Our History

In December of 1951, a radio station with the call letters WFMT made its debut on Chicago’s airwaves. Founders Bernie and Rita Jacobs had a vision: to create a station they themselves could enjoy, respect, and share with others. A station that would strive to entertain, engage, and above all, respect its listeners with a quality and variety of programming found nowhere else.

While virtually every other radio station in the Chicago market has changed format or call letters, WFMT has remained dedicated to presenting the best of classical music and other fine arts programming to the widest possible audience. Respect for its listening audience is key, and WFMT has sought to demonstrate that respect by always adhering to the highest possible standards in programming, engineering, and advertising. Those efforts have resulted in a loyal and growing audience. After more than fifty years of uninterrupted broadcasting, WFMT is enjoying the largest audience and highest ratings in its history.

Like most radio stations, carefully selected recorded music makes up most of WFMT’s broadcast hours. Unlike most radio stations, WFMT devotes enormous resources to live and taped presentations by performing artists. Program highlights include: live concerts from the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, performances from the Chicago Cultural Center, Ravinia Festival and Grant Park Symphony, almost three decades of the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts and Folkstage, along with special broadcasts from renowned artists and venues from around the world. The Midnight Special’s blend of folk music, comedy, and satire continues to draw new listeners with host Rich Warren – almost 50 years after its debut under creator Mike Nichols, while new WFMT programs like Andrew Patner’s Critical Thinking, the Impromptu live performance and conversation series, and Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin provide insight, entertainment, and show a range of program offerings unique to WFMT.

WFMT’s reach extends way beyond Chicago’s borders. Through the WFMT Radio Network and its Beethoven and Jazz Satellite Networks, the station offers broadcasts of major symphony concerts, grand opera, drama, mainstream jazz, and folk music to over 650 outlets in the U.S. and around the world. Even more original programming, including a monumental new series, Leonard Bernstein: An American Life, produced by Steve Rowland with Larry Abrams, debuted locally and nationally through the WFMT Radio Network in April, 2004.

Whether heard locally, nationally, or internationally though cable and syndicated programming, WFMT is a cultural resource that continues to become more vibrant every day.

In April 2014, Window to the World Communications, Inc. named its campus the Renée Crown Public Media Center to recognize a major gift by the Crown family to WTTW and WFMT in honor of Renée Crown and her tremendous contributions to the organization as a trustee and leader committed to exceptional public media programming and services.