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THE HISTORY OF FREEFORM RADIO
by
Alex Cosper


Freeform radio rose in the sixties as an alternative to the limited choices of tight playlists and hyper personality of AM radio. Most people did not yet have FM receivers in the sixties. Only the most elite music fans and audiophiles were attracted to FM because of the superior hi-fidelity sound quality, although FM signals sometimes had spotty market coverage, especially in cars due to the absence of a future technology that would correct the problem in the late seventies.

Until 1965, the Federal Communications Commission allowed FM stations to simulcast programming of their parent AM stations half of their broadcast day. But a new ruling was issued that required that over fifty percent of the programming on FM stations must be separate from their AM counterparts. This decision forced owners to come up with original content for FM, which gave them a chance to divert from typical commercial formats like top 40 and literally experiment with new formats.

Although the new FCC ruling didn't go into effect until January 1, 1967, a few stations jumped the gun into experimental programming. One of the earliest stations to venture into progressive rock was New York public radio station WBAI in 1965, owned by the Pacifica Radio Network, known for being original, eclectic, local and a forum for free speech.

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