KEXP-FM (90.3 MHz) is a public radio station in Seattle, Washington, that specializes in alternative and indie rock programmed by its disc jockeys. Its broadcasting license is owned by Friends of KEXP, an independent 501(c)(3) organization.[1] There are weekly programs dedicated to other musical genres, including rockabilly, blues, world music, hip hop, electronica, punk, and alternative country. Live, in-studio performances by artists are also regularly scheduled.

CitySeattle, Washington
SloganWhere the Music Matters
Frequency90.3 MHz FM (also on HD Radio)
First air date1972
FormatAlternative rock/eclectic
ERP4,700 watts
HAAT211 metres (692 ft)
Facility ID68668
Callsign meaningEXPeriment or EXPerience
Former callsignsKCMU (1972-2001)
Former frequencies90.5 MHz (1972-1986)
AffiliationsNational Public Radio
OwnerFriends of KEXP

KEXP's studios are located at Seattle Center.

KEXP also broadcasts on Intelsat's Galaxy 18 satellite.[2][3] Music licensing fees associated with internet radio are covered by the station's affiliation with National Public Radio (NPR).


Early Years as KCMU

Groundwork for the station that would eventually become KEXP began in 1971, started by University of Washington undergraduates John Kean, Cliff Noonan, Victoria ("Tory") Fiedler, and Brent Wilcox. The university owns NPR affiliate 94.9 KUOW-FM, but that station is staffed mostly by professional announcers and newscasters. The four students convinced the Communications Department to provide space and funding for a station to be run by students. They assembled the turntables and operating equipment, built their own console cabinets, successfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a frequency and a license, and ultimately raised their own antenna. The 10-watt signal "barely reached the Ave" (the commercial heart of Seattle's University District).[4]

In 1972, the station started operations as KCMU.[5] It aired mostly progressive rock and new wave music, with UW students serving as staff members and disc jockeys (DJs), broadcasting at 90.5 MHz. The "CMU" in the call sign referred to the campus's ComMUnications Building, where its studios and offices were located.

In 1981, under the direction of Jon Kertzer, KCMU began soliciting donations from listeners due to limited funding from the university. Throughout the late 1980s, the station tapped into Seattle's burgeoning music scene. Members of local bands Soundgarden and Mudhoney worked as volunteer DJs, as did both Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, the founders of Sub Pop. During these years, Billboard Magazine called KCMU "one of the most influential commercial-free stations in the country."

In 1982, the station's power increased to 182 watts, allowing it to be heard outside the University District.[6] From 1983 to 1985, Kerry Loewen became KCMU's station manager. Loewen had previously managed KFJC, at Foothill College, in California.

In late 1985, Chris Knab, who co-founded the record label 415 Records and was a former owner of Aquarius Records in San Francisco, sold his interest in 415 Records and became KCMU's station manager.[7] Knab moved the station away from mostly rock programming, adding jazz, hip hop, world music and other genres to its lineup.

In 1986, KCMU switched frequencies to 90.3 MHz and increased its transmitter power to 400 watts, improving its broadcast radius to 15 miles.

Protest Over Programming

In 1992, KCMU dropped many of its volunteer DJs and elected to run syndicated programming. Some listeners and DJs considered this a betrayal of KCMU's mission, and formed a group called "CURSE" (Censorship Undermines Radio Station Ethics). A program called World Cafe, from WXPN Philadelphia, was one of the syndicated shows that had replaced local programming.

CURSE encouraged local KCMU supporters to stop donating money to the station in protest. Volunteer DJs who criticized the station's policies were fired, although a lawsuit from CURSE resulted in that policy being struck down by a United States District Court. World Cafe was dropped from KCMU's lineup in 1993, but none of the fired volunteer staff returned to the station.

KCMU hired its three full-time paid DJs in 1996. In 2000, KCMU started streaming 128 kilobit per second mp3 compressed audio over the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This made KCMU the first station in the world to offer online audio of this quality. KCMU then moved from its long-time home in the Communications Building (CMU) to Kane Hall, at the University of Washington.


In 2001, a partnership was formed between Paul Allen's Experience Music Project (EMP) and KCMU, which provided the station with significant funding through 2005.[8] The station's call letters were switched to KEXP. It moved to new studios near Downtown Seattle which were provided rent free by EMP. KEXP increased its power to 720 watts.

The website was nominated for two Webby Awards in 2003, Best Radio Website and the People's Voice Award.

