Definition of Freeform 

Freeform Radio: Does not necessarily mean “random.” It is 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 Berkeley, 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 popularity 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’ “Radio 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 still exclusively free-form.

Merriam Webster Definition: created or done in any way you choose: not required to have particular patterns or forms.

The Wizard has a Freeform format regarding music and entertainment programming.

WZRD’s brand of freeform is commercial free, devoid of ego, eclectic, and radically non-mainstream. This means:

  • Never on WZRD will you be subject to ads, infomercials, or any sort of commercialist nonsense (all of our funds come from the university and the community.)
  • Our DJs are anonymous on-air. You can call us wizards. (You’ll get used to it).
  • We are not about block programming, making exceptions only for extremely underrepresented and unique viewpoints/content, as well as a couple programs from the Pacifica Foundation. This means you certainly won’t be tuning in for “Jazzy Jack’s Morning Nu-Metal Hour!”, or “Day-time TV, Today!”
  • Our DJs may play anything they want, whenever they want, as long as everybody else isn’t playing it. That’s not to say you won’t hear the occasional familiar sound, but hopefully you’ll be exposed to it in a new context.

You might tune in to WZRD for one hour and hear Death Metal, Country Blues, Tuvan Throat Singing, or Disco (probably not Disco). Now we understand that [INSERT GENRE HERE] isn’t everyone’s thing, so if you’re not diggin’ what we’re playing, go ahead and switch your radio dial over to something else, but tune back in to WZRD 5 minutes later and you’ll probably hear something completely different. Maybe it’ll expand your horizons. It might just rock your world.

Tune in to Chicago's unique freeform radio station at 88.3FM on your radio dial, on the Tune In App, or simply click on the Live Stream to hear WZRD from anywhere.