WAMU (88.5 FM) is a public radio station that services the greater Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia metropolitan area (its strong broadcasting signal can also be received in the neighboring Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area of similar size, forty miles to the northeast, and further west as far as fifty miles to Hagerstown, Maryland). It is owned by American University, and its studios are located near the campus in northwest Washington.
WAMU began as a carrier current student radio station on July 28, 1951. Its signal did not make it too far off the American University campus. The station received a commercial FM license with a more powerful signal in late 1960, and made its first FM broadcast on October 23, 1961, at 88.5 on the FM dial. The student radio station at A.U. is now WVAU, an Internet-only station.
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.
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.
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. In 2004, adding to its audience range with a low-power standard FM repeater signal in northern Virginia from Fredericksburg and at Spotsylvania Courthouse in Spotsylvania County, Virginia [see translators list, below]) through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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.
WAMU's main channel carries content from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International, Public Radio Exchange and the BBC World Service. News coverage is framed by NPR news each hour as well as Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Locally-produced public affairs programs include The Kojo Nnamdi Show and the nationally distributed 1A.
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.
WAMU's HD2 subchannel broadcasts bluegrass music under the branding "Bluegrass Country". WAMU launched Bluegrass Country as an internet stream in 2001. The station began airing on HD2 in 2007, when WAMU removed all music programming from its main signal as a result of 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. 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 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.
WAMU runs one repeater to increase its coverage area:
|City of license||ERP
|WRAU||88.3||Ocean City, Maryland||50,000||B||FCC|