In Memoriam: David Freedman

Published on: June 11th, 2024

906 David Freedman [Photo by Jef Jaisun]

David Freedman [Photo by Jef Jaisun]
David Freedman [Photo by Jef Jaisun]

David Freedman, who served as General Manager of New Orleans radio station WWOZ from 1992 to 2016, has passed away at the age of 80.

David was instrumental in the station’s growth and evolution over the years. During his quarter-century with the station, WWOZ transformed from a small 12-year-old station with uncertain finances into an internationally-known institution representing New Orleans music and culture, eventually reaching audiences in the millions via radio, internet streaming, social media, and video.

David entered the station at a time of uncertainty, in September of 1992. WWOZ's license had been transferred to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation in 1986 to create financial stability; however, the pursuit for a permanent GM was difficult. Over the previous six years there had been ten different general managers, none lasting longer than a year, and most for even less time. Many did not expect his tenure to be any different.

David immediately worked to stabilize the station administratively and financially, increasing fundraising, bringing in computers for the first time, and hiring a broadcast engineer. Contrary to consultants' advice, David maintained the station's eclectic all-volunteer programming, and expanded live broadcast hours to go around the clock. 

In the spring of 1993, WWOZ began broadcasting live performances from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the first time, which became an annual tradition for the station. 

Building on the Jazz Fest broadcasts, WWOZ pioneered the use of ISDN lines to connect to local venues, to broadcast live events from across the city. Over the next 25 years, WWOZ broadcasted and recorded hundreds of live performances, many of which are now preserved at the Archive of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, and at the Library of Congress.

In the 1990s, he also worked with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and Festival to create the WWOZ Brass Pass, selling multi-day tickets to Jazz Fest as a fundraiser for the station. It was initially not a huge success, but eventually became a major factor in the station's finances.

WWOZ also began producing Sounds of New Orleans, a series of promotional CDs showcasing the best of these live performances, from Jazz Fest and elsewhere. The series, which began in 1994, eventually reached 47 volumes.

In 1994, WWOZ launched its first website, and in 1995 it became one of the very first non-commercial radio stations to stream on the internet. WWOZ slowly began building a large audience on the internet, made up of New Orleans expatriates and other visitors to the city who wanted to hear authentic voices of New Orleans and Louisiana, presenting authentic music and musicians.

An unusual innovation that developed in this period was WWOZ Mango Freeze, a partnership with a local vendor who created a frozen concoction that was sold at festivals and events as a fundraiser for the station. It became a popular local tradition at Jazz Fest, and is even sold in local supermarkets.

In 2005, WWOZ went off the air as Hurricane Katrina approached the city. When power did not return to the station's Armstrong Park studio, and with volunteers and staff evacuated to various locations across the country, the station was unable to broadcast. With the assistance of WFMU in New Jersey, WWOZ was able to return to internet streaming in a matter of days as "WWOZ In Exile," airing New Orleans music provided by WFMU staff as well as cassettes of old WWOZ programs provided by listeners and show hosts. 

David regrouped staff in Baton Rouge at the offices of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and led a team that re-entered the city and investigated the transmitter on Canal Street, and the damage to the studios in Armstrong Park. By early October, the station was broadcasting from the local FM transmitter again, with a signal from makeshift studios at the LPB offices, where volunteer show hosts would drive several times a week to go on the air.

And the station was able to reach its national and international internet streaming audience of scattered New Orleanians, who responded by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the station running.

In late December 2005, the station had found new "temporary" studios in offices in the French Market that were originally intended to last 18 months, but in the end housed the station for 18 years.

The return of WWOZ to the airwaves in New Orleans was a huge boost to the city's morale, and was a high point of David's career.

After 2005, two of David's long-term goals were to establish a video department at WWOZ, and to move the station into a permanent home that reflected its status as a major cultural outlet. WWOZ's video department was launched in 2014, and is now a major producer of videos documenting Louisiana music and culture. A long-time studio eluded the station, however.

David was very active in the national world of community and non-commercial radio, serving in the 2010s on the board of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. In the mid-1990s, he made a presentation at an NFCB annual meeting about the possibilities of internet streaming for community stations, which is remembered as an influential turning point for many in the field.

He also served in the 2010s as the President of the Association of Independents in Radio. Sue Schardt, former Executive Director of AIR, said “David Freedman was a person of great integrity, and he understood the vitality and also the vulnerability of artists. He served as a steward of creative culture, from the streets of his beloved New Orleans to the thousands of producers of AIR, at a time when it was leading public media through a new movement of talent-led expansion and diversification.”

By the middle of the next decade, the station had greatly increased its audience, staff, and international reputation, in large part due to David's leadership, which was sometimes controversial, and often featured audacious schemes, such as trying to get WWOZ carried by national satellite radio services.  

