Freeform Radio: The Movie

Doing radio without commercials, underwriting, or government subsidies.


The book, which is quite good.

Last weekend, Tim K. Smith's documentary Sex and Broadcasting premiered at the DOC NYC festival in New York. The movie isn't actually about sex—it takes its name from Lorenzo Milam's book on the art of creative radio. (*) Instead the picture's about WFMU, a legendarily freewheeling station in New Jersey. FMU offers some of the most strange and eclectic programming available anywhere in the country, and it manages to sustain itself without any commercials, underwriting, or government subsidies, and without being attached to a university that might help pay the bills. (It used to be owned by Upsala College, but the school went bankrupt nearly two decades ago. Improbably, the station survived. [**])

It's a good movie (***), shifting back and forth between the outlet's wild programs and the nuts-and-bolts work required to keep such a relentlessly uncommercial operation on the air. The station underwent a major financial crisis while Smith was filming, and that provides much of the picture's narrative spine; in the meantime, a host of smaller daily mini-crises come and go.

The movie will be screened one more time before the festival ends, at 9:45 Thursday evening. Here's the trailer:

* Milam's book doesn't have much to say about sex either. He claims to have given it that name at the behest of his Great Aunt Beulah, who "convinced me that…the word Sex in the title would double its sales, and quadruple its readership."

** Some of the film's best footage comes from the days right after the college went under, when the station was the only occupied building on an abandoned campus. One DJ reminisces, not very nostalgically, about the shady characters who'd come to Upsala to shoot their guns because they figured there wouldn't be anyone around.

*** Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the movie, wearing my radio historian hat, and while my comments wound up on the cutting room floor the filmmakers were still kind enough to give me a line in the credits. That may make this the single smallest conflict of interest in the history of disclosure statements, but I guess I should mention it.

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    WEVL a community based station in Memphis was the best I ever listened to. I still send them money during pledge week.

  2. ” The movie isn’t actually about sex?”

    Well that’s damned disappointing.

  3. my roomate’s step-aunt makes $77 every hour on the computer . She has been fired for five months but last month her payment was $20090 just working on the computer for a few hours. site here…..


  4. It should be noted that WFMU has a great blog, with fascinating posts like this: The Fascist Stand-Up Comic by Kliph Nesteroff. Frank Fay more or less invented the roles of stand-up comic and master of ceremonies, and was married to Barbara Stanwyck at the start of her career, but:

    He was also comedy’s most notorious racist. In January 1946, several months after Germany had been defeated, a rally of ten thousand white supremacists gathered at Madison Square Garden. They delivered speeches in support of Franco, Mussolini and their fallen hero Adolf Hitler. They promised that the defeat of Germany would not go unpunished. The podium was beneath a banner that saluted their guest of honor. The event was called “The Friends of Frank Fay.”

    A fascist rally of 10,000 in Madison Square Garden in 1946!

  5. Yay!

    Plus, they promote an awful lot. They expose new & touring acts, they help other radio stations in trouble (or not in trouble), they provide outlets for people kicked off air elsewhere, they curate vast amounts of royalty-free music, they break in DJs of all ages, they contribute to audio-visual projects elsewhere, they bring out new technology & show off the old, and maybe best of all, they provide a model for volunteer activity generally. They say they’re the phenomenon that works in practice though not in theory.

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