The annual WFMU Pledge Marathon has begun, and The Freeform Station of the Nation needs you. Yes, you. And you. And even you. If you can swing it, please use the handy dandy WFMU Pledge widget to your right to donate today.
Just in case you are not aware: WFMU (91.1 on your FM dial in the NYC area, streaming at WFMU.org) is a 100 percent listener-supported radio station that broadcasts out of Jersey City. None of their funding comes from the gubment. Very little (if any) comes from corporate entities. None of the DJs are paid. The vast majority of the labor needed to keep the place up and running comes from volunteers.
Why? Because it is one of the only radio stations in the tri-state area–and America–where people can play pretty much whatever they want. In a world where most frequencies are programmed, and in many cases DJ’ed, by robots, WFMU remains a bastion of The Human Element.
Perhaps the very idea of a radio station seems quaint to you, in our world of MP3 players and fax machines, but I strongly disagree. I have been introduced to so much awesomeness thanks to WFMU, whether it’s music or comedy or just plain talk (although nothing they do could be described as “just plain”). Things that I never would have heard of otherwise, and wouldn’t even think to seek out. And I know that I would not have heard any of it on any other radio station. On any other thing, period.
My love for The Best Show on WFMU is well documented. What Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster do on that show would be impossible to do anywhere else. No other station would give them the amount of time needed to make their “mayhem” happen. Not NPR, and certainly not Clear Channel-dominated commercial radio. And The Best Show is just the tip of a very deep iceberg. That is why WFMU needs and deserves support.
Here’s a typical WFMU moment for me: Years ago, I was traveling back from visiting relatives in New Jersey. It was a typically horrible trip back into the city, where my car had to fistfight its way up to the Holland Tunnel. Once in Manhattan, roadwork rerouted me from my usual path to the Williamsburg Bridge, and my wife and I argued over the best way to get there. We were stuck between Grand and Delancey Streets, desperately trying to find our way onto the bridge. Every time we made a turn, it led to another dead end. I thought we might both lose our minds.
Just at our most desperate, screamy moment, the radio cut through. It was tuned to WFMU. I can not recall whose show it was, but they were playing a “song” that was just someone saying SHUT UP! in different tones, on loop, over and over again. It was so dumb and ridiculous, and obviously played just to piss people off, we had to laugh. The insane tension was broken, and the hunt for the bridge no longer seemed so torturous.
After years of sitting on the sidelines, I finally got involved with WFMU by volunteering at the marathon, annual record fair, and other station events. Each time I do, it’s an amazing experience, and everyone involved with WFMU is truly awesome. Seriously. I have not met one person from the station, be they DJ, employee, or volunteer, who was not incredibly cool in every conceivable way.
That may sound unbelievable, but I assure you it’s true. People wouldn’t donate so much time and sweat and money otherwise. It attracts wonderful, creative, good people. They are amateurs in the true sense of the word: people who do what they love because they must. I am extremely grateful to be able to help them in the little ways that I can.
Tonight, The Best Show on WFMU does its first of two marathon shows (aka TomThon), and I urge you to tune in, listen, and make a pledge. Why? Well, because it’s great, for one thing. I had a chance to witness it in person last year, and I was stunned by the insane amount of work that goes into putting it all together. It matched my imagination’s idea of what it’s like to be backstage at SNL or Your Show of Shows or some other live variety show, with changes being made at the last moment and participants zipping back and forth at breakneck speed. And I got to witness scenes like this, where John Hodgman and Patton Oswalt battled each other in a Nerd-Off.
But you should also tune in and donate because, for a pledge of $75, you get a special Best Show poster AND the t-shirt seen here, an homage to the classic Wu-Tang tee. Look at that. That’s a work of art, that is.
But that’s not all! You also get a special 7″ called “Rated G.G.,” a collection of cleaned-up versions of G.G. Allin songs recorded by Ted Leo, Ben Gibbard, Fucked Up, and more of today’s top artists. You won’t hear these songs anywhere else, clean or otherwise, because I hear Mr. Allin passed on.
The 7″ comes with a free download for the vinyl impaired with not only the record’s tracks, but some super-secret not-available-in-any-store material from Scharpling & Wurster and others. Not to mention that if you pledge during the show, you’re in the running for some amazing prizes that Tom gives away on air. Last year, he gave away a Monty Python DVD set autographed by Terry Gilliam and a super crazy rare Robert Pollard box set, among other great gifts. This year promises even more fantastic giveaways. And whoever pledges the most cash during both marathon weeks will receive the contents of this crate. Wanna know what’s inside? Only one way to find out.
Tonight’s installment of TomThon will have in-studio appearances by Carl Newman of The New Pornographers and Ted Leo of The Ted Leo. These marathon shows are always manic, amazing fun, and if past years are any indication, you will get to hear Ted cover some great tunes on the fly, a skill he has mastered. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll hear his renditions of “Chain Fight Tonight” and “Rock n’ Roll Dreams Will Come Through.”
If you give $180 or more, you’re entitled to multiple DJ premiums, and there’s no shortage of great ones available this year. I have years’ worth of premiums from DJs like Evan “Funk” Davies, Rex, and Terre T (the DJ whose fantastic show made me listen to WFMU for the first time way back when). I treasure every one of these premiums because they almost always contain something you simply can not get anywhere else. Terre T’s premiums especially are a goldmine of forgotten tunes, rarities, and live gems that no self-respecting punk should be without.
I know things are tough all over. Not a lot of people have extra pennies jingling around in their pockets, and I’m no exception. But I’m giving what little I do have, and I’m volunteering my time as well, because I believe in WFMU that much. I also look at it as back pay for all the years I listened and didn’t donate or volunteer, like a damn freeloader.
Anything you can spare is appreciated. When I worked the phones last year, I had people pledge $10, and the station was glad to get it, because it’s $10 WFMU didn’t have before. Your money will go to something precious, and you can get some fantastic swag in return.
And if you can’t spare money, spare your voice. Tweet about the marathon, write about it on Facebook, throw a Pledge Widget on your blog like I did. Awareness helps, too, and I know everyone at WFMU will appreciate it.
Do not hesitate. Do not procrastinate. Do not prevaricate or deliberate. DO IT.