Free FM was a short-lived, mostly-talk-radio format and brand name for eleven FM CBS Radio stations in the United States, and was created because of Howard Stern's departure to Sirius Satellite Radio in January 2006. Free FM was given its name to highlight that its stations broadcast free-to-air, instead of requiring a subscription fee like satellite radio services. Launched on October 25, 2005, Free FM was phased out over the course of 2007, with the final station using it, KLSX, dropping the brand in November 2008.
Free FM stations targeted a largely male demographic ranking from 18 to 49, attracting those who normally listen to FM rock and alternative stations, instead of existing AM talk radio listeners. Programs were more ribald than AM talk stations and include more discussion of dating, personal relationships, and pop culture, more comedy, and more discussion of celebrities and entertainment. Some Free FM stations also included music programs. Most Free FM programs were generally of the hot talk format.
One Canadian radio station, CFRI-FM in Grande Prairie, Alberta, used to use the Free FM brand name before flipping to '2DayFM', although its ownership and format are unrelated to the American stations.
On October 25, 2005, Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) officially announced that it would be replacing Howard Stern on many of its radio stations with David Lee Roth in New York City and several other eastern markets, Rover's Morning Glory with Shane "Rover" French in the midwest, and Adam Carolla in Los Angeles and several other western markets, along with already established DC-based morning show The Junkies on WJFK-FM in D.C. and WHFS-FM in Baltimore. On the same day, several of these Infinity/CBS radio stations became known as "Free FM"; some of the stations already had an all-talk format, while others switched from a music format, and WXRK New York announced that it would become "Free FM" starting January 3, 2006.
In addition to the morning shows, Free FM also announced at this time the creation of Penn Radio, an hourlong radio show hosted from Las Vegas by illusionist Penn Jillette and co-hosted by Michael Goudeau, juggler at the Lance Burton Show. Other programming syndicated to a large number of Free FM stations included programming already in syndication at the time: The Don and Mike Show, The Tom Leykis Show, and Loveline. All three programs were being aired on Westwood One, at the time a corporate sister to CBS Radio.
On March 2, 2007, Penn Radio, hosted by Penn Jillette, aired its last show.
In April 2006 rumors were reported that Roth's show would be dumped due to low ratings (The ratings for Roth's show in morning drive went down eighty percent compared to Howard Stern's ratings in the same slot a year prior) and would be replaced by XM's Opie and Anthony. The move marked Opie and Anthony's return to the New York terrestrial radio scene and to CBS Radio; their show was canceled by CBS/Infinity in 2002 when they were syndicated through sister station WNEW-FM due to a broadcast of the Sex For Sam III skit from St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York that generated much controversy.
The move was confirmed by Opie and Anthony on their show and web site on Friday, April 21. As of that date, David Lee Roth's web site, david.freefm.com, had disappeared along with any mention of him on the Free FM local affiliates. On Monday, April 24, a Flash presentation presented on the Free FM local affiliates alluded to a debut time of 9 a.m. that day for the announcement of the return of the Opie and Anthony show. The show debuted on the former David Lee Roth affiliates on April 26.
In addition to the departure of Roth, Rover's Morning Glory was removed from the Free FM stations - including what was his newly assigned flagship WCKG/Chicago, and WKRK/Detroit; both instances due to very low ratings. Following the WCKG cancellation, Rover returned to Cleveland, Ohio on his previous flagship, WXRK - which became WKRK-FM - and a handful of remaining affiliates.
Most of Rover's affiliates were on stations spun off by CBS Radio to different companies including WMFS/Memphis, WAQZ/Cincinnati and WZNE/Rochester, which went to Entercom; and WAZU/Columbus, which went to Wilks Broadcast Group. WAZU became country-formatted WNNK in January 2007, while WAQZ flipped to alternative rock as WSWD on a different frequency in November 2006; WMFS became an ESPN Radio affiliate in 2009. Rover's Morning Glory moved to rival station WMMS in 2008, thereby ending the CBS radio relationship altogether.
WZNE, now owned by Stephens Media Group, continues to air the show.
With the lack of success that Free FM produced, CBS slowly phased out the homogenized Free FM brand. No new "Free FM" branded stations were launched since the network was created (although KCKC in Kansas City and KDJM (now KKSE-FM) in Denver were reportedly close to flipping to it before Free FM's demise), and new hot talk stations were branded in other ways: for instance, WTZN (now KDKA-FM) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was launched as a hot talk station in April 2007 as "The Zone" instead of Free FM, and even that station has since changed formats twice, first to Top 40/CHR and then to sports radio.
In addition, all of the original Free FM stations eventually removed their "Free FM" branding, and have since changed formats altogether.
As of June 2007, CBS Radio has all but completely dropped the title of "Free FM" as a format and has instead replaced it with the more generic "FM Talk." New domain names without the "Free FM" are now in use for several of the "Free FM" stations. By October 1, 2007, only one Free FM station remained: KLSX. In 2008, KLSX dropped the "Free FM" moniker and was simply referred to as "The FM Talk Station".
When KLSX switched format completely away from talk in February 2009, nearly all currently running shows were canceled, including The Adam Carolla Show which was the last program specifically created for Free FM to be discontinued, due to KLSX being its flagship station. The cancellation was a result of KLSX's shift to contemporary hit radio "AMP Radio" at that time. Two weeks later, Opie and Anthony were axed from terrestrial radio after WXRK changed formats, again to contemporary hit radio. The last hot-talk station in CBS's portfolio, WJFK-FM, abandoned the format for sports radio in July 2009, resulting in the cancellation of the Mike O'Meara Show, which was syndicated to many hot talk and Free FM stations.
CBS Radio's corporate successor Entercom introduced a hot talk-oriented format on KEGY San Diego (which, upon the completion of the merger in November 2017, had moved its long-time country format as KSON to the former KSCF in exchange for then-current Energy format), branded as The Machine, in March 2018. The station featured hot talk programming during its weekday lineup, but broadcast classic rock interspersed with comedy bits at all other times, along with San Diego Padres baseball. The format, however, was short-lived; a promotional campaign for KEGY's Kevin Klein morning show (which invited listeners to "Jump ... to a new morning show") attracted criticism for glorifying suicide by bridge jumping, while Padres executive Ron Fowler expressed concerns over being associated with the station's content. KEGY transitioned to a conventional sports talk format as The Fan on April 12, 2018.