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Blu-Ray : Worth a Look
Release Date: February 27th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 2014

Sex & Broadcasting: A Film about WFMU

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Jesse Skeen
Tim K. Smith's documentary about WFMU, a non-commercial, non-profit and volunteer-run radio station in East Orange, NJ, makes its way onto Blu-Ray from Factory 25 a few years after its release. I've been a long-time advocate for anything new and unique on the radio which seems to be fewer and further between lately. Sex & Broadcasting is a good though somewhat incomplete showcase of one of the few stations out there that aren't motivated by money. Worth a look.

Worth a Look
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region Free
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English SDH subtitles
Special Features:
A tour of the WFMU record library with WFMU DJ Brian Turner, At home with WFMU DJs, Alternative opening sequence
Release Date:
February 27th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


The title of this documentary was not chosen to attract attention (there is no sex included in it), it was simply taken from a 1971 book whose complete title was Sex and Broadcasting, A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community and that WAS titled as such just to attract attention. Written while FM radio was still mainly heard by a 'fringe' audience with the mainstream sticking to AM, it advised readers on non-profit, non-commercial community radio which the lower part of the FM band (91.9 and below) has been reserved for by the FCC.

The subject here is exclusively WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, the longest-running noncommercial free-form radio station in the US. As a nonprofit, it and similar stations exist solely to play music and offer commentary that isn't heard on mainstream commercial stations which mainly exist just to sell advertising time and largely play whatever music the major record labels want to promote. Some of these outlets receive some sort of public funding through tax revenue or an institution but WFMU relies solely on listener donations to keep itself running. The people behind it do their jobs without pay, simply for the love of radio and music, but there are still plenty of expenses like equipment and utilities that must be paid for.

Tim K. Smith's documentary was funded through Kickstarter, likely most of the contributors being fans of WFMU who wanted to see it immortalized. What we get is a roughly 80-minute snapshot of it mostly in 2009, judging from the calendars visible on the walls of the station. Hard to believe that was already 15 years ago. The movie itself carried a copyright year of 2015, showing how long it was in post-production.

We first get a collage of station DJs doing their thing, pulling records and CDs from the massive library, introducing themselves on-air and hosting live musicians playing every type of music from rock to wine glasses. One DJ plays an Edison cylinder record on the air. Testimonials from famous people such as Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo praise the station for playing a wide variety of music but nothing from the current Billboard Top 10. Finally, we meet long-time station manager Ken Freedman who has been tirelessly keeping the station alive against the odds. He gives us a bit of history with the station starting out affiliated with the now-defunct Upsala College, something that could be a good subject for a documentary. The school suffered a big decline and closed in 1995- Freedman formed a new entity to continue the station and kept running from the otherwise abandoned campus (which would make a good subject itself for another documentary) for a while before moving to a 3-story building in Jersey City.

He tells the camera some of the general hardships he faces such as equipment breaking down and an annual "ant invasion" in the building that has to be dealt with. A big issue at the time of shooting was the purchase of a booster transmitter which was hoped to bring a better signal to New York City. An extra on-air fundraiser was held to pay for it which itself had a time limit, then when the equipment was finally installed it didn't work as well as hoped. It isn't clear exactly what was done about that, but we get to meet a few more on-air personalities and hear what their motivations are- one is a popular show of obscure music from the 1950s, played by people who "wanted to be the next Elvis or Little Richard, but they didn't have a clue." One DJ describes his peers as "the people who were picked last for teams in PE class and who stayed home on prom night."

Living in California, I of course hadn't been able to listen to WFMU until they became available online worldwide, something that has definitely helped stations like this reach much larger audiences in areas that might not be so lucky to have a similar station nearby. I've been a long-time listener of KDVS however, licensed to the University of California at Davis with a similar on-air philosophy, I even had my own overnight show there briefly back in 1991. It is also now available online and has listeners around the world. As commercial radio has gotten progressively worse over the years, I've kept this station on in the car most of the time as it's been the only thing that doesn't insult my intelligence. Even if I don't particularly care for the music being played at the moment, I usually keep it on anyway because I know that whoever is there playing it likes it. Besides that, the next person who comes on later might likely play something completely different that I do like more. WFMU seems to be very similar and I've listened to its online stream recently while composing this review.

