To Flood the Basin with Beethoven

The Promethean Aesthetics of Post-World War II FM Concert Stations in the United States


  • Tim J. Anderson Old Dominion University Author



FM Radio, US Radio, Classical Music Radio, Popular Music Radio


This article focuses on the specific aesthetic formation resulting after the reorganization of the FM segment of the electromagnetic spectrum in the American post-WWII period of the late 1940s and 1950s. FM's distinction in this period was as an emergent alternative space that promoted itself with a rhetoric that emphasized the medium as a more democratic, less commercial mode of communication and musical exhibition. This article looks at a combination of programming guides, trade press and general press sources to understand how this rhetoric manifested itself through programming, ownership, FM audiences and their aesthetic expectations that influenced the development of the much heralded American FM freeform radio formats throughout the 1960s and 1970s

Author Biography

  • Tim J. Anderson, Old Dominion University

    Tim J. Anderson is an Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University whose research specializes in researching how new media practices and technologies transform and force those institutions and practices to negotiate them in order to make music popular. His work has appeared in numerous journals and book chapters, as well as the 2006 book Making Easy Listening: Material Culture and Postwar American Recording (University of Minnesota Press).


Anonymous. 1944. ‘Press Editors Finger FM’. Billboard, 5 February: 6, 13.

–1945. ‘Educators Urged by Durr to Make Use of FM Potential’. Billboard, 6 October: 10.

–1946. ‘Public Service Responsibility of Broadcast Licensees’. Washington, DC: Federal Communications Commission.

–1951. ‘Music on the Air’. High-Fidelity (Summer): 15–16, 18, 65–66.

–1953. ‘Noted with Interest: Live FM in Chicago’. High Fidelity Magazine (March–April): 8.

–1957a. ‘Noted with Interest: Stereophonic Radio Network’. High Fidelity Magazine (August): 22, 24.

–1957b. ‘WFMT Broadcasted from the Show’. WFMT Radio Station Fine Arts Guide (September 1957): 67.

– 1958a. ‘Company of the Month Award to WFMT by the Commerce and Industry Division, Henry George School of Social Science’. WFMT Fine Arts Guide (May): 2–3.

–1958b. ‘Pleasant Sound’. Time (13 January): 39–40.

–1959. ‘Chi Fm’er Crashes “Top 10” ’. Variety (28 January): 48.

–1962. ‘High Fidelity Newsfronts’. High Fidelity (March): 107–108.

–2009. ‘Tom Donahue’.

Barnouw, E. 1968. The Golden Web: A History of American Broadcasting in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.

Boddy, W. 1993. Fifties Television. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Boulton, R. N. 1953. ‘WTIC-Hartford: An Insurance Company Says It with Music’. High Fidelity Magazine: 60–62, 134, 136, 138.

Bramham, K. 1957. ‘Fringe-Area Reception’. Radio & TV News (August): 39, 101.

Chanan, M. 1994. Musica Practica: The Social Practice of Western Music from Gregorian Chant to Postmodernism. New York: Verso.

Conrad, R. 1955. ‘A Qualitative Analysis of the Audience of FM Radio Station WFMT’. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Main Library.

Crosby, J. 1950. ‘Seven Deadly Sins of the Air: The “Listeners’ Critic” Points out Mistakes of Radio That Television Can—and Better—Avoid’. Life (6 November): 147–48.

Deane, J. 1954. ‘The Nation’s Capital Gets Good Music and… WGMS Makes Money’. High Fidelity (January–February): 49–51, 128, 130, 132.

Donahue, T. 1967. ‘AM Radio is Dead and its Rotting Corpse is Stinking up the Airwaves’. Rolling Stone (23 November): 14–15.

Erickson, D. V. 1973. Armstrong’s Fight for FM Broadcasting: One Man vs Big Business and Bureaucracy. Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Fantel, H. H. 1961. ‘Hi-Fi from the Sky’. Hi-Fi/Stereo Review (January): 41–42.

