From WAMU 88.5’s beginning as a seven-hour-a-day obscurity, we hear how it has grown into a top performing public radio station in this documentary celebrating the station's 50th anniversary. We explore how the station's content has changed, how WAMU News has grown, and how the station has interacted with the community by talking with some of the station's most prominent people in its 50-year history.
The station first took to the air at 4 p.m., October 23, 1961 using a 4000-watt transmitter purchased from WGBH Boston. The founding vision for the station was to provide attractive, challenging programming that would educate the station’s listeners, an extension of the mandate from American University.
In the station’s early going, when resources were limited, this mandate was interpreted broadly and led to the station’s dedication to classical music, contemporary jazz, and bluegrass country, which continues strong today.
WAMU is dedicated to local news and D.C. is a city that generates news that it is important on local, national and international levels. Even so, the news department had humble beginnings as well. On of the biggest early projects for the news department was the “Voices of Poverty” program, which told the story of the Resurrection Camp that sprung up on the National Mall following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From Dr. King’s death to September 11 and beyond, the news team has been telling stories of national import from around the D.C. area.
WAMU’s most popular radio personalities from over the years weigh in as well. In addition to Kojo Nnamdi, who narrates the documentary, Diane Rehm talks about her first day on the air on her first day as a volunteer, and we hear about Fred Fiske jumping to WAMU and working without a producer.
The documentary features vintage audio going back to WAMU’s first night on the air, through today, and is a must-hear for long-time listeners.