Biography and History

WPRB is the student-operated FM radio station of Princeton University, providing music and live sports broadcasts to the Princeton campus community and surrounding areas.

The birth of the station can be attributed to one H. Grant Theis '42, who on May 13, 1939 wrote to the Federal Communications Commission expressing the interest of a small group of Princeton students in organizing a radio station and requesting information on the necessary F.C.C. requirements and specifications for its operation. A summer of negotiations with University administration and technical experimentation soon followed, and by November 11, 1940 broadcasting had officially commenced under the call letters WPRU.

Despite the station's meager facilities in Theis' Pyne Hall dormitory and its limited program schedule of 3 hours daily, the early station was a success. Within several months of its taking to the airwaves, it was prominently featured in a Saturday Evening Post article about college radio stations. An early survey also revealed an 82% listenership rating among students and faculty.

In an age before the advent of television, the radio station became a significant center of student life. In addition to providing news from around the world and locally the young station covered varsity athletics, and provided a stage for the student body's many musical groups.

The initial reach of the station was limited to campus; however in 1955 WPRU applied for and was granted the license to build an FM transmitter, extending its broadcast range to a radius of 20 miles on the FM band. The new FM capabilities necessitated a change in location (from Pyne to the more accommodating basement of Holder Hall) and a change in name, with WPRU adopting WPRB. Also notable at this time was the acquisition of an FM broadcasting license from the F.C.C., the first of its kind granted to a college commercial radio station. The accompanying increase of the transmitting power to 17,000 watts in 1960 made WPRB the most powerful college radio station in the nation.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, WPRB bolstered its reputation on campus and off by providing a variety of music specialty shows and exclusive news coverage of prominent campus events such as Alger Hiss' lecture in 1956. In 1973 summer broadcasting appeared for the first time, and experimentation with diverse musical styles throughout the 1970s resulted in the station's appearance in the Arbitron radio ratings.

Like many college radio stations in the 1980s and 1990s, WPRB carved out a niche for itself in the musical community by eschewing the mainstream rock and pop offerings played by major market stations and instead focusing upon independent artists. In the 21st century, the introduction of a live stream which enabled listeners to tune in to WPRB over the internet expanded the station's range to any individual or location with a connection to the World Wide Web.

Source: From the finding aid for AC306

  • WPRB Records. 1939-1999 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC306

    WPRB is the student-operated FM radio station of Princeton University, providing music and live sports broadcasts to the Princeton campus community and surrounding areas. The records consist of various materials which document the origins and development of WPRB, including constitutions, by-laws, photographs, membership lists, clipped articles, board minutes, correspondence, and financial reports.

  • WPRB Records. 1939-1999 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC306

    WPRB is the student-operated FM radio station of Princeton University, providing music and live sports broadcasts to the Princeton campus community and surrounding areas. The records consist of various materials which document the origins and development of WPRB, including constitutions, by-laws, photographs, membership lists, clipped articles, board minutes, correspondence, and financial reports.