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A Brief History of Backdoor ‘FrankenFM’ Radio Stations

Long-time Radio Survivor readers know that I’ve been tracking one of the stranger vestiges of analog television in the US: channel 6 low-power TV stations that can be heard at the far left end of the FM dial. I’ve called them “back door” stations, while others in the radio industry call them “FrankenFMs.”

Since low-power television stations have been permitted to hold on to their old analog ways for a little longer, a handful of those assigned channel 6 have been taking advantage of their position to turn themselves into radio stations, where the video signal is just a placeholder along for the ride. Probably the most popular and well-known of these is Chicago’s MeTV FM, which broadcasts a unique take on oldies radio that occasionally breaks away from worn-out moldy oldies tracks to include past hits and nostalgic favorites that most stations have forgotten.

Atlas Obscura just published a short history of FrankenFMs by Ernie Smith, who originally wrote it for his own site, Tedium. I learned about the article from a LinkedIn alert, of all places, because Smith cites some of my work. However, his well-researched overview covers many additional nuances:

MeTV-FM has gotten some great reviews from radio fans, one of whom, internet radio programmer Bruce David Janu, recorded a video of himself listening to the station on his drive into work.

“Perhaps MeTV-FM is the first station in town to recognize that the competition is not other terrestrial radio stations, but internet radio—mainly Pandora and Spotify,” Janu wrote on his Vinyl Voyager Radio website. “And they created their station to emulate the variety that internet stations offer. And it is working.”

I want to put in a pitch to check out Tedium, where Smith catalogs a variety of slightly arcane phenomenon in a style that is inquisitive and informed, while remaining breezy and never becoming pedantic. Coincidentally, I first stumbled upon it about a month ago when a Twitter post directed me to a piece about the 1980s home banner-printing software Printshop. Then I lost at least another hour or so clicking from one story to the next. Take the plunge yourself.

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