In this episode, Gregg Lange ’70 and Brett Tomlinson talk about WPRB, the men’s basketball team’s one-night-only return to Dillon Gym, and memorable gifts from the University to students serving in World War II.
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BT: I’m Brett Tomlinson, digital editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
GL: And I’m Gregg Lange of the Great Class of 1970, who should know better.
BT: And this is the Rally ’Round the Cannon podcast, a conversation about Princeton history. The last time we recorded, we spoke about Chris Young ’02, who had a chance to become the first Princetonian to appear in a World Series game, the first Princetonian on a World Series roster in 82 years.
Fast forward to today, and Chris Young is a World Series champion. He pitched in two of the Kansas City Royals’ victories in the World Series, so congratulations to Chris.
GL: With a magnificent job in probably one of the most important World Series game ones you’ll ever see — not to mention the longest game one in World Series history — where he pitched three innings of flawless relief, entirely unexpectedly because he was due to start game four, and did a magnificent job. So, real shout-out to Chris. It only took 112 years and 27 Princeton major leaguers, believe it or not, to get to a World Series ring. That’s great for Chris, especially with the surgeries he’s undergone over recent years. He was last year’s American League Comeback Player of the Year, and a fabulous job by all concerned.
BT: Indeed, and as a Royals fan, I am personally very happy about that. I know we heard on Facebook from several alums who are Mets fans who were not thrilled about [the Mets losing] but happy to see a fellow Princetonian doing well.
The current issue of PAW, the Nov.11 issue, features a history piece, a look at WPRB, which is celebrating 75 years on the air, and we have some related pieces online, including Gregg’s column, filled with audio clips, and our oral-history podcast, which has memories from two station alumni. Gregg, I know this is a topic that means a great deal to you. Can you tell our listeners about your involvement with the station, both as a student and as a trustee?
GL: I had actually done a little bit of high school radio, which was an odd thing in the 1960s, and came to Princeton interested to see what they had going, and got sucked down into Holder basement with the rest of the PRB crazies. I spent, as many of us did, by far the better part of four years down there. I was proud to actually get out of Princeton in four years – that was not a universal accomplishment among PRB alums. But I mainly did sportscasting, speaking of our good friend Chris Young, both football and basketball, which were by far the main things that the students covered in that era, and became the sports director of the radio station my junior year.
Then someone found out that in my off hours I was a statistics major, and so I got dragooned into being the business manager of the station my senior year, so was part of the senior board and the power structure there.
The great thing about PRB, and one thing that makes it so compelling, is that while the product they turn out is very creative — and wildly varied, if you’ve ever listened to the station, classical in morning drive, jazz after that, underground rock through much of its schedule, and then many different specialty shows — the organization is completely run by students. The operating president of the organization is the station manager, who’s elected by the students, each year, and that’s an annual turnover, which of course is something that’s often difficult to deal with. So the students have to figure out how to run the station, how to fund the station, how to operate and schedule the station, what ways to run their relations with the rest of the student body, and with the community at large because it’s very much a community service. It’s a very powerful station that goes back on the FM dial before there was such a thing as a noncommercial part of the band. So it’s a fully commercial radio station. They can sell ads, although they’ve also chosen to do community fundraisers as a way of engaging loyalty among the audience.
The students are in charge of all of that. I’ve been a trustee, additionally, for about 35 years, on and off the voting board – there’s a small seven-person board of voting trustees – I’ve been involved in that a long time, was actually president of the board, the chair of the corporation, for seven years back in the ’90s.
Both dealing with the students and being involved in that kind of creative activity are a huge opportunity for all of the trustees who are involved, many of whom have been spoken to by Barksdale Maynard ’88 for his article in the current issue, and some of whom you’ve talked to Brett. Many loyal alums, I’d say a solid group of 20 or 30, who are always around advising the students when they wish it, at the station. It’s a wonderful, involving activity, it’s a completely separate corporation from the University, which has many advantages on both sides – although it obviously opens the station itself up to some risk, being much smaller that way. On the other hand, the University doesn’t have to answer for the content of what’s on the station. That makes everybody happy. And if you pay attention to such things, you’ve seen many universities sell their radio stations or professionalize them over the last, let’s say, 20 years. We all at WPRB thing that’s an extremely unfortunate outcome and that allowing the students to run both the corporate side of the operation and the creative side, which always by definition have a friction point between them, is a wonderful learning experience and really one of the best things you can do in a place like Princeton, especially if you like to deal with the folks in the community at large.
The station’s 75 years old, which doesn’t sound like much at a place like Princeton, where everything else is 250. On the other hand, 1940 is ancient history in terms of college radio. It was really one of the first stations of any sort up and running – anything that’s prewar is pretty much unheard of. So 75 years is quite a landmark.
I should also pitch again the exhibition at Mudd Manuscript Library – there’s a beautiful exhibit on PRB that our adviser, Mike Lupica, put together in conjunction with Dan Linke, the archivist. That’ll be up through Reunions next year. And we hope you enjoy both Barksdale’s wonderful article and a lot of the fun clips that I was able to pull out, again with Mike Lupica’s help, to include in my column. It’s a lot of fun, really loopy to listen to, and for those of you who are radio aficionados, it includes a nice segment with Jean Shepherd. It’s something you shouldn’t miss.
BT: And I guess this is as good a time as any to mention WPRBhistory.org, the history site that they have put together, which is a really great read, lots of interesting stuff from all eras of the 75 years on the air.
GL: The hairstyles alone are worth looking at the site.
