Like most people I usually listen to radio while I’m doing something else. When I’m in the car, the radio is always on. In the kitchen when I’m making something, I listen to an internet radio. And in the gym I’ve always got headphones on and am connected to a radio station app. Here’s what I listen to:
This is the freest of freeform radio. There is no telling what you’ll hear on this station. I was cruising along in the car the other day listening to “Chocolate Covered Hockey Puck” and the VD-themed “Don’t Try to Sure Yourself.” My teenage son makes a sport out of trying to Shazam the songs he here’s on FMU. The app recognizes maybe one in 50. There was a guy on the other day who was playing the music of religious cults. But it’s not all music. I’ve heard nuggets of wisdom from the DJ’s like “I’d rather eat fish than listen to smooth jazz.” And one day I tuned in for a sports talk show during which they were debating who should be named “douche of the week.” Our family favorite is the Friday evening show “Shut Up, Wierdo.” On one recent episode listeners were invited to call in to describe their first sexual experience….but only if they could do it in haiku.
WFMU dates back to 1958. They are in Jersey City although on the air they will say they are in East Orange because that is where the station is licensed. It was originally the radio station of Upsala College in East Orange although as time when on it seems as though the college might have been clueless about what was going on at the radio station. The college itself folded. The radio station lives on. Shortly before they padlocked the college doors, the FMU staff bought the station from the school. It is totally listener sponsored with no public or foundation money. They are fond of telling us that not one single commercial has ever run on FMU. If you want radio that is unpredictable, you probably can’t do better than WFMU.
This is the radio station of Fordham University, on air since 1947, but it is hardly college radio. In fact one member of the DJ staff is Denis Elsas, who spent 25 years at WNEW-FM in New York. Students are involved in the news and in the sports (legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully got his start here). There is some rotation play. FUV promotes things like a song of the day and a featured artist of the week. But it seems also to be at least partially DJ-programmed. It does play a diverse range of music and its tagline “music discovery starts here” sounds good. I do hear new music and songs I’ve never heard before on FUV and that’s a prerequisite for me to listen to any station. They have some pretty good live shows in their studios which are archived on their web site. This is one of my presets mainly because it is the station that best reflects my musical tastes. It is what I switch to when FMU has something on that’s just too weird for me.
It is a college-affiliated station so occasionally the music stops in favor of a Fordham basketball or football game. I’m a fan of college sports so that doesn’t bother me. It is also a Jesuit university and you can catch a Catholic mass on Sunday. You can, but that’s something I pass on.
The Newark public radio station started broadcasting in 1948. As with the two stations above, I am a WBGO member and make an annual contribution. WBGO is a jazz station. I think it is the only one in this market. I’m not a big fan of jazz, but I’m happy to listen from time-to-time and they also play a lot of blues, which I like. They sponsor free lunch hour jazz concerts on the grounds of the Newark Museum during the summer that I try to attend at least a couple times a year. They have a good newscast. National news comes from NPR and they produce their own local news and its meaningful news that matters to the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey. It’s also the closest thing around to a local station for me. If I want to hear local traffic and weather, I prefer not to have to tune into the New York AM all-news station where I have to listen to one story after another about things like somebody’s grandmother getting mugged on their way to the subway. Instead I go to WBGO.
If I make a left turn instead of a right turn and find myself headed toward Pennsylvania, WXPN is what I turn to as I drift out of the range of the New York stations. It is a lot like WFUV: listener sponsored, FM, college owned. Started as the radio voice of the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, it is run as a professional rather than a college radio station. Student programming has mostly moved to another station. It plays the same type and range of music as FUV and turns out to be a pretty seemless alternative for me if I venture toward the state line.
The last of my presets. I’ve got another button in the car but haven’t found anything else I want to connect to. WBAI is mostly there for nostalgia purposes. If you’ve read my History of Radio posts you know I admire this station as one of the pioneers of freeform and I was an avid listener as I was growing up. It is a Pacifica Foundation listener-sponsored station that came on the air in 1960 and while it has gone through many iterations it is generally associated with counter-culture, minority voices and left-wing politics. I don’t listen to it too much anymore for two reasons. For one, I feel like too many of the on air personalities are preaching at me. The other is that many of the shows are targeted for very specific audiences but the audience for one is not likely to have that much interest in the next. Politically it does usually reflect my views. Just don’t beat me over the head with them.
This is an internet radio station that is a standard in my kitchen. Music to chop vegetables to. It is a mom and pop radio station. It is run and the music is programmed by Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith. They started in the year 2000. They are completely listener supported. The Goldsmith’s promise “You’ll hear modern and classic rock, world music, electronica, even a bit of classical and jazz. What you won’t hear are random computer-generated playlists or mind-numbing commercials.“ I have in fact found all that to be true. These guys are living proof that you don’t need a huge staff, an FCC license or a ton of bandwidth to produce good radio. And you don’t need advertisers either.
The one thing that all of the stations I listen to have in common is that they are all non-commercial listener supported. That’s not intentional on my part, but I don’t believe advertisers are going to support the kind of radio I like to listen to. I’m willing to listen to a modest amount of ads if the rest of the programming is good. But for most commercial radio, that’s just not the case.