The college stations
When it comes to college radio in Philadelphia, the clear kingpin is 88.5 WXPN, based at the University of Pennsylvania. It even has a popular venue, World Cafe Live, as a home base. But it isn’t student-run, and when tuning in, you’re just as likely to hear classic rock or '90s alternative as you are new independent music. In fact, you’ll miss much of the off-the-wall craziness that usually happens when college kids take the reins. Which is all well and good -- XPN is beloved -- but in terms of truly "college radio," Philly has two lesser-known stations with formats more deserving of the name...
Drexel University’s 91.7 WKDU bills itself as the only freeform, non-commercial FM station in Philadelphia proper, and it certainly sounds that way. What the station lacks in production values -- dead air and messy transitions abound, but hey, these are college kids after all -- it more than makes up for in its diverse array of programming. Beyond indie rock, the schedule makes room for punk, metal, hip-hop, electronica, jazz, and experimental, with some of its two-hour blocks among the most bizarre in the entire radio market. On Saturdays at noon, the station goes into full Caribbean mode, playing reggae, soca, and dancehall for 12 hours straight. The music jumps all over the place, but that’s why stations like WKDU exist.
We don’t know how Princeton University’s airwaves reach all the way to Philadelphia, but we won’t complain. The kids on 103.3 WPRB tend to go even farther into crazytown than those on WKDU, offering up noise rock, minimalist compositions, and other experimental tracks that dare listeners to change the channel. Sticking it out, though, is a rewarding experience. Princeton students aren’t afraid to flaunt their eclectic tastes, exposing their audience to music it never knew it wanted. We also need to shout out whichever alum decided to have the station play classical in the mornings. The Delaware Valley doesn’t have many opportunities to hear orchestras and chamber groups on the radio.