WMLB calls itself “The Voice of the Arts.” It’s certainly eccentric enough to own that title—a commercial AM radio station with a playlist that aligns itself as closely with our 100 Best Living Songwriters list as anything I’ve heard on air. It’s my first choice for Atlanta radio (even before they asked me and my Paste compatriots to host an hour-long show every Friday), but its 10,000-watt signal only covers a section of the city. Still, it’s a powerhouse compared to the radio stations on this list.
On a recent vacation in Maui, I stumbled across a much-lower-watt station that made driving around the gorgeous island even more of a joy—as long as I didn’t venture up or around a mountain. It made me wonder what other little stations are ignoring the FCC’s apparent decree that all radio must viciously suck. I polled our followers on Twitter and Facebook to find The Best Little Radio Stations in the U.S.
Please note: all these stations broadcast at 5,000 watts or less and contain mostly original programming (not just NPR and PRI shows). If your om station is missing (and fits the criteria), please add it in the comments section.
100 WATTS OR LESS
WMUC 88.1 FM
College Park, Md.
The University of Maryland’s student-run station is truly freeform: the student DJs each program their own playlists.
WRIR 97.3 FM
In addition to its Pacifica broadcasts, Richmond’s Indie Radio plays an eclectic mix of music. As The Haberdasher says, “Rockin’ out tonite with lots of different sounds. So if you don’t like what you hear right now, check back in 5 minutes.”
WRLR 98.3 FM
Round Lake Heights, Ill.
Paste reader Mick Cullen says: “The only low-power FM station in Illinois not associated with a church or school, entirely run (on the air and off) by volunteers. Always something different—comedy, indie rock, blues, club music, heavy metal, political and sports coverage, you name it.”
KOSWLP 91.3 FM
Ocean Shores, Wash.
Paste reader Jen Hough says of the all-volunteer nonprofit community station: “Broadcasts local independent music and music from all genres are represented. Non commercial community radio at it’s best.”
WPPP-LP 100.7 FM
The Athens Banner Herald calls it “the only radio station in the area that will play Pat Benatar right after a Drive-By Truckers song following a jazz lick – and all without commercial interruption.” Reader JJ White says, “Really wide selection, always something good—at night especially.”
KFSC-LP 94.1 FM
Stephanie Barraza says KFSC is the “only station that broadcasts local music, indie music and local news. The only other stations around here are mainstream music (“country,” “hip-hop,” “alternative” and Christian) that make my ears bleed and my brain explode.” Here’s to music that doesn’t make your brain explode.
KOPO 89.5 FM
Driving around Maui with my daughter, I heard The Replacements, Tom Waits, The Decemberists, Vampire Weekend, Beirut, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Motown, jazz and even Jack Johnson, because it is Hawaii. The only DJs were the kids of the Paia Youth and Cultural Center, who read all the announcements during the breaks in music.
WRFR-LP 93.3 FM
Licensed by the Penobscot School and serving the Rockland-Camden area. Each volunteer DJ takes the programming in a completely different direction. Paste Twitter follower rockblogsterbdn says: “Coastal Maine attitude, eclectic programming. Love it.”
101 WATTS TO 1,000 WATTS
WXAV 88.3 FM
Owned by Saint Xavier University, the station airs everything from the Sisters of Mercy produced public affairs program “God Matters” to a heavy-metal show. Paste reader Jeff LaMorte says: “It’s the closest thing to PASTE radio!”
WCBN 88.3 FM
Ann Arbor, Mich.
This freeform Wolverine-run station takes pride in its maverick history: When Reagan was elected, several DJs in a row played nothing but Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To).” Plus, Gilda Radner was once its weather girl.
WRLT Lightning 100.1
Nashville’s not all country, and Lightning 100 mixes plenty of up-and-coming local bands and singer/songwriters among its list of classics.
WNRN 91.9 FM
Several Paste readers nominated this public radio/modern rock/Triple A/Hip-Hop station, and we can’t argue with any station that sticks Triple A next to Hip-Hop. Even with its six translators in neighboring towns, the wattage doesn’t add up to 1,000.
WHJE 91.3 FM
Forget college radio; this is high-school radio. The DJs are sophomores through seniors.
KYDS 91.5 FM
Another high-school-student-run station. Reader Meagan Sevier says, “They play music from all genres. And did I mention it’s run by high schoolers???”
KXUA 88.3 FM
Several years after the University of Arkansas’ radio station changed its format to NPR, students organized in an effort to create a new station. On April 1, 2000—six years after the effort began—KXUA came on air. As an April Fools joke, they claimed they weren’t allowed to play music and broadcast political speeches instead. Since then, says Paste reader Kevin LeBlanc, it “plays new music of all genres not heard on traditional stations, promotes live music in the region and interviews bands who play in Fayetteville.”
WUTK 90.3 The Rock
Reader Cynthia Roberson says: “Great selection, fantastic radio personalities, and they always have lavish giveaways. I get free show tickets monthly.”
1,001 WATTS TO 5,000 WATTS
WXYC 89.3 FM
Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Tar Heel-run station was credited with the first Internet radio broadcast when they went online in November 1994. They haven’t stopped streaming their eclectic playlist since then.
WFMU 91.1 FM
East Orange, N.J.