BT: Yes. Well you mentioned that one of your roles at WPRB was covering sports, and I know you’ve taken a particular interest in one upcoming sporting event: men’s basketball’s Nov. 21 return to Dillon Gym, for a game against Saint Peter’s. The Tigers last played a varsity game there in January 1969, and the radio announcers for that game were Ed Labowitz ’70 and Gregg Lange ’70—
GL: And I should definitely mention our station manager at the time John Barnard ’69, who was our mentor at the station. The three of us managed to squeeze into the bathtub for both games that weekend. When you go to Dillon, you’ll notice above the exits, down to the locker rooms on the east and west walls, are sort of bathtub-shaped sitting positions above the doorways, which may be fit four people in. We had the three of us and an engineer crammed into the bathtub. That’s where the PRB line-drop was for the basketball games, almost behind the baseline. Terrible sight lines. We had climb up through the collapsible bleachers to get to them – there was no other direct way up there. And that’s where we did the basketball broadcasts for the first three years I was there and for the decades before that.
We played Harvard and Dartmouth that weekend, the opening of the Ivy League season in 1969. It was the weekend before finals. Princeton won both games, closing out their career at Dillon Gym with a 4-0 record that year. They were subsequently 5-0 after Jadwin opened up: The first game at Jadwin was two weeks later on Jan. 25; all three of us were there for that one as well, with a lot more room to move around. And the place was absolutely packed in the first game there as Princeton beat Penn and was off to the races.
Dillon was a gorgeous place to see basketball – it was loud, it was noisy, huge home-court advantage. Ironically, at the time when Jadwin was built, Dillon was easily the second-best gym in the Ivy League, behind the Palestra. Everything else in the league was pretty much a wreck. So it was sort of odd for Princeton to be building a new facility – except, beginning in the Bradley era, you could not fit even the entire student body in the gym. Everybody wanted to go to every game. And the alumni were fit to be tied that they couldn’t get into Dillon, which seated about 3,000, 3,500 people on a really packed night. There was a huge demand for a larger facility at Princeton, and indeed there have been many games subsequently that have had a much larger attendance than you could get into Dillon. But the earlier out-of-league games often aren’t so. I think the place is going to be absolutely crammed for the Saint Peter’s game. I think you’re going to see students there who don’t normally come out of the woodwork that early in the season. You’re going to have alumni coming back from all over the place. I will be there, by hook or by crook. It should be a really fun time.
BT: Princeton had an extraordinary record at Dillon. Looking back, they won about 85 percent of its games there from 1947 to 1969. That, of course, had something to do with the era: The Tigers were winning games everywhere in the 1960s and ’50s before them. But there was something about the place. Last year, I spoke several former players about playing in Dillon, for a piece about the 1965 Final Four team, and they talked about being so close to the crowd – the crowd would feed off the players, and the players would feed off the crowd, and it would sort of snowball from there.
Princeton has some familiarity with this sort of throwback game: Two years ago, the men’s team played Penn State at its old gym, Rec Hall. The Tigers came back from 20 points down to win in overtime, in a really wild game. Princeton fans, I’m sure, would love to see that type of excitement, as long as it ends with the home team on top this time.
GL: If you’ve been to volleyball matches in recent years, in Dillon, you can see a lot of how that works. They don’t pull out all the collapsible bleachers for those, they probably have, for a big match, maybe 1,000 people there, but with a thousand people in Dillon, you can make a lot of noise. Everybody’s piled right on the edge of the court, and it’s a great, great time.
Dillon’s predecessor, University Gym, which looked very similar – the large court – was actually the model for Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke, which of course is one of the most legendary pits in college basketball. So all of this is not by coincidence at all.
The other thing to note in terms of Dillon is there were only three basketball coaches at Princeton during the entire history of Dillon hosting basketball games. Cappy Cappon, his protégé Butch Van Breda Kolff ’45, who took the team to the Final Four, and Pete Carril. It was actually one continuous program that was already underway the day that Dillon opened, and one that coach to assistant coach and down through the years continues to this day. There’s a direct connection between every coach at Princeton, all the way back to Cappy Cappon. That continuity is not in any small way a reason for all the wins.
BT: Absolutely. One final thing — the most recent Throwback Thursday photo at PAW Online shows an alum reading the magazine at the U.S. Army base on Okinawa in 1945. And we’ve included a link to Gregg’s column about Christmas 1943, when University President Harold Dodds sent gifts to each of the 1,300 Princetonians in the service. It’s a neat story and one that I encourage you to read.
GL: And I’ll tell you as someone who waited for my editions of the Alumni Weekly to wander into Saigon whenever they got over there on the boat in 1971 and ’72, the impact of understanding, when you’re completely disoriented, out of your norm, and in harm’s way, the impact of understanding that you’re in the conscious thoughts of not only your family and the folks who are sort of bound to be with you through thick and thin, but the folks you know and respect as well. It just does huge things for morale. The gift of the books from Princeton in 1943 is probably one of the finest things I’ve ever heard of in that vein, and remain unceasingly impressed by the things that Princeton has done for its alums in those circumstances through the years. And I’ll tell you one thing – if any of us can agree on one thing, right off the top, we’re very happy we’ve not been in Okinawa in 1945.
BT: And with that, I’ll just add a Happy—
GL: Veterans Day!
BT: Do you say “Happy” Veterans Day? I stumbled over that—
GL: Absolutely. I always feel really wrenched about knowing what to say on Memorial Day. I honestly do, to this day. I don’t know what to say to people on Memorial Day. You say “Happy Veterans Day” because you’re talking to people who are there, and maybe people who are wiser and better people for the experience. So I think Happy Veterans Day is a great one. If you see a vet, go up and give him or her a hug.
BT: Happy Veterans Day to all of the alumni veterans and all the veterans everywhere. Thank you for listening to the podcast. If you have questions for us, topics you’d like us to cover, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GL: See you in Dillon on Nov. 21.