealing to listen to and accessible,” said Grene of the inspiration behind her show’s name. “So it’s not your mother’s dance party because she wouldn’t know those songs, but she would still be dancing.”
Grene is an Opinion columnist for the ‘Prince.’
Each DJ has their own preferences for what type of music they play, so no two radio shows on WPRB are alike. Tuning into Cromley’s show, you might find her playing old punk music or Cambodian rock. Grene has enjoyed playing folk psychedelic music lately.
“I really like playing noise music,” Trexler said. “Not even because I think it's like the best genre. I think, objectively, the songs that I picked that are like punk are probably the most interesting because it's like a 70s punk record or something that nobody's heard. That's pretty fun to play. But [I like playing noise music] because I just like to imagine someone tuning the radio in their car, and they come across my show, and she's just like, harsh, screeching metal and people screaming over it.”
There are numerous opportunities to get involved with WPRB beyond tuning in. WPRB accepts applications to become a DJ for them, the information for which is also found on their website. Listeners can get involved by chatting with show hosts by calling into the station or sending messages through wprb.com/chat. Listeners can also support WPRB by making either monthly or single-time donations through a donation button accessed through wprb.com.
“If you're interested in music or radio you should absolutely join WPRB,” Cromley said. “Your music tastes will expand immensely. I came in knowing just a fraction of the bands and music genres I know now and it's been a super fun experience.”
Cathleen Weng is a senior writer for The Prospect who often covers music and culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter and Instagram at @cathleenweng.