|Broadcast area||Washington metropolitan area|
|Frequency||88.5 MHz (HD Radio)|
|Slogan||Washington's NPR Station|
|Subchannels||HD2: Bluegrass Country (Bluegrass/Americana)|
|Affiliations||National Public Radio|
|Owner||American University |
(AU Board of Trustees)
|Founded||July 28, 1951 (carrier current)|
First air date
|October 23, 1961(FM)|
Former call signs
Call sign meaning
|HAAT||152 meters (499 ft)|
|Translator(s)||WRAU (88.3 MHz, Ocean City)|
Public license information
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.
WAMU began as an AM carrier-current student radio station, signing on July 28, 1951 on 1200 kHz, before shifting to 590 kHz in March 1952 and 610 kHz in November 1952.. The station was heralded as a rebirth of the university's prior radio station, WAMC, which operated on 590 kHz for two years starting in January 1947. Although carrier-current stations are not granted a license or call sign by the FCC, it used "WAMU" as a familiar form of identification. The station aired a wide range of student-produced programming including music, news, sports, radio dramas, and debates.
Throughout the late 1950s, students and faculty pushed to create an FM station that could reach beyond campus and serve Washington, D.C., as a whole. In late 1960, the university received a non-commercial FM broadcasting license, and WAMU made its first FM broadcast on October 23, 1961, on 88.5 MHz using a 4,000 watt second-hand transmitter acquired from WGBH in Boston. Although it was not strictly necessary as the AM carrier-current 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.
WAMU-FM station was established as an "education station" operated by the university, not as a student-run station. Despite this, about 75 AU students, many of whom also worked carrier-current station produced local programming for WAMU-FM. In its first year of operation, WAMU simulcast the same programming, which included educational programs, dramas, and classical music, on AM and FM for three hours each evening.
From its inception as a student-run station, WAMU provided public affairs and educational programming. With the launch of its FM service in 1961, WAMU joined the nascent National Educational Radio Network, a predecessor to NPR. In 1971, the station was a founding member of National Public Radio.
In 1967, WAMU-FM 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 Stained Glass Bluegrass and West Virginia Public Radio's Mountain Stage. The station hosted an annual bluegrass concert at Fairfax High School, as well as the yearly "Pickin' in the Glen" concert, featuring performers such as Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, the Gibson Brothers, the Lewis Family, Hot Rize, and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers. However, starting in the late 1990s, the station began paring back its on-air bluegrass programming in favor of news/talk programming. In summer 2001, the station fully transitioned its weekday programming to all news and public affairs from various providers including NPR, PRI, APM and the BBC World Service, and in September 2007 the station removed the last of its bluegrass programming from its main channel, shifting it all to the HD2 subchannel.
On May 7, 2004, WAMU-FM began digital broadcasting using the HD Radio standard and launched the Americana-music station Bluegrass Country on its HD2 subchannel. The station also operated for several years an HD3 service, WAMU-3, broadcasting a mix of talk and music programming, including simulcast programming from Towson University's WTMD.
When fellow public radio station WETA returned to an all-classical music format in 2007, WAMU became Washington, D.C.'s only full-time public news station, ending two years of competition between the stations for D.C.'s NPR news audience.
In summer 2010, WAMU launched an Eastern Shore relay service on WRAU 88.3 MHz in Ocean City, Maryland. WRAU includes local content, such as news, traffic, and weather, along with simulcasts of WAUM's main channel programming.
In December 2015, WAMU executives announced that long-time program host Diane Rehm, who began working at WAMU in 1973, would be stepping down from her show following the 2016 Presidential election, representing a major shake-up in WAMU's programming lineup. Rehm, then 79, stated that she wanted a younger voice to take her place at WAMU. Also, Kojo Nnamdi lost his local public affairs show's second hour of broadcasting in 2015, showing a trend for easier-to-access media for younger consumers.
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. WAMU relaunched DCist on June 11, 2018.
The student-run WAMU carrier-current station continued operating on AM and in 1979 attempted to convert to a licensed FM station. To prepare for the move, the station rebranded as WVAU, "The Voice of American University." WVAU did operate briefly on 101.7 MHz, using a series of experimental FM amplifiers designed to limit reception to the AU campus. It transitioned from carrier-current to cable FM in 1988 and shutdown in 1997, later resurfacing as an internet-only station in 2001. In 2014, WVAU was named best student-run, internet-only station by CMJ.
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. The station also airs This American Life. A relay of the BBC World Service is heard overnight and in the 9 a.m. slot on weekdays.