In 2004, KEXP began simulcasting on 91.7 FM in Tacoma, which extended the station's broadcast range to Tacoma, Olympia and the south Puget Sound region. That station was renamed KXOT (now KYFQ). Before then, KXOT was known as KBTC, owned by Bates Technical College, and featuring a classic rock format. Bates sold the station to Public Radio Capital, a Washington-based non-profit radio organization. The cost was $5 million, with PRC leasing it to KEXP.

KEXP began podcasting live, in-studio performances, beginning with Seattle hip hop trio Boom Bap Project, on July 21, 2005. On November 3, 2005, KEXP announced it was terminating operation of KXOT 91.7 FM at the end of the calendar year. The agreement with EMP in 2001 was set to expire, so KEXP had to prepare for increased operating costs with a smaller budget.[9]

On March 10, 2006, KEXP was granted another power increase, this time to 4,700 watts. The signal is radiated in a cardioid pattern.

On December 18, 2018, KEXP announced that it would be the "official music partner" of Seattle's National Hockey League expansion team, being responsible for all in-game music and music entertainment surrounding the team.[10]

Joint Venture with WNYE New York

In August 2007, New York City's government-owned radio station, 91.5 WNYE, part of NYC Media, approached KEXP to begin a joint venture.[11] Management was planning to overhaul WNYE's programming, moving to an all music format.[12] The plans, detailed in a February 11, 2008 press release, included simulcasting KEXP's music format several hours a day, to be branded as "Radio Liberation."[13]

On March 24, 2008, KEXP DJ John Richards, or John in the Morning, was heard on both KEXP and on 91.5 FM in New York City for the first time, as part of Radio Liberation.[14] Radio Liberation was a collaboration between KEXP and Radio New York (91.5 FM) to introduce New York listeners to more independent music.[15] The collaboration aimed to simulcast one part of KEXP's original broadcasting and three originally-produced programs. John Richards' morning show was the only program to be heard at the same time in both Seattle and NYC. The other programs (Wake Up, Music That Matters, and Mo'Glo) would be produced specifically for Radio New York, but not heard in Seattle. WNYE's signal reaches 14 million listeners in the New York metropolitan area.[14] The plan was for KEXP to broadcast live from New York several times a year. Richards began splitting his time between live broadcasts in both New York and Seattle in June 2008.[16] Richards, who frequently creates playlists based on themes, opened the first Radio Liberation broadcast with "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" from the Pixies, his favorite band, "Pike St./Park Slope" from Harvey Danger, a Seattle band singing about Seattle and Brooklyn, and "Marching Bands of Manhattan" by Death Cab for Cutie containing a NYC reference.

The joint venture ended on June 1, 2011. WNYE replaced KEXP programming with a morning simulcast of Fordham University-owned 90.7 WFUV in New York, airing adult album alternative (AAA) music.

KEXP Website

KEXP's website has dynamic playlists, live streaming audio, an archive of programs from the last two weeks, and a collection of previous on-air live performances.[17] The performers include artists such as Patti Smith, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and They Might Be Giants and local Pacific Northwest artists such as Harvey Danger, The Long Winters, and Maktub.

KEXP's website was the first site on the Internet to offer a 128 kbit/s stream of live radio. KEXP's website won the Web Radio Webby Award in 2004.[18]


  1. "About KEXP". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  2. Lyngsat, Galaxy 18 at 123.0°W, station listing
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-07-22. Retrieved 2015-05-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) HD Radio Guide for Seattle-Tacoma
  4. Christian Nelson, Strong Signals, Columns (UW alumni magazine), March 2007, p. 54.
  5. Broadcasting Yearbook 1993 page B-382
  6. "History". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  7. Levitin, Daniel. "A Brief History of 415 Records". Archived from the original on 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2011-06-25.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-12-18. Retrieved 2014-09-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Bill Virgin, KEXP-FM will end KXOT simulcast, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 4, 2005. Accessed online 25 March 2007.
  10. "KEXP to handle in-arena music for Seattle's new NHL team". The Seattle Times. 2018-12-18. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  11. " - Mission Statement". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  12. Jazz Chill. "KEXP COMING TO 91.5 FM IN NY". Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  13. "KEXP and Radio New York liberate listeners from the norm" (Press release). Pyramid Communications. 2008-02-11. Archived from the original on 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-03-26. Retrieved 2008-03-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. "NYC Media". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  16. "Kexp/Wnye - Q & A". Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-12-07. Retrieved 2005-12-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. "KEXP Radio Online - The Webby Awards". Retrieved 27 May 2018.


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