BEST RADIO STATION - 2006
"We're just doing whatever," the voice on the radio says. "I can't believe they're letting us get away with this." Without looking, you know that the dial is set to KFAI. What other station could it be? For 28 years, this loose experiment in freeform community radio has erred on the side of permission: The late-night DJ in question could be voicing her station's credo. Outside of deciding what shows to air and when, nobody programs KFAI. You can't say this about even the best local stations not larded with commercials—KMOJ (89.9 FM), the Current (89.3 FM), and the partially FM-expanded Radio K (770 AM/100.7/106.5 FM). KFAI is all specialty shows, all the time, which means DJs and news anchors are also programmers and producers. No wonder the music shows are totems of their scenes, from the blues of House Party (Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m.) to the garage rock of Radio Rumpus Room (Fridays at 9:00 p.m.) and the hip hop of RSE Radio (Saturdays at 9:00 p.m.). Arguably no better radio in the world exists between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m., from the rare metal of The Root of All Evil (early Sunday mornings at 1:00 a.m.) to the rare dub reggae of The Echo Chamber (early Wednesday mornings at 2:00 a.m.). It's obvious that large private music collections power KFAI, including those of Hmong, South Asian, and African tastemakers. One longs for more cooperation between these agendas, more call-in opportunities, more concert simulcasts, and more flexibility in scheduling—though KFAI does make extra time, when needed, for run-over of the nationally syndicated Democracy Now! news program (Monday through Friday at noon, and 5:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday). But such hopes are inspired by the fervent ambitions of a station to be something for everyone—ambitions shared by no other radio in town.