WAMU breaks from its general all-news and talk schedule only on weekend nights, which it devotes to entertainment programming; Sunday nights are given to The Big Broadcast, which originated in 1964 as Recollections. This program, which airs for four hours, 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. On Saturdays, the station broadcasts Hot Jazz Saturday Night, which features popular music from the swing era and debuted in 1980. The show, which became a Saturday night staple with a loyal audience over the years, was first cancelled in 2018. Amid listener protests, WAMU management stated at that time 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; after this change, a delayed broadcast of Live from Here was the only remaining music program on WAMU's schedule. After the cancellation of Live From Here returned two open hours in the Saturday night schedule, WAMU returned Hot Jazz Saturday Night in September 2020.
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. In 2001, WAMU launched Bluegrass Country as an internet stream, and in 2007 it launched Bluegrass Country on WAMU-HD2 as an all-bluegrass HD Radio digital subchannel.
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. 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.
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. Programming on Bluegrass Country includes The Katy Daley Show, The Lee Michael Demsey Show, Stained Glass Bluegrass and The Ray Davis Show.
- "FCC History Cards for WAMU".
- Lampe, Henry (October 4, 1951). "WAMU Campus Radio Station". The American University Eagle. 26 (1). Washington, D.C. p. 3. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
- "WAMU Changes Frequency, Joins Inter-Collegiate B'casting Service". The American University Eagle. 26 (17). Washington, D.C. April 24, 1952. p. 1. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
- "notice". The American University Eagle. II (8). Washington, D.C. November 21, 1952. p. 2. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
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- "WAMU 88.5 History". Retrieved 26 September 2014.
- Lornell, Kip (2020). Capital Bluegrass: Hillbilly Music Meets in Washington. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 152–154. ISBN 978-0-19-986311-2. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
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- "Mission & History". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- "WAMU HD-channels Programming Change Announcement". Washington, D.C.: WAMU. Archived from the original on October 7, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Stimson, Leslie (June 1, 2004). American University's WAMU(FM) is beta-testing a second digital channel with special authorization from the FCC. Radio World. Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Stimson, Leslie (September 4, 2007). "WAMU Multicasting Gets 'Real' With Planned HD3 Launch, Receiver Giveaways". Radio World. Alexandria, Virginia. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
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- "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.
- "Classical WETA's Official Release" (Press release). Retrieved 10 March 2014.[dead link]
- "Format Swap Announced for WETA, WGMS Radio". DCist. Washington, D.C. January 22, 2007. Archived from the original on April 1, 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- "WAMU(FM) in Washington Launches Eastern Shore Relay". Radio World. Alexandria, Virginia. June 29, 2010. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Beaujon, Andrew. "WAMU Is Making Big Changes. Here's a Look at Its Plans". Washingtonian. Washington, D.C. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Newman, Andy (February 23, 2018). "Gothamist Will Publish Again in Deal With WNYC". The New York Times. New York City, New York. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- Schweitzer, Ally (June 11, 2018). "DCist Is Officially Back — And Ready To Breathe New Life Into Local News". Washington, D.C.: WAMU. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- Spiegel, Jodi (February 23, 1979). "WAMU Change Slowed". The American University Eagle. 53 (17). Washington, D.C. p. 1. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
- Hinden, Jack (September 27, 1985). "Still No WVAU-FM Radio". The Eagle. 60 (3). Washington, D.C. p. 9. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
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- Smith, Jordan-Marie (November 14, 2014). "WVAU wins top award at CMJ". The Eagle. Washington, D.C. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
- "Station Schedules". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- 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.
- "WAMU Brings Back Hot Jazz Saturday Night Among Programming Changes". WAMU (Around WAMU). September 3, 2020. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
- "Navigating Musical History with WAMU's Dick Spottswood". The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Washington, D.C.: WAMU. October 14, 2010. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
- Lawless, John (July 2, 2014). "47 years of bluegrass on WAMU". Bluegrass Today. Roanoke, Virginia. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- "WAMU Will Sell or Close Its Bluegrass Station". Washingtonian. July 7, 2016.
- "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.
- Moyer, Justin Wm. (26 January 2017). "WAMU 88.5 reaches deal to keep bluegrass on the air". Washington Post.
- "Russian-Funded News Station Replaces Bluegrass on 105.5 FM". DCist. Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2017-11-03.
- WAMU official site
- WAMU Bluegrass Country website
- WVAU official site
- WAMU records at the University of Maryland Libraries
- First WAMU manager George Geesey papers at the University of Maryland Libraries
- WAMU in the FCC's FM station database
- WAMU on Radio-Locator
- WAMU in Nielsen Audio's FM station database
- WRAU in the FCC's FM station database
- WRAU on Radio-Locator
- WRAU in Nielsen Audio's FM station database