The station is owned by former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis and his company, All-Pro Broadcasting. All-Pro has owned the station since 1979. WLUM is run as a partnership with co-owned WMCS and Shamrock Broadcasting's WLDB as a group called the Milwaukee Radio Alliance.
This frequency is one of the oldest FM stations in Milwaukee. The owner of the Milwaukee Journal was an early pioneer of FM broadcasting. Experimental station W9XAO went on the air in early 1940. By 1942, the station had become W55M, with programming separate from sister AM station WTMJ and with its own 50 kW transmitter site in Richfield, Wisconsin. The station made the transition to the 88-108 MHz band after the war (at 102.1 FM) but struggled for many years, especially as the company had begun focusing on their new television station. WTMJ-FM signed off the air in 1950, but later returned to the air at 94.5 FM in 1959.
After the 102.1 FM frequency returned to the air as WAWA-FM, the new station was based in West Allis and simulcast the rhythm and blues format of then-sister station WAWA (1590 AM) throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s. Willie Davis purchased and split the two stations on February 14, 1979, switching WAWA-FM to WLUM (We Love U Milwaukee) and giving 102.1 FM its own distinct format.
The small daytime-only 1590 AM, still WAWA, later picked up the WLUM call letters. The AM station was long hampered by a weak signal, and when All Pro Broadcasting purchased the much stronger station WZUU (1290 AM), the format and programming moved there. As a result, 1590 AM went dark in 1988, and its broadcast license turned in to the FCC.
WLUM has gone through many changes and tweaks over the years since its debut in 1979. In all incarnations since, they have carried the WLUM call sign. In the beginning, WLUM played disco and soul music, though a different format than its AM sister station. In 1982 the station began adding more urban contemporary music and by the following year, the station's format morphed into a Rhythmic Top 40 presentation with the HOT FM moniker (later "Hot 102"), as they aired a mix of dance music, urban contemporary and Top 40 hits.
By late 1991, Hot 102 evolved into a straight CHR presentation. More rap music and hip-hop was added to the playlist by the following year, to better compete with upstart rival WKKV (V100) for the urban audience.
By 1994, WLUM began tweaking their on-air presentation. Hip-hop was slowly being phased out and more modern rock was added to the playlist, allegedly due to Davis' desire to distance his station from the violent image of most rap and hip-hop music. The modern rock music was well-received by listeners and later that year, the station adopted modern rock full-time, as "New Rock 102ONE".
Over the years, the format underwent much tweaking. After adding more classic rock tracks to the playlist, the station began a brief run with an adult album alternative format on June 23, 1998. The move was unsuccessful, so in December, WLUM switched to hard rock with the syndicated Mancow Muller in the morning. They initially avoided much of the then-popular nu metal music that WLZR played, but added a great deal to the playlist by 2001. Nonetheless, they were consistently a distant second to market leader WLZR.
As a straight-ahead rock station, WLUM was consistently trounced by WLZR and experienced some of its lowest ratings levels ever. In March 2002, WLUM began making more changes. Mancow's morning show was dropped, along with most of the hard rock music on the playlist, and modern rock music returned to the playlist. By September, the station was once again a full-time reporter to alternative rock airplay charts for the industry trade magazines. The station still experienced low ratings, as it worked to shake its male-oriented hard rock image. The station made heavy use of consultants who crafted a rather tight playlist. In March 2003, another syndicated show, Bob and Tom, was brought in for mornings, which did little to help ratings and who's older appeal proved to be an odd match with the station's younger-skewing music.
When the station's contract with Bob and Tom ran out in March 2005, a locally-oriented morning show, "Kramp and Adler", debuted on St. Patrick's Day. This was a sign of more changes to come. On July 10, 2006, WLUM began stunting as "Quick 102" and started playing five second song clips back-to-back. At the same time, via on-air promos, they poked fun at themselves and their many failed on-air tweaks and changes over the years. At 5:00 PM the next day, the modern rock format was relaunched with a new programming and on-air staff in place. The station admitted past mistakes, then announced their "independence", stating they were now free from corporate practices and radio consultants, and pledged a stronger dedication to their listeners and the local community. As part of the new direction, Program Director Jacent Jackson rolled out a modified alternative rock format with a more diverse playlist, featuring, among other things, more indie rock. He also added new DJs to the airstaff such as Michelle Rutkowski from WKQX in Chicago and changed the name of the station to "FM 102.1" with the slogan, 'Independent. Alternative. Radio.' The station also removed their last remaining syndicated show, Loveline, vowing to be 100% local in their on-air presentation.
Current specialty shows consist of "Flannel Flashback" with Kallao, and "Indie Soundcheck" with Ryan Miller.