Jon Solomon is a familiar name and voice to those Delaware Valley radio listeners who demand something just a little bit different on Christmas Eve. For the past 17 years, Solomon has flown solo on the airwaves at Princeton’s student-run radio station, WPRB 103.3 FM, for 24 straight hours, from 6 p.m. Christmas Eve until 6 p.m. on Christmas Day. Those holiday revelers who tune in are apt to hear Solomon spin an eclectic mix, ranging from Sammy Davis Jr.’s "Jingle Bell Rock" to the "Drive-By-Truckers" and "Hope Santa’s Out of Rehab for Christmas."
He performed his first WPRB marathon holiday broadcast in 1988, at the tender age of 15, when, taking to the air at 7 p.m., he agreed to stayuntil the next DJ came on duty. Since the DJ never arrived, the following morning found Solomon still going strong.
"The fact that 17 years in, the Christmas show continues to mean something special to a lot people is humbling," says Solomon. "Some who started listening to me when I began now listen in with their families."
Solomon, a Princeton native who lives in Lawrenceville with his fiancee, Nicole, also produces a Wednesday night program, the Jon Solomon WPRB Radio Show (and also can be heard live online at www.wprb.com), which airs from 7 to 10 p.m. and features live performances. Solomon will celebrate the show’s 100th live performance on Wednesday, August 31, beginning with programming at 1 p.m., and at 8 p.m., a special live appearance by Kinski, Seattle’s "foremost psych rock explorers" – translation: heavy/heady rock melodies and experimental music – whose second release with the Sub Pop label is "Alpine Static." Past performances on Solomon’s show can be heard on the archive at www.keepingthescoreathome.com.
Solomon also runs an independent record company, My Pal God Records, and writes for ivybasketball.com and www.princetonbasketball.com. Graduating in 1991 from Northwestern University with a bachelors in radio, television, and film, he returned to the Princeton area in 2000.
His parents, who Solomon says have always been his biggest supporters, still reside in Princeton. His father, Robert, is an attorney in private practice, while his mother, Susan, is an author and architectural historian. His sister, Debra, works in public policy in San Francisco.
He began his stint at the Princeton University radio station while still a freshman – at Princeton High school. "In 1988, my parents quite literally would get up in the middle of the night and drive me down to the university radio station and then come back three hours later to pick me up. I am forever indebted to them.
"Back then, WPRB was entirely student-manned. Once I discovered radio, at the age of 12 or 13, I could not stop listening. I wanted to start a low-power station for Princeton High School."
He soon found out he was very much in over his head and contacted a deejay at WPRB, who was also the station manager. "He let me hang out in the late summer of 1988 and gave me some training. Finally he asked if I would like to do a show on Saturday night. I’ve been involved with the station in some capacity ever since."
While studying and then working in Chicago, Solomon returned every year to host his Christmas show at WPRB. When he returned for good, he had a desire to create a show with exclusive content.
During a typical Wednesday night show, Solomon plays recorded music from 7 to 8 p.m., introduces the band performing a live set at 8 p.m., and lets them play uninterrupted for as long as they wish. Once they finish, Solomon continues playing records until the show ends at 10 p.m.
In addition to the Kinski performance, during the upcoming nine-hour anniversary show Solomon will feature highlights of live performances of other independent musicians who have appeared on the show.
"I model the show after John Peel who, up until his death last year,was an amazing force in radio in Europe," says Solomon. "Peel broadcast on Radio One at the BBC, and he would have live bands one very week. Just about everyone who was anyone had done his show at one time or another. I’d be honored if my listeners thought I delivered a low-rent version of Peel’s show." He must be doingsomething right. In 2001, Solomon was voted Best Local DJ by Philadelphia.citysearch.com.
Following no particular format, Solomon plays everything from music from the 70s, to jazz, as well as current punk and pop records. "Whatever I feel like playing," he admits. "It’s pretty much all over the place but with an underlying direction. It’s reached the point where, in addition to my own research, listeners consistently send me recordings that I could never get my hands on. It’s kind of neat because there are so many radio stations that are pre-programmed, which to me means they are limited – not as artful or spontaneous. I enjoy being able to play a lot of records that don’t make a lot of sense on paper. I don’t plan it all out in advance, that leaves plenty of wiggle room. Something might jog my memory during the week and make me want to play something in particular. Or someone will be in the news, and I’ll tie it in that way."
For instance, upon the death of Silkworm drummer Michael Dahlquist in a car crash, Solomon dedicated an entire show to playing Silkworm records. "That was my way of coping with it," says Solomon. "I ran over and did a three-and-a-half hour show that week. It was cathartic for a lot of fans because this guy was loved all over the place."
Solomon says that his career has been a result of a confluence of time and place. "It was fortunate moving back here when I did, because having bands play on the radio has taken off, and there has been an explosion of great local groups out of Philadelphia, which has made scheduling bands on a weekly basis fairly hassle-free.
"I’m lucky in the sense that WPRB is a station, compared to other college stations, that has a lot of wattage. We broadcast to central and southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. And by broadcasting online, fans who no longer live in the area can still listen in.
"I work best on the radio, Solomon continues. "It’s where I’m most comfortable. I remember taking public speaking classes in college and being surprised to learn that I’m terrible at making eye contact."
Solomon even proposed to his fiancee in the wee hours of the morning – over the airwaves. "While it’s the most public way of doing things, getting engaged, or doing the tribute to Dahlquist, what I’m saying is often more important than my expressions," he says.
"I am really happy with this live series because it combines a mix of local, national, and international talent, and a wide variety of styles and sounds across the musical spectrum – everything from solo acoustic guitar to a seven-piece African ensemble. As the series has gained steam, it’s nice that national touring bands and labels will contact the station and stop by. I hope that each Wednesday night my listeners know that although they might not be familiar with what I’ve chosen, they are going to hear something different, and they might really like it."
Jon Solomon Show, 100th live performance, Wednesday, August 31, 1 to 9 p.m., WPRB, 103.3 FM or online at www.wprb.com. Nine hours of Solomon’s favorite sets including a live performance by Kinski.