Yessir, freeform radio finally has its own entry in the recently published "Dictionary of Radio." This was researched and written by listener Kathleen O'Malley. Bear in mind that the "Dictionary of Radio" focuses mainly on "the radio ind ustry," aka commercial radio.
(Also check out WFMU's own History of Freeform Radio.")

Freeform Radio: An approach to radio programming in which a station's management gives the DJ complete control over program content. Freeform shows are as different as the personalities of DJ's, but they share a feeling of spontaneity, a tendency to play music that is not usually heard. Their ideology tends to be liberal or radical, though their program content is not usually overtly political. Many DJ's mix diverse musical styles, engage in monologues between music sets and/or accept callers on the air. The only rules that free-form DJ's are bound by are FCC regulations such as station identification and restrictions on foul language.

The first stations to try free-form programming were a few FM community and college stations around the country in the late Fifties and early Sixties. The first free-form show was John Leonard's "Nightsounds" on the Pacifica Foundation's KPFA-FM in Berkel ey, soon followed by Bob Fass' "Radio Unnameable" on Pacifica's WBAI-FM in New York. Lorenzo Milam, who founded Seattle's KRAB-FM in 1962, was an influential free-form pioneer. Milan went on to help build several similar, free-form oriented community stat ions around the country during the Sixties. 

Free-form radio had its heyday in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Its implied individualist ethic and its minimal rules resonated with the massive youth counterculture of the time. Some stations, such as Upsala College station WFMU-FM in New Jersey, went completely free-form around this time. Free-form radio has always been more readily accepted in the reserved non-commercial FM band than by commercial stations; its proponents and its detractors agree that it is not appealing to most commercial spon sors because of its iconoclastic reputation. However, in 1967 when the FCC's "FM Nonduplication Rule" forced many commercial FM stations to change their formats, some decided to try free-form programming because the non-commercial stations proved its popu larity with teenagers and young adults. Commercial free-form stations such as WPLJ and WNEW in New York, KMPX in San Francisco, and WHFS in Baltimore flourished for a few years, but their management gradually reinstated playlists or other controls on the DJ's. Many of the changes were a voluntary reaction to a 1971 FCC ruling on a Des Moines free-form station, involving "questionable practices", which implied that stations needed to exercise stricter control over programming.

A few stations around the country continue to air free-form programming. One of very few surviving commercial free-form DJ's is Vin Scelsa, whose popularity has enabled him to retain control over his shows.; he is now on WNEW-FM in New York. Bob Fass' "Ra dio Unnameable" currently broadcasts on WBAI after a few absences over the years. A few college stations are completely free-form, such as WZRD in Chicago and KDVS in Davis, California. WFMU, which became an independent community station in 1994, is sti ll exclusively free-form. 

Suggested readings:

Freeform Partners in Crime: 

WCBN-FM Ann Arbor 88.3
University of Michigan Freeform Radio
Freeform Radio, WESU Middletown
Wesleyan Freeform Radio
The Wizard Free Form Web (WZRD).
Chicago's Finest
WMFO- FreeforM Radio
Freeform lives at Tufts.
The Triad Radio Pages
Chicago Freeform Radio from the early 1970s.
WFHB 91.3/98.1 FM
Bloomington, IN
  • Milam, Lorenzo W. "The Radio Papers:From KRAB to KCHU." San Diego: MHO & MHO Works, 1986
  • Post, Steve. "Playing in the FM Band". New York: Viking Press, 1974. 
  • --Kathleen M. O'Malley

    [ See the Freeform Timeline >>> ]

    WFMU Homepage | Hear Our Signal

    © 2006 WFMU.
    All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of WFMU is prohibited.