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WFMT is a fine arts and classical music FM radio station in Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker. The station is managed by Window To The World Communications, Inc., owner of WTTWmarker, one of Chicago's two PBS television stations. WFMT is also the flagship station of the WFMT Radio Network, and the Beethoven and Jazz Satellite Networks.

A unique feature of this commercial station is that they air no pre-recorded (by non-station hosts) advertising on-air. A brief attempt at introducing pre-recorded commercial advertising, the only time in their long history, proved unpopular with listeners. All advertising on the station is currently read exclusively by WFMT's on-air hosts.

WFMT's programs can be heard through their satellite services, or syndication, internationally. The station's programming is available online as well.

WFMT is an associate member of the European Broadcasting Unionmarker, the only local broadcast station of any kind in the United States that holds that title.


On December 13, 1951, Bernard and Rita Jacobs put WFMT on the air at 105.9 FM with a classical music/fine arts format. They began with eight hour a day broadcasts (3-11 PM), with Bernard serving as the station's engineer, and Rita as the station's announcer. By 1953, programming was expanded to 18 hours per day.

WFMT moved to new studios in the LaSalle Wacker Building in 1954. The station's power and antenna height is increased, increasing their broadcast range. Another big change was in their frequency, when the station moved to their present-day 98.7 FM. That same year, WFMT aired a live recording made on July 4 at Circle Pines Center in Delton, Michigan with Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy.

In 1957 the station received an Alfred I. DuPont Award as the country's best broadcaster in the small-station category. WFMT also aired a discussion between Frank Lloyd Wright and Carl Sandburg, which was simulcast with WTTW, marking the first collaboration between WTTW and WFMT. Another collaboration occurred the following year, as the two stations began a pioneering stereo music project in which WTTW broadcast a left audio channel, and WFMT broadcast the right audio channel simultaneously.

WFMT won another Alfred I. DuPont Award in 1961, this time as the country's best broadcaster in the large-station category, in addition to the station's first Peabody Award. They quadrupled their broadcasting power the same year and offered its first multiplex stereo broadcast, which they tested the following year, presenting the first live concert series broadcast in stereo, with music by the Fine Arts Quartet. In 1964, Hi Fi/Stereo Review readers vote WFMT the highest fidelity station in the USA. The station's first series of Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts began. in 1965.

In 1968, WFMT began 24 hour daily broadcasting. That same year, Bernard Jacobs sold WFMT to WGN Continental Broadcasting Company, which in turn donated the station to WTTW two years later.

The station began distributing WFMT programming to other American and international radio stations in 1972. The following year, they created the Fine Arts Network for syndication of Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera broadcasts.

In 1979, WFMT became America's first radio superstation, delivered by satellite and cable systems across the United States. And WFMT programming entered the Communist Bloc, as the Soviet Unionmarker and Chinamarker began broadcasting WFMT tapes of Chicago Symphony Orchestra radio concerts. The following year, WFMT became the first U.S. radio station to join the European Broadcasting Unionmarker. A live performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was heard in the USA, United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, Belgiummarker, Switzerlandmarker, Italymarker, Swedenmarker and West Germanymarker simultaneously. Wagner's Ring Cycle was broadcast live for the first time as a digital transatlantic performance from Bayreuthmarker, Germanymarker to the USA and Canada in 1983.

The WFMT Fine Arts Circle, a member/listener support and funding group, was formed in 1991.

In 1995, the station moved to its current location in the WTTW complex in Chicago's Northwest Side. The new facility includes an all digital path from studios to transmitter. The WFMT Jazz Satellite Network debuted two years later.

WFMT celebrated its 50th anniversary on December 13, 2001, which Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared WFMT Day.

In 2002, WFMT Radio Network hosted and produced a live broadcast from Durbanmarker, South Africa featuring the world premiere performance of Princess Magogo, the first South African indigenous opera and the first opera with a libretto in the Zulu language. The broadcast was heard by over four million people on 155 stations in the U.S. and on European state radio networks. The broadcast was produced and hosted by Steve Robinson and engineered by Eric Arunas.

In 2003, the station began syndication of the program "Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin", an educational daily program on various themes in classical music. They also launched a Fine Arts Hotline for the Chicago area that same year.

People of WFMT

Several noteworthy individuals who have worked at WFMT in its history. Award-winning stage and film director, writer, and producer Mike Nichols, at the time a student at the University of Chicagomarker, joined the station in 1952. Nichols started "The Midnight Special" in 1953. The show still airs weekly on WFMT, with Rich Warren as the host.

Noted author and broadcaster, the late Studs Terkel, began a weekly program on the station, also in 1953. It eventually became a weeknight program, until his retirement from the station almost fifty years later.

Two-time Peabody Award-winning audio dramatist Yuri Rasovsky, creator of the National Radio Theater of Chicago, began a decade long association with WFMT in 1975. He is still heard periodically on "The Midnight Special" in his classic "Chicago Language Tape" skit.

WFMT is noted for the longevity of various staff members. Norman Pellegrini joined the station and became program director in 1953, holding the position until 1996. Ray Nordstrand was hired as an announcer, also in 1953. He later became the assistant of original owner Bernard Jacobs. Nordstrand moved up to the position of president and general manager in 1970. He retired in 1993 after suffering a heart attack, but continued to work as a consultant to the station until his death in 2005.

Another key contributor to WFMT’s success was Associate Program Director Lois Baum. Arriving at the station from KPFK in California in July 1964, Ms. Baum produced and oversaw the production of countless spoken arts programs and features. She produced the Critic’s Choice series, regular broadcasts of reviews and commentary by artist Harry Bouras, theater critic Claudia Cassidy, and journalist and author Herman Kogan. Ms. Baum selected and programmed plays and readings produced by the BBC and by the National Radio Theater of Chicago, and created “The Storytellers,” a program devoted to short stories. With co-producer George Drury, she created “Word of Mouth,” a spoken arts program that presented a mixture of rare archival recordings and new studio recordings of poets, novelists, philosophers, scientists, actors and musicians. In addition to her extensive work with spoken arts programs, from 1972 until 2009 Lois Baum co-hosted with Norman Pellegrini nationally-syndicated broadcasts from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

In August 2000, Steve Robinson was hired as general manager of WFMT. Robinson has been working in classical music radio for 40 years.

Technological achievements

Since going on the air in 1951, WFMT has garnered a strong reputation for technological innovation and sound quality.

In 1958, WFMT and television station WTTW collaborated on a pioneering stereo music project in which WTTW broadcast a left audio channel, and WFMT broadcast the right audio channel simultaneously.

WFMT broadcast a live concert in 1969 using Dolby noise reduction, the first station ever to do so. Three years later, they broadcast for the first time in four-channel (quadrophonic) sound.

In 1978, WFMT was a participant in the first stereo relay of a live performance via satellite, from the San Francisco Opera.

In 1979, WFMT was one of the first local FM stations to re-broadcast its programming via satellite. This feed was received by cable companies (who would re-broadcast WFMT's programming to their subscribers), as well as by home TVRO users of the time.

In the 1980s, WFMT moved into the digital era, being chosen by Sony and Philips to be the first station in the world to broadcast music from a Compact Disc, thanks to the station's reputation for high audio standards. The station broadcast material from DAT (Digital Audio Tape) for the first time in 1987 and was once again chosen by Sony to broadcast from a MiniDisc, to demonstrate the subtle differences between an MD and a CD.


98.7 WFMT 50th Anniversary: Fifty classic years. From The Archives - 2 CD set and liner notes.

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