I’ve long admired New Jersey non-commercial freeform station WFMU. It started life as the college station for Upsala College. When the college went bankrupt in 1995 the volunteers formed a nonprofit corporation to buy the license, rather than see it liquidated. Since then WFMU has been a strong voice for true freeform radio and an innovator in using the internet to extend its reach and better serve its audience.
Station Manager Ken Freedman has been the driving force behind WFMU’s strength since its independence almost 17 years ago. This year the National Federation of Community Broadcasters is honoring Freedman with its 2012 Bader Award [PDF], named in honor of attorney Michael Bader who fought fiercely for Community Radio. The award is given annually for “a single stunning innovation or a lifetime of vital contributions to Community Radio.”
I had the opportunity to interview Freedman a couple of times on my former radio program, and each time I benefited from his perspectives on radio and culture. In the 1990s his idea to broadcast WFMU online was very forward thinking. But as he explained to me, it wasn’t for the sake of the internet for its own sake. Rather he saw it as a way for WFMU to better serve and expand its audience, given its 1250 watt signal on the very crowded New York metro radio dial. In that way taking the opportunity to use this new medium was almost a matter of survival. Nevertheless, that’s the kind of foresight that was utterly lacking in the commercial radio world until very recently.
Since the 90s WFMU has greatly expanded its online archives, giving listeners the opportunity to catch programs on-demand any time after they air. As well, WFMU is behind the Free Music Archive, which is a four year-old curated library of high-quality, legal music downloads.
Freedman will be given the Bader Award at the 2012 Community Radio Conference, June 13-16 in Houston. Previous Bader Award Recipients include: Peggy Berryhill of Native Media Resource Center (2011), Brian DeShazor and the Pacifica Radio Archives (2010), John Crigler (2009) of Garvey Schubert Barer, Hugo Morales (2008) of Radio Bilingüe, and Ellin O’Leary (2007) of Youth Radio.