City Washington, D.C.
Broadcast area Washington metropolitan area
Branding WAMU 88.5
Slogan Washington's NPR Station
Frequency 88.5 (MHz) (HD Radio)
Repeater(s) WRAU (88.3 MHz, Ocean City)
First air date October 23, 1961

(originally carrier current 1951–1961)
Format News/Talk (Public)

HD2: Bluegrass
ERP 50,000 watts
HAAT 152 meters (499 ft)
Class B
Facility ID 65399
Call sign meaning AMerican University
Former call signs WAMU-FM (1961–1981)[1]
Affiliations National Public Radio
Owner American University

(Board of Trustees of American University)
Webcast Live stream

WAMU (88.5 FM) is a public news/talk station that services the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It is owned by American University, and its studios are located near the campus in northwest Washington. WAMU has been the primary National Public Radio member station for Washington since 2007.

History [ edit ]

WAMU began as an AM carrier-current student radio station, signing on July 28, 1951 on 610 kHz. Although carrier-current stations are not granted a license or call sign by the FCC, it used "WAMU" as a familiar form of identification.[2] The university received an FM license in late 1960, and made its first FM broadcast on October 23, 1961, at 88.5 MHz.[3][4]

Although it was not strictly necessary since the AM station's call sign was not official, the FM station took the suffixed call sign WAMU-FM to differentiate itself. It dropped the -FM suffix in 1981. The student radio station continued operating and was renamed WVAU in 1985; it transitioned from carrier-current to cable FM in 1988, and later became internet-only in 2001.[2][5]

From its inception, WAMU has provided public affairs and educational programming. Beginning in 1961, WAMU was granted a non-commercial broadcast license and joined the infant National Educational Radio Network, a predecessor to NPR. In 1971, it was a founding member of National Public Radio.[4]

In 1967, WAMU began programming bluegrass music which, in its heyday on the main channel, included the Lee Michael Demsey Show and the Ray Davis Show and weekends included Mountain Stage from West Virginia Public Radio. The station hosted an annual bluegrass concert at Fairfax High School as well as the yearly "Pickin' in the Glen" featuring performers such as Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, the Gibson Brothers, the Lewis Family, Hot Rize, and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.[6]

The station changed its programming in 2002, transitioning its main channel to all news and public affairs from various providers such as NPR, PRI, APM, BBC, and creating a separate bluegrass station online and on its HD2 channel.[4]

In 2004, the prominent Washington journalist Ellen Wadley Roper left WAMU a $250,000 bequest, the largest gift in the station's history.[7]

When fellow public radio station WETA changed to an all-classical music format in 2007, WAMU became Washington, D.C.'s only full-time NPR news station.[8]

In December 2015, WAMU executives announced that Diane Rehm would be stepping down from her show following the 2016 Presidential election, representing a major shake-up in WAMU's programming lineup. Rehm, 79, stated that she wanted a younger voice to take her place at WAMU. Conversely, longtime host, Kojo Nnamdi, age 71, lost his local public affairs show's second hour of broadcasting in 2015, showing a trend for easier-to-access media for younger consumers.[9]

In February 2018, it was announced that WAMU, KPCC and WNYC had bought the archives of Gothamist, and WAMU would resume the publication of local Washington news site DCist in Spring 2018.[10] WAMU relaunched DCist on June 11, 2018.[11]

Programming [ edit ]

WAMU's main channel carries content from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International, and Public Radio Exchange. The station's weekday schedule is largely made up of NPR staples Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now, and Fresh Air. Locally-produced daily programs include The Kojo Nnamdi Show and 1A, the latter of which NPR also distributes nationally.[12]

The station also airs several entertainment shows, including the long-running The Big Broadcast, which originated in 1964 as Recollections; this program, which airs for four hours each Sunday night, features rebroadcasts of drama, comedy, and variety shows from the "golden age of radio", including The Jack Benny Show, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, The Great Gildersleeve, Lux Radio Theater, and Philco Radio Time with Bing Crosby. Ed Walker, himself a storied Washington broadcaster, served as the program's host from 1990 to 2015.

