WAMU 88.5 FM is the leading public radio station for NPR news and information in the greater Washington, DC area. It is member-supported, professionally-staffed, and licensed to American University. Since 1961, WAMU has provided programming to a growing audience that now totals more than 575,900 listeners in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
Beginning in 1948, students at American University used homemade transmitting facilities to operate a campus radio station, WAMC. In 1950, the station was robbed of every possession, but by the following year, the station was back on the air as WAMU-AM, a 25 watt campus station. In 1953, American University and the Evening Star Newspaper joined to build a television building on campus, and WAMU secured new studios within the building. In 1961, WAMU moved from AM to FM and signed on from the campus of American University at 4 pm on October 23rd, using a 4,000-watt transmitter purchased from WGBH Boston. As the sixth member of the Educational Radio Network -- the predecessor to National Public Radio -- WAMU's founding vision was to "provide attractive, challenging programming that involves our listeners as completely as possible in the learning experience..."
In 1963, WAMU hired its first paid employees -- among them, Susan Stamberg and George Geesey. Armed with equipment secured through donations and scavenges of military surplus stores, WAMU covered some of the biggest events of the 1960s, including John F. Kennedy's assassination, the 1963 March on Washington led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 1964 Presidential election.
In 1978 the station moved off the American University campus, and was removed from American University subsidy due to financial constraints and a need for campus space. WAMU formed a new, non profit organization to run the station: Public Radio Services, Inc. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, WAMU made efforts to create a more consistent line up of programming, eliminating classical, rock, and big band programming, and focusing on bluegrass, jazz and news/talk.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, WAMU fundraisers brought increasing funds into the station, and in 1994, WAMU moved in to new, state-of-the-art facilities. In 1997, the station launched its website, wamu.org, and within two years, began streaming all of its programming online.
In the 21st century, WAMU continues its commitment to provide a unique mixture of news, public affairs talk programming, and traditional American music both to the D.C. Metropolitan area, and to the world via the station's website.