The heart of what makes Jersey City-based station WFMU unlike other community radio stations is the programmatic design. What’s on offer really depends on the time. The variety is mind-boggling. It’s simply impossible to categorize a radio station that plays against each other: Irish soul, Afro-Cuban R&B, Malaysian queer anthems, West African synthpop, Danish post-punk, Icelandic grunge, ambient surf, classic jazz, avant-garde afro-futurist and… well, you name it. We took a deep dive into WMFU to learn more about its history, mission, and what makes it special.
The unparalleled success of WFMU radio station is the result of vision, commitment and location, location, location.
Many towns and college towns are home to unstructured format radio stations where volunteer DJs are encouraged to create radio shows based on their sonic expertise – however, these sounds can be niche and sometimes challenging. Often, however, the years pass and a narrowing of the reach of these DJs naturally occurs.
In many free-form radio station programs, the fact that DJs keep the most-chosen time slots as they get older means that the audience begins to expect only those DJs to give them . Audiences who might have digged something new never even tune in. And new DJs with new musical interests can’t get in beyond the graveyard change.
This is where WFMU beats the competition in the long run. At WFMU, no one can lock down a specific time slot and keep it. Novelty is valued and cultivated. And, because the schedule never expires (like that community radio station that ended up becoming nothing but bluegrass), new listeners tune in all the time.
These new listeners bring new energy. The most engaged listeners in each WFMU show’s live chats are those who have tuned in most recently and realize that their nuanced sonic obsessions are shared by a whole community of other people.
Decades ago, while running his station at Michigan’s Ann Arbor University, WFMU Executive Director Ken Freedman observed the pattern of DJ territorialism transforming freeform radio into something prescribed and predictable. He realized that supporting serious diversity among DJs is key to attracting a truly wide audience. It’s his vision that keeps our Hudson County airwaves fresh and very boring.
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It’s one thing to say: we play everything. It’s quite another to support DJs who love music that others complain about. Sometimes listening to what’s airing on WFMU requires an open mind, what music is, and how long this track can last. Management can’t be faint-hearted and can’t make choices worrying about retaining the station’s support.
This is where WFMU’s vision becomes a commitment. The station does not accept subscribers. They are indebted Nope great foundations. Read it again, because it’s not at all usual. All of the funding that allows the station’s transmitter to operate atop Watchung First Mountain in West Orange, the Jersey City Broadcast Building, and their event space, Monty Hall, comes through small donations from listeners at the station.
While many radio stations require subscribed members to send in a twenty every month, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that works entirely from old-fashioned pledge campaigns and fundraisers. It takes a serious commitment not to let big donors take away some of the large dollars needed to make something as massive as the WFMU work.
Location, location, location
The commitment required to see the vision come to fruition centers on the very special qualities of the WFMU Hudson County House. Ken Freedman attributes a measure of the love that listeners have for WFMU to his Jersey home. “New Jersey has an underdog attitude. We’re proud to be from New Jersey, but not pretentious.
The truth is that a radio station located in Jersey City, broadcasting to New York, upstate and Pennsylvania, has an inherent advantage in terms of audience. There are few US regions as dense as WFMU’s listening areas. Small donors abound. Just reach for them and shoot them.
With its almost shocking degree of outside music interspersed with esoteric interviews and generally clever content, WFMU has attracted a number of celebrity listeners who live, at least part-time, in the Shining City across the Atlantic. Hudson.
Not to mention that WFMU has access to all the amazing bands trying to make it here. This region offers an embarrassment of riches for a radio station that wants to broadcast wild and seductive content to blow your mind.
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You are invited to the party
So, join the following worship.
WFMU 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 in New York and Rockland County at 91.9 FM. But you can stream the station live or listen to your favorite DJs on your own schedule.