|City||East Orange, New Jersey|
|Broadcast area||New York metropolitan area|
First air date
Call sign meaning
|W FM Upsala College |
|HAAT||151 meters (495 ft)|
|Translator(s)||91.9 W220EJ (Weehawken)|
|Repeater(s)||90.1 WMFU (Mount Hope)|
WFMU is a listener-supported, independent community radio station. Although licensed to operate in East Orange, New Jersey, since 1998 its studios and operating facilities have been headquartered in Jersey City, New Jersey. It broadcasts locally at 91.1 Mhz FM, in 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 management
WFMU commenced broadcasting in April 1958, licensed to Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. Initially 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. It became a fully independent radio station when Auricle bought the license from the college. In August 1998, listener donations funded a new studio and office in Jersey City.
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 serve New York City listeners better.
WFMU 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.
"WFMU is a place where the Singing Dogs are just as important as Elvis; a place where you will, in fact, hear Elvis, but in close proximity to ritual disinterment music from Sumatra, the soundtrack from Mothra, a theremin band called the Lothars, and the intergalactic jazz improvisations of the Sun Ra Arkestra," wrote Jaime Wolf in a 1999 New York Times station profile.
Funding and operations
WFMU'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 that 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).
WFMU 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 influence
WFMU 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 The 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 co-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, indie rock band Yo La Tengo, 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 one of many attempts to oust WBAI's station management by Pacifica's national Board of Directors. WFMU had previously provided a radio home to WBAI overnight host Bob Fass, whose Radio Unnameable program closely resembled WFMU's own freeform format, during an earlier dispute between WBAI and Pacifica in the late 1970s.
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.
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. 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.
WFMU's grant included funds to create a podsafe online music library called The Free Music Archive, which launched on April 10, 2009. The platform described itself as "a social music website built around a curated library of free, legal audio." It hosted over 45,000 podsafe songs for free for streaming or download, many under Creative Commons licenses.
On November 7, 2018, it was announced that the Free Music Archive would be shutting down permanently on November 16, 2018. Existing files would be moved to the Internet Archive collection, but it would effectively end as a growing, ongoing project. Director Cheyenne Hohman noted that its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts had been reduced significantly, and that "material support" for the arts had been "dwindling". The closing date was later pushed back to December 1. On December 12, 2018, it was announced that the service had been acquired by equipment rental service KitSplit, who pledged to ensure its continued operation. However, on September 19, 2019, Kitsplit announced that it had sold the FMA to Tribe of Noise - a group also focusing on the distribution and promotion of free content music under Creative Commons licenses.
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.
WFMU.org offers three 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:
- Give The Drummer Radio: jazz, world/ethnic, avant-garde
- Sheena's Jungle Room: sleazy lounge, crazy rock, bump 'n' grind jazz, dirty blues, thrift-store weirdness, exotica, comedy, vintage radio ads, movie/tv clips, sound fx ("Bad Sounds For Bad People!")
- Rock'n'Soul Radio: garage rock, psychedelic pop, soul, boogaloo, mod, beat, glam, hard rock
The former Rock and Soul Ichiban was discontinued June 8, 2020 due to an internal dispute. It was revived as Rock'n'Soul Radio with both old and new personnel, including the famed Terre T of the Cherry Blossom Clinic (formerly on WFMU proper) and the Ichi-bunny (a staff created AI).
The Audience Engine
In 2013, station manager Ken Freedman and Assistant General Manager Liz Berg initiated the creation of a suite of software for broadcasters, journalists and online publishers known as the Audience Engine. The project remains in development and modules have periodically been released.
In 2014, after a tenant vacated the ground floor of their Jersey City premises, WFMU renovated the space and opened up a live music and performance venue. It was named "Monty Hall," because the building is located on Montgomery Street, the venue is a "hall," and the name is associated with a well-known TV game show host. The first show had a line up of Doug Gillard, Pampers, Spectre Folk and Watery Love. Since a March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, Monty Hall has been closed for public performance.
- List of WFMU Radio Hosts
- WMFU – 90.1 FM, licensed to Mount Hope, New York
- List of community radio stations in the United States
- "About WFMU – WFMU-FM 91.1/Jersey City, NJ; 90.1/Hudson Valley, NY". Retrieved 2019-01-01.
- "A Brief History of Free-form Radio", Lowest Common Denominator, Issue #21 (c. 1998)
- "WFMU". americanarchive.org. Retrieved 2021-07-25.
- Predicted Coverage Area for WFMU 91.1 FM, East Orange, NJ
- Predicted Coverage Area for W220EJ 91.9 FM, Weehawken, NJ
- Wolf, Jaime, "No Hits, All the Time", The New York Times, April 11, 1999
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-24. Retrieved 2015-07-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Interview with WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman, The Fifth Corner, WBAI 99.5 FM, NYC 3/15/90 (link to mp3 archive)
- "$19 Million in Music Grants Awarded by Fund Created by "Payola" Settlement""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-17. Retrieved 2008-01-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- WFMU in Fund-Raising Drive., Pristin, Terry. The New York Times. March 13, 1996.
- WFMU: Land of the Freeform Radio | The Jersey City Independent
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-03. Retrieved 2007-03-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- No Hits, All the Time. Wolf, Jamie. The New York Times Magazine. April 11, 1999.
- YouTube clip of Cobain reading WFMU's Catalog of Curiosities, around the 6:02 mark
- Lee Ranaldo on listening to WFMU, Feb 2000, Official website of Sonic Youth
- Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Rebecca Sugar, 2014-08-20
- as told in an interview on RadioEins
- "Daniel Johnston and Yo La Tengo Collaborate on The Music Faucet, February 4, 1990", From the WFMU Archives, Beware of the Blog (April 05, 2006)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-06-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- FREEFORM OR DEATH, a documentary about WFMU by Tim K Smith — Kickstarter
- "Phish's Incredible Hoax About a Fake Scandinavian Band Stretches Across the Internet". Spin. 2018-11-01. Retrieved 2018-11-01.
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. "$19 Million in Music Grants Awarded by Fund Created by 'Payola' Settlement." Archived 2008-05-17 at the Wayback Machine
- Cnet.com "Webware Radar: Get 5,000 music tracks for free"
- Moss, Ceci (May 1, 2019). "Interview with Jason Sigal of the Free Music Archive". RHIZOME. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
- "The Portland Mercury - The Free Music Archive is Incredibly Awesome". Archived from the original on 2010-01-15. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
- Stephen, Bijan (2018-11-07). "The Free Music Archive is closing this month". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-05-19.
- Hohman, Cheyenne (November 15, 2018). "Update: Closing Date Pushed to Dec 1". Free Music Archive. Archived from the original on November 17, 2018.
- Stephen, Bijan (2018-12-12). "The Free Music Archive will live on". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-05-19.
- "Tribe Of Noise Acquires Free Music Archive". hypebot. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
- WFMU streaming radio on iPhone, Boing Boing, 11/5/07
- Flanagan, Andrew, "WFMU Wants to Change How Media Talks to Its Audiences and Raises Money — For Free," Billboard, July 29, 2015
- "WFMU's performance space in Jersey City is called Monty Hall (upcoming shows & videos)". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 2019-07-15.