Fowler, C. 1953. ‘WXHR: Boston’s All-Classics Station’. High Fidelity Magazine (March–April): 46–48.

—1958. ‘Noted with Interest: The FM Front’. High Fidelity Magazine (November): 9.

Frankenstein, A. V. 1953. ‘KPFA Berkeley: California’s Listener-Sponsored Station’. High Fidelity (July–August): 38–40.

Frith, S. 1988. Music For Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop. New York: Routledge.

Fuller, H. 1944. ‘Radio’s New Chance’. The New Republic (26 June): 841–42.

Ganzert, C. F. 1992. ‘Platter Chatter and the Pancake Impresarios: The Re-invention of Radio in the Age of Television, 1946–1959’. Dissertation. Athens, OH: Ohio University, Dept of Telecommunications.

Gould, G. 1966. ‘The Prospects of Recording’. High Fidelity Magazine (April): 46–63.

Keightley, K. 1996. ‘ “Turn it Down!” She Shrieked: Gender, Domestic Space, and High Fidelity, 1948–1959’. Popular Music 152: 149–77. 3000008096

Krieger, S. 1979. Hip Capitalism. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

MacFarland, D. T. 1975. ‘Up from Middle America: The Development of Top 40’. In American Broadcasting: A Source Book on the History of Radio and Television, ed. L. W. Lichty and M. C. Topping. New York: Hastings House.

Marcus, L. 1964. ‘FM on the Threshold’. High Fidelity Magazine (November): 65–67, 144– 46.

Molloy, P. 1957. ‘It’s the Molloy: WFMT Offers Escape from Daily Trash’. WFMT Fine Arts Guide (October): 12–13.

Remenih, A. 1953. ‘WFMT: Chicago’s Ivory Tower Station’. High Fidelity (May–June): 32–34, 114, 117.

Sarnoff, D. 1968. Looking Ahead: The Papers of David Sarnoff. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Shayon, R. L. 1952. ‘TV and Radio: FM on the Rebound’. The Saturday Review (27 December): 28–29.

Siepmann, C. A. 1946. Radio’s Second Chance. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Simonelli, D. 2007. ‘BBC Rock Music Programming on Radio and Television and the Progressive Rock Audience, 1967–1973’. Popular Music History 2.1: 95–112.

Sleeper, M. 1951a. ‘More FM Broadcasting’. High Fidelity (Fall): 33–35, 82–83.

—1951b. ‘WGBH: Station with a Purpose’. High Fidelity (Spring): 60–63, 78.

Steffen, R. V. 1954. ‘Readers’ Forum’. High Fidelity Magazine (January–February): 28.

Sterling, C. H. 1969. ‘Second Service: A History of Commercial FM Broadcasting to 1969’. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

—1975. ‘WTMJ-FM: A Case in the Development of FM Broadcasting’. In American Broadcasting: A Source Book on the History of Radio and Television, ed. L. W. Lichty and M. C. Topping. New York: Hastings House.

Sterling, C. H., and J. M. Kittross. 1990. Stay Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Stockfelt, O. 1997. ‘Adequate Modes of Listening’. In Keeping Score: Music, Disciplinarity, Culture, ed. A. Kassabian, D. Schwarz and L. Siegel, 129–46. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.

Tebbel, J. 1962. ‘FM: A New Trend toward Quality’. The Saturday Review (12 May): 70–71.

Whiteside, T. 1947. ‘Your Radio Is Obsolete: FM’s Slow Challenge to Conventional Radio Techniques Opens Markets for New Sets and Opportunities for Would-Be Broadcasters’. New Republic (17 February): 16.

Williams, A. N. 1947. ‘Listening: Frequency Modulation’. The Saturday Review (19 July): 28–29.

Wormer, O. R. 1962. ‘Letters: The First-Balcony Ideal’. High Fidelity Magazine (April): 14.






How to Cite

Anderson, T. (2011). To Flood the Basin with Beethoven: The Promethean Aesthetics of Post-World War II FM Concert Stations in the United States. Popular Music History, 5(2), 151-167.