He was a larger-than-life figure, both at the station and in New Orleans, commenting on many cultural developments and advocating for the rights of musicians and culture bearers.  He became a well-known figure at City Council meetings, actively working to position WWOZ always on the side of musicians.

In 2016, the board of WWOZ moved David into a new position as Chief Strategic Officer, delegating day-to-day station management to others.  In 2017, he retired after 25 years at the station, leaving WWOZ as not just a radio station but a New Orleans institution.

WWOZ's General Manager Beth Arroyo Utterback shared that after David toured the station's new Jax Brewery location in December of 2023, he sent a note saying "'Totally impressive, one of the finest in the country and I've seen more than my share.'” She said, “We were very happy he was able to see WWOZ finally moving into a real home, which was always his dream."

Don Marshall, Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, said "David was a visionary and positioned WWOZ at the forefront of radio broadcasting. As an early leader of streaming on the internet, WWOZ was able to develop a massive worldwide audience for New Orleans music and culture."

Ken Freedman, Station Manager of WFMU in New Jersey, said "David was a really good friend, and a great inspiration for many in community radio across the country."


Born David Martin Freedman on October 29, 1943 at Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, David grew up in the Carrollton neighborhood. David attended the Lafayette School and then Eleanor McMain, where he played trombone in the band, eventually reaching the first trombone position.

When it came time for high school, he faced a choice between studying music at Fortier High School, or attending the new Benjamin Franklin High School, which was only a year old. He settled on Franklin.  He described himself as a "prankster" and a terrible student at the school, competing with academic overachievers whose parents completed their projects for them. He graduated, regardless.

While in high school he listened to Larry McKinley and Dr. Daddy-O (Vernon Winslow) on WYLD-AM, discovering Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman, and more. And on Saturday evenings he would go to Cosimo’s on Burgundy Street and listen to Ellis Marsalis, James Black, Richie Payne, and Nat Perrilliat.

After graduating, he attended Tulane University and University of New Orleans, graduating with a BA in English. 

In his final year at UNO, to fulfill a language requirement, he took a course in French literature, leading him into a lifelong enthusiasm for the language.  He went on to get a Master of Arts degree in French Literature at Louisiana State University in 1967. 

He was granted a fellowship at Stanford University in California. While immersed in French literature at Stanford, with the goal of becoming a professor of French literature, he listened to groundbreaking Bay Area FM stations, including KPFA, KSAN, and KMPX which sharpened his interest in non-traditional radio stations.

At Stanford he received a French government fellowship, to study at the Center for Renaissance Studies in Tours, so he picked up for Europe. Midway through the year he received a check for $800 from Stanford, marked "Travel Grant," which he took as a mandate to buy a Triumph motorcycle. With his wife he roamed the Mediterranean, to Barcelona, Tangier, and Florence, before returning to Tours.  He then returned to the US, bringing the motorcycle with him.

Upon his return to Atherton, California, he bought a high-end receiver and was able to pick up KTAO near San Jose, which was being run as a non-commercial station, asking for listener donations. 

He said, "And they were playing the most exquisite music you’ve ever heard, it was like, Indian raga and Folkways, great banjo music, and bluegrass, and, and UNESCO's Barenreiter, shakuhachi music… when I was in Europe, I had been exposed to the Deutsche Rundfunk, to the ORTF, which is now Radio France, and BBC, and I thought, ‘Gee, you know, this is just incredible, you can hear all this great music, and great programming, and we don’t have anything like that in America.’"

When David drove 45 miles to make a cash contribution to KTAO, he encountered the legendary Lorenzo Milam, who was running the station. Milam was a millionaire who pioneered community radio across America, founding KRAB in Seattle, KBOO in Portland, Ore., KDNA in St Louis, and others. 

In short order, David became a volunteer host on KTAO.

In 1972, when David was ready to defend his dissertation at Stanford and finish his PhD, his career turned in a new direction. David heard that Lorenzo had chosen him to start a new community radio station in Santa Cruz.  He hadn’t asked David yet, but he was certain he would say yes, and David did.  He never returned to Stanford to defend his dissertation.

Starting from a waterfront shack in Santa Cruz and operating on a shoestring, Freedman managed and grew KUSP over five years before moving on. The station remained on the air until 2016.

After leaving KUSP, David spent time in New York City in various jobs, including a stint as a taxi driver. He returned to New Orleans in the 1980s, and worked as a French teacher for a while, as well as at the STEP-UP! Job Training and Placement Program in the lower Ninth Ward.

David joined the board of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation in 1991. He also joined the board of Friends of WWOZ in the early 1990s, leveraging his experience in both community radio and non-profits. In September of 1992 he was offered the position of General Manager at the station.


David is survived by a brother, Allen, in New Orleans, a sister, Barbara, in Montreal, and five nephews. David's second wife, Anne, passed in 2022.

Services will be held on Friday, June 14 starting at 1pm at New Beth Israel Cemetery (4400 Elysian Fields Ave.).

The Archive of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation contributed to this obituary.

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