Sex & Broadcasting gives outsiders a good look at WFMU, but it definitely left me wanting more. It could have easily been twice as long and not worn out its welcome. I mainly would have liked to have learned more about how it ended up in the large building seen here, which despite any insect problems is rather enviable. Some history of how it got started on the internet would have been interesting also, as that was still a relatively new technology when this was shot and it's become the main way many people listen to radio now (at home I'm just about forced to, as the over-the-air FM reception has been pretty bad where I live.) The internet has certainly given stations an infinitely larger audience across the planet that would never be able to pick up their on-air signals. It's likely that music licensing was an issue and they weren't able to include too many examples of songs being played. Naturally, some of it is also a bit outdated now (one note given at the end mentions that one of its popular on-air personalities left the station after the footage was shot), but still gives a good picture of the station in general.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-Ray
Factory 25 and OCN Distribution's Blu-Ray disc arrives in a clear case with a reversible cover insert (the opposite side is mostly plain text in the style of an academic publication, which this label seems to like doing). Inside is a 32-page booklet with four essays by past and present WFMU volunteers. The main menu appears after a brief Factory 25 opening logo, and is styled like that of a standard DVD as different screens load for the Scene Selection and Extras menus rather than simply changing the player-generated graphics.

Video Review


Sex & Broadcasting is an earlier all-digital affair, most of it shot on hi-def video at 24 frames per second. Most of the footage shot for the documentary itself look better than one might expect for something like this from that time; the picture is nicely detailed with no digital artifacts and clear enough to read most of the record covers and various signs in the background. There are a few inserts that don't fare as well, including some more amateurish digital footage that is a bit blocky and some VHS footage from the early 1990s which are shown here in a lower frame rate. This isn't a title you're going to be pulling out for any type of picture quality references, but most of it is at least adequate for its purpose.

Audio Review


Audio is in 5.1 standard Dolby Digital, again not an extraordinary sonic presentation but serves the purpose. Most of the on-camera speech is perfectly audible which isn't always easy to pull off. The music score fills the front and rear channels but is isolated from the center; there is one good surround effect of a plane flying overhead in an outdoor shot which is a bit out of place. Again, it's a shame that the filmmakers weren't able to license more examples of the actual music played on WFMU as that would have made us more enthusiastic about the station.

Special Features


Several documentaries I've watched on disc lately have included a plethora of extra content, some of it hours long and taking up a second disc in some cases but unfortunately that isn't the case here. The rather sparse extras are:

  • A Tour of the WFMU record library with WFMU DJ Brian Turner- This should have been the most extensive extra as this station has a HUGE library of music that appears to take up an entire floor of their building, but it runs less than 90 seconds with Turner quickly pointing out some random CDs on the shelves.
  • At home with WFMU DJs- This segment is under 3 minutes and features just one DJ showing off his collection of 8mm films, magazines and knick-knacks- to his credit his living space appears much less cluttered than mine does.
  • Alternative opening sequence has the film start out with video footage of the station's old location rather than begin in the present-day setting of its production.
  • The Trailer is also included, which gives you a general idea of the documentary and was enough to make me want to see this even before the Blu-Ray was available.

Final Thoughts

Those who have stuck by the medium of radio even in the sorry state it's in now will certainly enjoy Sex & Broadcasting as it shows one of the few stations that is still programmed by actual humans rather than computer systems and marketing algorithms. I have mixed feelings about the documentary itself; it does give viewers a good picture of WFMU at the time it was shot and a bit of its history, but it certainly left me wanting a lot more afterwards as did the few extras on this Blu-Ray release. Overall Sex & Broadcasting does enough to document WFMU on the screen but one hopes it won't be the last time that happens. Worth A Look 

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