For nearly three decades, the basic schedule at WPRB has remained consistent — classical music in the morning, jazz at midday, independent rock in the evenings, specialties like world music late at night — and this fall is no exception. But the 67-year-old student-run radio station is making an important shift in the way it pays for that programming. In October, WPRB will hold its first on-air membership drive, kicking off a move to a listener-supported business model.
WPRB has no imminent financial problems, according to Bill Rosenblatt ’83, president of the station’s board of trustees, but the move to draw donor support was driven by economic realities. The station’s advertising base of locally owned businesses in and around Princeton has been shrinking, and expanding the geographic reach of the station’s advertising department was not realistic.
WPRB is a nonprofit organization, as well as one of the relatively few college radio stations permitted to sell airtime to advertisers (its license predates the FCC’s noncommercial FM band). The University does not fund the station, but it does provide WPRB’s working space, a suite of studios and offices in Bloomberg Hall. The Princeton University Investment Co. manages WPRB’s endowment, which pays operating expenses for the station’s transmission facility.
About 100 undergraduate DJs fill most of the station’s airtime, though a handful of nonstudents with ties to the University also host WPRB shows. Regardless of genre, the music played tends to be “not obscure, but definitely off the beaten path,” said station manager Madeleine Walsh ’08, who hosts a classical show.
With a 14,000-watt signal, WPRB’s broadcast radius reaches both Philadelphia and the Jersey shore. The station still covers Princeton events like University Orchestra concerts and football, men’s basketball, and men’s lacrosse games, but its most loyal listeners tune in for the music. To draw more interest in the membership drive, Oct. 7–14, development director Michael van Landingham ’08 and other DJs have lined up live performances by local artists, and donors will be rewarded with WPRB-branded items like T-shirts and tote bags.
Students will be in charge during the membership drive, but Rosenblatt and other trustees plan to help by answering phones. “Those of us who pretty much majored in PRB when we were undergrads, will tell you that the experience we got from being at PRB was life-changing, indelible, and endlessly valuable,” Rosenblatt said. “We want to ensure that each year’s round of students who come in have access to the same experience that we had.”