WFMU’s free-form philosophy is its governing principal; giving free reign to its DJs is its raison d’être. It’s the longest-running free-form station in the country and has been called the best in the nation by Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, CMJ and the New York Press. When I tuned in, it was to a rambling discussion about the origin of the phrase “a shaggy dog story.” Fortunately a listener straightened them out.
WYMS 88.9 FM Radio Milwaukee
“Diverse Music for a Diverse City.” That diversity begins with indie rock and extends to a variety of genres.
WLCA 89.9 FM
Operated by the students of Lewis and Clark College, WLCA reaches into north St. Louis with its college blend. Reader Kyle Cunningham says, “It plays everything from classic indie like The Pixies and The Smiths to today’s indie, punk, ska and alternative. It’s an epic station.”
WFHB 91.3 FM
WFHB got its start in the ‘70s when some local radio enthusiasts attended the National Alternative Radio Konference in Madison, Wisc. For a quarter century they’ve kept that enthusiasm for music alive, particularly when it comes to bands on Bloomington’s fantastic Secretly Canadian label.
WQFS 90.9 FM
Guilford College insists that WQFS is “Your Only Alternative.” You could be stuck with worse than shows like “Monkey Wrench Radio” and “The Old Country Store.”
WAPS 91.3 The Summit
Paste reader Sheila Francis says: “Great format and programming. They have an amazing in-house Audio Technica studio where members are invited to private performances (I’ve been to Ingrid Michaelson & Bell X1!), incredible amount of community service and support. Paste and The Summit should at least be dating, and I’m pretty sure that shit would lead to an engagement.”
WVMW 91.7 FM (VMFM)
Indie rock reigns at the voice of Marywood University. We’re pretty sure this is the only station that Dwight Schrute listens to.
WORT 89.9 FM
In addition to public affairs programming and literature readings, the listener-supported community radio station plays an eclectic mix of rock, folk, jazz and bluegrass. Its current Top 5 includes Eels, Black Angels, Best Coast, Justin Townes Earle and the Posies.
2,001 WATTS TO 5,000 WATTS
KRCC 91.5 FM
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Owned by Colorado College but supported by its listeners, KRCC is not afraid to play the hell out of Menomena.
KRSC 91.3 FM
The student-run station from Rogers State University mixes hip-hop, rock and electronica. Reader Timothy Harmon Jr says, “This is my favorite because they play a huge variety with multiple different radio shows [including] a lot of Indie bands that it seems are pulled from either from [Paste] magazine or [sampler] tracks.”
WUSC 90.5 FM
I’m still a little sore at the Gamecocks for stopping my UGA Bulldogs impressive-til-the-just-shy-of-the-end comeback a couple of weeks ago, but credit where it’s due. The station has a policy not to play anything on rotation on any other station in the area or any song that’s cracked the Top 40 charts in the last 40 years.
WBER 90.5 FM
Reader Anthony V Parcero says: “Daily, they turn over the airwaves to local high school AV clubs; they let listeners vote on which songs go into rotation; they work with local community colleges and high schools to provide internships and experience in working in radio; they have a ‘locals only’ show.” Plus, their Top 10 last year included Metric and Fun.
KUSF 90.3 FM
San Francisco, Calif.
The U of SF’s station is eclectic enough that it’s current top album is “Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock & Electtronic Musik 1972-83” but Tom Jones, M.I.A. and The Roots are also up there. Paste reader Daniel Hooper calls it “the best place to find out what San Francisco CA sounds like.”
KXLU 88.9 FM
Los Angeles, Calif.
The Loyola Marymount University station has been running its demo show Demolisten since 1984 when DJ Agen Ava started with reels of Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More.
KOOP/KVRX 91.7 FM
You’ve got to be doing something right to impress the music-spoiled folks of Austin, which boasts 100,000-watt giants KGSR and KUT. The community-radio KOOP broadcasts during the day, with the University of Texas’ student-run KVRX taking over at night with the motto “None of the Hits, All of the Time.”
WMSE 91.7 FM
The radio station of the Milwaukee School of Engineering gives its shows titles like “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” “Freeform Funhouse,” “The Chicken Shack” and “Blip Damage Metal Chemistry.”
WPGU 107.1 FM
Student-run, but fully commercial, WPGU is a college station heavy on The Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Mumford & Sons.
WERS 88.9 FM
One of Emerson College’s two radio stations, WERS’ daytime playlist mixes the best of indie rock and AAA, from Deer Tick and Beach House to Sharon Jones and T Rex.
KEXP 90.3 FM
We were shocked to learn that KEXP’s monster presence is powered by only 4,700 watts. But with the backing of both the University of Washington and Paul Allen’s Experience Muisc Project, it punches way above its weight, and its website was the first to stream 128kb/s live radio.
WEVL 89.9 FM
The listener-supported, independent station proudly states that it’s “not owned or operated by any government agency, university, school system, or commercial entity.” From “Deep Blues” to “Hillbilly Jazz” to “Old Time Country,” WEVL is as down-home as the city it serves
WXPN 88.5 FM
Another little giant, Philly’s WXPN sends David Dye’s World Cafe show all over the country via NPR and recently opened its own venue World Cafe Live.
Radio K, KUOM 770 AM
The oldest station in Minnesota, Radio K is only licensed for the daytime, but has three small transmitters on the FM dial to continue broadcasting at night. With regular in-store performances from bands like Villagers, Foals and Suckers, the station also gives away a free mp3 every day on its website.