Support indie radio station WFMU at its mini record fair this weekend

Station manager Ken Freedman gives an update on WFMU's post-Sandy damage and a preview of the record fair.

WFMU station manager Ken Freedman

WFMU station manager Ken Freedman

It’s been nearly three months since Hurricane Sandy tore through the tristate area, and many businesses affected by the storm are still cleaning up the damage. One of those is Jersey City free-form radio station WFMU, which was hit hard: The storm knocked out its transmitters, Internet and phone lines; much of its electrical equipment was damaged and needs to be repaired; and its annual record fair, scheduled for the first weekend in November, was canceled. “We’re still diagnosing everything, believe it or not,” says station manager Ken Freedman. “By and large, everything’s kind of working, but there are still all sorts of little annoying things that haven’t been repaired yet.” (As of this writing, WFMU still hadn’t received any money from its various insurance policies.)

The station was lucky in some ways: Despite being located mere blocks from the Hudson River, there was no flooding in its building—according to Freedman, as little as two feet of water in the basement would have destroyed the studio. “We were half a block away from where the river rose to,” he explains. “If you look at storm-surge maps you see that an island was created in Jersey City, and we were right on the edge of that island.” But WFMU's biggest event each year is the income-generating record fair; all told, its cancellation lost the station an estimated $150,000. 

To (somewhat) compensate, WFMU will hold a downsized record fair at the Bell House this Sunday, January 13, with about 50 vendors selling LPs, rare items and more. (Had it not been scrapped, November’s festival would have welcomed more than twice that number of merchants.) “Dealers save up their stock all year to sell at the record fair,” explains Freedman. “So people have really interesting stock to bring, including us.” Among the vendors that vinyl freaks can expect to see is the beleaguered Norton Records, whose Red Hook warehouse flooded during the storm, destroying much of its inventory. The event will be followed by a concert with an eclectic, awesome lineup: Performers include the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Relatives and Shaggs member Dot Wiggin.

WFMU is largely community-funded, and in Sandy’s immediate aftermath, its devoted listeners quickly rose to the challenge of helping it recuperate. Fortuitously, its Web servers had recently been moved out of the studio, so its website never went offline. “I noticed the morning after we went off the air that our DJs and listeners had been up all night talking about what was happening and donating tons of money,” says Freedman, whose Hoboken home sustained significant damage from the storm. “Even though both of our transmitter sites were without power and our studios and offices were without power, by noon the next day we were actually back on the air because our website was up.” The station was in the midst of its annual silent fund-raiser, one of two pledge drives it holds each year, when the storm hit; thanks to that, and impassioned pleas for help from WFMU’s DJs (Tom Scharpling’s first Best Show after Sandy was especially affecting), donations quickly added up. “We were able to raise enough money that we're hopefully going to be covered from all the damage from the hurricane, from our listeners and from other institutions helping out,” says Freedman.

Despite everything that happened, Freedman is “really optimistic” about WFMU’s future. Its huge annual fund-raising push begins in March, and will hopefully represent a fresh start—allowing the station to focus on larger, long-term projects, such as adding a performance space on the ground floor of its building. “As bad as this was, if you look at how close we are to the river, and it's devastated everybody around us, we still pretty much made it through,” says Freedman. “The thing about Sandy is, as bad as anybody had it, there's always so many other people who had it even worse.”