WAMU is a public radio station that services the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day on 88.5 FM, online at wamu.org, and on HD Radio at 88.5-HD1 and HD2. It is owned by American University, and its studios are located near the campus in northwest Washington. WAMU's HD2 broadcasts Bluegrass Country, which is also available at bluegrasscountry.org and on-air in northern Virginia at 105.5 FM.
WAMU began as a carrier current student radio station on July 28, 1951. Its signal did not make it too far off the AU campus. The station received a commercial FM license in late 1960, and made its first FM broadcast on October 23, 1961. The student radio station 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 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 and creating a separate bluegrass station online and on its HD2 channel through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In December of 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 lineup. Rehm, 79, stated that she wanted a younger voice to take her place at WAMU. Conversely, Kojo Nnamdi, 71, lost its 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. The Diane Rehm Show is produced at WAMU and heard by an estimated 2 million public radio listeners nationwide. Local public affairs programs include The Kojo Nnamdi Show, which airs each weekday, and Metro Connection, which used to air each Friday and Saturday.
The station also airs several entertainment shows including The Big Broadcast, which originated in 1964 as Recollections and was hosted each Sunday night by Ed Walker, himself a storied Washington broadcaster. The program features rebroadcasts of drama, comedy, and variety programs 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. The station also produces Hot Jazz Saturday Night and airs A Prairie Home Companion and This American Life.
WAMU's Bluegrass Country produces live and original bluegrass music programs, including The Katy Daley Show, The Lee Michael Demsey Show, Stained Glass Bluegrass and The Ray Davis Show.
WAMU runs the following translators to increase its coverage area:
|Callsign||Frequency||City of license||Programming|
|WRAU||88.3 MHz||Ocean City, Maryland||Main program|
|WYAU||89.5 MHz||Spotsylvania, Virginia||Main Program|
|W288BS||105.5 MHz||Great Falls, Virginia||Bluegrass Country|
|W228AM||93.5 MHz||Frederick, Maryland||Bluegrass Country|
|W228AB||93.5 MHz||Paramount, Maryland||Bluegrass Country|