The station also airs Live From Here – delayed to 8 p.m. and the last remaining music program on the main channel – and This American Life. A relay of the BBC World Service is heard overnight and in the 9 a.m. slot on weekdays.

Longtime Saturday night local program Hot Jazz Saturday Night, which debuted in 1980, was cancelled in 2018 amid fan protests. WAMU management stated that music was increasingly becoming out of place on the station's schedule, and cited listener surveys showing a desire for more news programming on weekends.[13]

Bluegrass Country [ edit ]

WAMU's HD2 subchannel broadcasts bluegrass music under the branding Bluegrass Country. Bluegrass has a long history on WAMU, which included regular bluegrass programming on its main channel from 1967 to 2007.[14][15] In 2001, WAMU launched Bluegrass Country as an internet stream, and in 2007 it launched its all-bluegrass digital channel, WAMU-HD2 on HD Radio.[15] This was part of the station's transition to becoming Washington's primary public news/talk station.

In July 2016, WAMU announced it would shut down Bluegrass Country for financial reasons that December 31, unless it could find a buyer for the station and access to its HD2 channel.[16] At the time, WAMU was losing $250,000 per year on the station. Listeners created the nonprofit Bluegrass Country Foundation, and after an extension of negotiations, the foundation took over operations in January 2017 at no cost. WAMU included access to its HD2 subchannel for at least two years.[17][18]

Bluegrass Country also aired on independently-owned translator W288BS (105.5 FM) from Reston, Virginia until June 2017, when the owner elected not to renew his contract with the channel and replaced it with Radio Sputnik.[19] Programming on Bluegrass Country includes The Katy Daley Show, The Lee Michael Demsey Show, Stained Glass Bluegrass and The Ray Davis Show.

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ "FCC History Cards for WAMU".
  2. ^ a b "WVAU History".
  3. ^ Donihi, Rosemary (22 October 1961). "A New Program On the Campus: Students Air Their Studies". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. ProQuest 141459407.
  4. ^ a b c "WAMU 88.5 History". Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  5. ^ "The History of WVAU".
  6. ^ "Mission & History". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  7. ^ "WAMU 88.5 FM Receives $250,000 Bequest; Largest Gift in Station's History" (Press release). Washington, D.C.: American University. 8 April 2004. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  8. ^ "Classical WETA's Official Release". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  9. ^ "WAMU Is Making Big Changes. Here's a Look at Its Plans". Washingtonian. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  10. ^ Gothamist Will Publish Again in Deal With WNYC By ANDY NEWMANFEB for The New York Times February 23, 2018
  11. ^ Schweitzer, Ally (June 11, 2018). "DCist Is Officially Back — And Ready To Breathe New Life Into Local News". WAMU. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  12. ^ "Station Schedules". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  13. ^ Moyer, Justin Wm. (12 June 2018). "'You will lose a lot of listeners': Petition fights cancellation of WAMU's 'Hot Jazz Saturday Night'". Washington Post.
  14. ^ "Navigating Musical History with WAMU's Dick Spottswood". The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Washington, D.C.: WAMU. October 14, 2010. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Lawless, John (July 2, 2014). "47 years of bluegrass on WAMU". Bluegrass Today. Roanoke, Virginia. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  16. ^ "WAMU Will Sell or Close Its Bluegrass Station". Washingtonian. July 7, 2016.
  17. ^ "WAMU's Bluegrass Country Radio Is Saved By Foundation". DCist. January 26, 2017. Archived from the original on July 27, 2017. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  18. ^ Moyer, Justin Wm. (26 January 2017). "WAMU 88.5 reaches deal to keep bluegrass on the air". Washington Post.
  19. ^ "Russian-Funded News Station Replaces Bluegrass on 105.5 FM". DCist. Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2017-11-03.

External links [ edit ]

Coordinates: 38°56′10″N77°05′31″W / 38.936°N 77.092°W / 38.936; -77.092

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