Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 51
 
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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Rockin’ Around WPRB: Jon Solomon Conjures Up Some Holiday Radio Magic

Dilshanie Perera

’Twas the night before Christmas for Jon Solomon, or it will be as he hosts the 24-hour holiday radio show on WPRB, the Princeton University station. This year marks his show’s 20th incarnation and promises to feature newfangled odes to the holiday spirit, old favorites, forgotten esoterica, and other seasonal jams.

The holiday radio show will be broadcast live on WPRB 103.3 FM and via the internet at wprb.com from December 24 at 6 p.m. to December 25 at 6 p.m.

The music is “everything from bands that you like that you never knew did a Christmas song” to “more bizarre historical artifacts” like using car horns or sampling dogs and splicing together a holiday song from their barks.

“I like the challenge of having this limitation, and finding everything that fits under this heading. It’s a mixture of things that are really great, things that will amuse people, and things that I think people will really enjoy as songs that happen to be holiday songs,” explained Mr. Solomon.

Eschewing the extremes of being either “too kitschy” or “too reverent,” Mr. Solomon’s show aims to juxtapose “styles and genres and sounds in a way that makes sense, like switching between an old record from 30 years ago or some old funk 45 and abutting that next to some contemporary guitar-bass rock band whose record hasn’t even come out yet” in a way that is surprising and interesting.

A Princeton native (“My folks moved to Princeton the day I was born.”), Mr. Solomon also hosts a weekly radio show, “Keeping the Score at Home” on Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. on WPRB, founded and operates the record labels My Pal God Records and Comedy Minus One, and is the founding editor of princetonbasketball.com.

Over the years, Mr. Solomon has amassed all kinds of holiday-related music, and continues to seek out new songs. During each holiday show nothing is played twice, and Mr. Solomon likes to add as many new songs from year to year as possible. “I’m startled by how much quality stuff I’ve built up,” he remarked while noting that striking the right balance between playing new and old music and listener requests is paramount.

“I like to think every year that I’m prepared — but then all hell breaks loose,” joked Mr. Solomon. “Usually the first eight hours are kind of insane” he mused, noting that during the middle eight he plays longer cuts of various things, a Golden Books reading of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, for example. “And then the last third is not as wild, but it’s just all adrenaline.”

Having developed a cult following over the two decades the show has aired, Mr. Solomon found almost by accident that listeners were tuning in from all corners of the world. After his sister had called from South America, and he had heard from people in the U.S. and Europe, he said jokingly on air that “we need to get Asia and Australia to check in” and immediately the phone rang with greetings from listeners on those continents.

“This is one of the great things about radio — you never really know who’s listening,” Mr. Solomon observed. “You can be as involved or as passive as you want with it, and that’s fine by me.”

As for particularly poignant holiday radio show moments, “In 2003 my wife and I got engaged on air,” Mr. Solomon recounted. “I called her over onto the microphone and we were having a conversation and I was extremely nervous. And then finally out came a ring.”

“I think she was really surprised and it was in the absolute dead of night — 5:20 I think it was. And we immediately got lots of calls from people saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m up, and I can’t believe that happened!’”

Mr. Solomon remembers there was a “big time slot on Christmas available” after he passed his training as a DJ in 1988, and that he “was pretty excited by the possibility and didn’t have anything to do.” He enjoyed the experience, “both playing records for such a long time and interacting with people who would call,” so much that he signed up for 24-hours the following year.

“It’s an incredible feeling. I started out doing this because I was just helping to fill a block of time. I didn’t expect that 20 years down the line that there would be this thing that people seem to really appreciate,” Mr. Solomon said, adding with a laugh that “it was a little bit alarming last year to realize that I have been doing this show longer than the freshman undergrads here have been alive. I’d like to think that I’m not an old man by any stretch, but that made me feel pretty ancient.”

A pivotal year for the show was 1996. Mr. Solomon had just graduated from Northwestern University and decided to drive out to California instead of heading to Princeton for the holiday radio marathon. While on the road in Nebraska on Christmas day, “I realized that I had made a horrible mistake,” Mr. Solomon recalled. “That reminded me of how important it was to me, and I needed that critical juncture to either veer left and say, ‘this is not something I do anymore,’ or veer right and do it the next year.”

“Ultimately it’s a feeling and an experience that I don’t have anywhere else, and not one that I want to give up,” Mr. Solomon explained, saying that “the show brings out in me all of the sort of good holiday sentiments that I don’t know if Christmas proper gets out of me.”

“Being around family and knowing that old friends are going to stop by or call and people you haven’t thought about in a long time might check in” is what evokes the holiday spirit for Mr. Solomon, who described being the “catalyst” for those connections as, “not a bad position to be in, and also not one that I take lightly.”

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else on Christmas,” he said.

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