WFMU is a listener-supported, independent community radio station licensed to East Orange, New Jersey. It broadcasts at 91.1 Mhz FM in Jersey City, New Jersey. It also broadcasts to the Hudson Valley, the Lower Catskills, western New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania from Mount Hope, New York at 90.1 WMFU, and to New York City and Rockland County at 91.9 FM. Overall, it covers most of the New York metropolitan area, and presents a freeform radio format. It is the longest-running freeform radio station in the U.S. The station's main terrestrial transmitter is located in West Orange, New Jersey.
Ownership and managementWFMU commenced broadcasting in April 1958, licensed to Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. Although originally a student-staffed and faculty-administered college radio operation, by the 1980s most of the station's staff had no affiliation with the college, and the station's management, though hired by the college, had little involvement with the academic community. Shortly before Upsala's bankruptcy filing and closure on May 31, 1995, a group of station executives, personnel, and supporters formed Auricle Communications and bought the license from the college, making it a fully independent radio station. In August 1998, the station's studios and offices were relocated to a Jersey City facility that had been purchased with listener donations.
The station's transmitter is situated atop the First Watchung Mountain in West Orange, New Jersey. Due to the crowded state of the noncommercial end of the FM dial in the northeastern United States and the need to avoid interfering with fellow radio station WNYE, operating at the nearby 91.5 FM, the station operates at a relatively modest 1,250 watts. Despite that, it easily covers most of northern New Jersey, with at least grade-B coverage across the Hudson in New York City. WFMU has a repeater station, WMFU (formerly WXHD), in Mount Hope, New York, broadcasting at 90.1 MHz FM in the Hudson Valley, the Lower Catskills, western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. WFMU can also be heard on W220EJ, a translator on 91.9 FM licensed to Weehawken, New Jersey and broadcasting from midtown Manhattan to better serve New York City listeners.
PhilosophyWFMU has a stated commitment to unstructured-format broadcasting. All programming is created by each individual air personality, and is not restricted by any type of station-wide playlist or rotation schedule. Experimentation, spontaneity and humor are among the station's most frequently noted distinguishing traits. Unlike most commercial broadcasting and non-commercial educational radio stations, WFMU does not offer regularly scheduled news, weather, traffic, sports, or financial information. WFMU does not belong to any existing Public broadcasting network, and nearly 100% of its programming originates at the radio station.
Funding and operationsWFMU's annual operating budget is approximately $2,100,000 US, and is funded primarily by its listeners through an annual 15-day on-air fundraising marathon, as well as a spring record fair and other events. WFMU is unusual in its philosophy that on-air fundraising drives only take place once a year; unlike most other public and listener supported stations which have multiple pledge drives throughout the year. WFMU's air staff are unpaid volunteers, some of whom have been with the station since the 1970s and 1980s. In a 1990 interview, WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman stated, "we've always rejected underwriting on principle." The station rejects any type of direct underwriting from governmental institutions or from for-profit corporations. Historically, WFMU has occasionally accepted financial support from private foundations, although such support has never funded WFMU's general operations. In 2006 the station accepted a $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which was administering The New York State Music Fund for a special project (see below).
ProgrammingWFMU hosts a wide range of programming, from all-inclusive music broadcasts (with a focus on alternative rock) to entertainment programming like radio improv and cooking programs to curiosities like hand-cranked wax cylinders and classic radio airchecks. WFMU's Music Director is Olivia Bradley Skill.
Recognition and cultural influenceWFMU was named "Best Radio Station in the Country" by Rolling Stone magazine for four consecutive years (1991–1994) and has also been dubbed the best radio station in either NYC or the US by The Village Voice, New York Press, and CMJ, among others. The station also won three awards ("Best Specialty Programming", "Most Eclectic Programming", and "Music Director Most Likely To Never Sell Out") at the 2006 CMJ College Radio Awards.
A 1999 New York Times magazine feature article called WFMU "a station whose name has become like a secret handshake among a certain tastemaking cognoscenti", and cited Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and playwright Eric Bogosian as avowed fans of the station.
