WFMU is not a normal radio station.
A normal radio station would have pulled the plug on its transmitter after the college it was affiliated with went bankrupt. Instead, WFMU’s staff and listeners banded together to buy the station’s broadcast license from Upsala College back in 1995. Not only did the station survive the transition, it eventually raised enough money from its listeners to buy its own broadcast facility in Jersey City.
A normal radio station would have given in, or given up, when the RIAA began demanding that web broadcasters pay hefty royalties far exceeding what terrestrial broadcast stations pay. Instead, WFMU fought back and used the opportunity to lobby record labels for exemptions from the new fees.
A normal non-commercial radio station drives listeners away with frequent pledge drives that are designed to elicit as much guilt as possible. Instead, WFMU has only one pledge drive a year, and it actually draws listeners in with entertaining and unique programming (like the annual Yo La Tengo all request show scheduled for Tuesday March 7th, at 8pm EST – make a donation and Yo La Tengo will play your request live).
Normal public radio stations receive funding from corporate sponsors and go as far as they can to bend the financing rules imposed on public radio. WFMU accepts no corporate sponsorship or underwriting of any kind. The station is totally listener sponsored. As a result, there’s absolutely no conflict between what listeners might want to hear and what sponsors might find inappropriate.
In a world of right wing talk and satellite hype, WFMU is one of the few broadcast stations keeping traditional radio relevant. Ironically, they’re doing it with the help of the Internets.
WFMU began streaming its signal online in 1997. It was a costly and risky move for a station that had just gained it’s independence, and all of the financial obligations that went along with that independence. The bet paid off, however, and Internet listeners now make up a substantial portion of the station’s listening audience, contributing enough during the annual marathon to keep the station afloat.
More recently, WFMU has expanded it’s programming to include podcasts and web-only programs that bypass the arbitrary content limitations imposed by the FCC.
I’m frequently astounded that a small, listener supported station from Jersey seems to have a better grasp on new technology and its implications than any of the major media corporations. All of this innovation comes at a price, of course. Bandwidth and servers aren’t cheap — hence the annual Marathon.
If you’ve never listened to WFMU before, consider this your invitation to tune-in. You might also think about making a small donation to a very worth cause (tax deductible, of course). Consider how much of your hard earned cash you’ve given to the mega-media corporations in the past year. And what have they done for you lately (besides canceling “Arrested Development”)?