Other notable fans and supporters of WFMU have included Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum, Kurt Cobain, screenwriter/director Ethan Coen, MAKE magazine editor-in-chief and Boing Boing co-founder Mark Frauenfelder, Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant, musician Suzanne Vega, artist Cindy Sherman, indie rock musician Ted Leo, Sonic Youth guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, comic book artist and writer Evan Dorkin, film director, producer and actor Kevin Smith, musician Moby, The Cars vocalist/record producer Ric Ocasek, musician Max Tundra, television talk-show host Conan O'Brien, Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar, and Blixa Bargeld, singer of the German band Einstürzende Neubauten..
Although WFMU has traditionally eschewed news-oriented programming, the station volunteered its airwaves in September 2001 to become the temporary home in the New York area for Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! program (which was renamed Democracy Now! In Exile), after it was "banished" from WBAI and the Pacifica Radio Network during a highly controversial "coup" of WBAI's station management by Pacifica's national Board of Directors.
In a similar example of its support of community broadcasting, WFMU began voluntarily hosting the webcast of legendary New Orleans jazz station, WWOZ, when its studio and transmitter were destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. WFMU also took online donations on behalf of WWOZ, raising over $300,000 towards the rebuilding of the station.
WFMU also received worldwide attention in May 2001, when national and international media outlets covered DJ Glen Jones's successful attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest consecutive radio broadcast, staying on the air a full 100 hours, 42 seconds.
A famous 1990 telephone performance on WFMU by Daniel Johnston was the primary inspiration for filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig to create the documentary film, The Devil and Daniel Johnston. The film won the award for Best Documentary Director at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
The late Jeff Buckley made his radio debut on WFMU in late 1991 and returned numerous times before signing with Columbia Records and achieving international stardom.
In 2014-2015, a documentary on WFMU, produced and directed by Tim K. Smith and titled Sex and Broadcasting: A Film About WFMU, screened at American film festivals and independent cinemas nationwide. The film was funded, in part, by a successful Kickstarter campaign under the working title Freeform or Death: A Documentary About WFMU.
In 2018, WFMU was one of several outlets that participated in a hoax by the band Phish for their yearly Halloween musical "costume" by publishing a post on their "Beware the Blog" about a fictional Scandinavian band, Kasvot Vaxt.
Free Music Archive
In 2006, WFMU was awarded a grant from the New York State Music Fund, a program created by the Office of the New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to make contemporary music of all genres more available and accessible to diverse audiences in New York State. WFMU's grant included funds to create a podsafe online music library known as The Free Music Archive, which launched on April 10, 2009. The website describes itself as "a social music website built around a curated library of free, legal audio." Currently it hosts over 45,000 podsafe songs for free for streaming or download, many under Creative Commons licenses. The Fund grew out of settlements with major recording companies investigated for violating state and federal laws prohibiting "pay for play" (payola). Grant winners were chosen on criteria that included, among other things, their record of broadening awareness of artists, genres or styles with limited access to commercial broadcast or other mass distribution vehicles.
Notable program hosts
The station's past and present on-air staff includes many notable people from the worlds of art, music, film, television, literature, and cyber-culture.
Online broadcasting and blogging
Along with its traditional radio broadcast, WFMU is also broadcast live over the internet in a wide variety of streaming formats (including Ogg Vorbis), and all programming is archived on the WFMU website in 128k MP3 format for four weeks, then permanently thereafter in RealAudio format.
In 2005, WFMU expanded its online broadcasting efforts by offering 15 hours a week of Internet-only live programming ("free of the FCC's incomprehensible language restrictions", explains WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman ), as well as an independent 24-hour-a-day webcast of Nachum Segal's Jewish Moments In The Morning program.
In January 2006, WFMU announced the availability of the station's live stream and archives to cellular phones and other mobile devices running the operating systems Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) and Palm OS.
Podcasts of 23 WFMU shows (some exclusive to the podcast itself) are also available.
The official WFMU blog, WFMU's Beware of the Blog, was launched in 2004, and became very popular even among non-WFMU listeners. Original content for the WFMU blog is contributed by station personalities as well as a variety of listeners and associates such as Otis Fodder and Kliph Nesteroff. Blog items are regularly featured on the front pages of high-traffic pop-culture sites such as Boing Boing and MetaFilter. As of July 30, 2015 Beware of the Blog was announced to be inactive. All content will continue to remain on line.
In November 2007, WFMU became the first radio station in the world to offer live streaming to the Apple iPhone.
WFMU.org offers several internet-only channels of programming separate from the main broadcast channel. By not being subject to FCC regulations, they are able to play tracks not possible on the main channel: