Big changes at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country

WAMUlogoWAMU’s Bluegrass Country has been a shining success story for public radio since they broke off from WAMU’s main broadcast signal and began broadcasting bluegrass music 24/7 online in 2001. Several markets had seen secondary music channels develop for classical or jazz music lovers as NPR began to focus more on news and educational programming, but Bluegrass Country is the first and only one dedicated to bluegrass music of every flavor.

Since 2011 they have begun broadcasting on a number of lower-powered FM frequencies and HD radio, bringing the signal full circle and putting it back into people’s cars and portable devices. Ratings have been strong and growing in the crowded DC-metro radio market, which includes large chunks of northern VA and southern MD. As long time host Katy Daley put it, “Drive time is anytime in DC. People are in their cars all the time.”

But success and growth bring their own problems to attend. In an interview earlier this afternoon, WAMU General Manager JJ Yore mentioned several times that his goal for Bluegrass Country was to put it on a path to sustainability, an important phrase in publicly-funded media. Yore has been heading things up since August of 2014, and has worked with staff this past few weeks to incorporate a number of changes in both programming and personnel.

A number of familiar voices will be missing when the changes are implemented on March 2. Chris Tesky, who came on board as Senior Music Producer in 2011 will be gone, as will part time hosts Echo Propp, Jen Hitt, and Mary Cliff. Increased prominence will be given to Bluegrass Breakdown, hosted by Dave Higgs, and Bluegrass Signal with Peter Thompson, both of which will air daily (Mon-Fri) instead of weekly in the 10:00 a.m. to noon spots (eastern time).

The 10:00 p.m. to midnight slot will now be given over to vintage programming, to contain shows from the wealth of archived broadcasts in the WAMU library. Arrangements and permissions are being discussed now, and the names of these shows will be announced soon.

Afternoon host Lee Michael Demsey will see his time extended by an hour, running 3:00-7:00 p.m. daily during the week. Daley will continue her morning show, and both hers and Demsey’s will continue to air a second time during the 1:00-6:00 a.m. slots, a nod to the European and Asian audiences who find those times far more convenient.

Yore, who came to WAMU from Los Angeles where he had developed and managed the NPR powerhouse Marketplace program, said that these adjustments are designed to make the station’s programming more consistent, while also containing expenses within a level they can sustain.

JJ Yore“I want to give BGC the best opportunity to be successful, and give our audience something they can express their support for. Katy Daley will serve as our music producer, and within the past 24 hours since she was named, I’ve already seen her explaining to staff what they will need to do in our renewed mission.”

Marketing Director Kathleen Allenbaugh tells us that they have instituted a nationwide recruitment search for a new chief content officer, and that Lettie Holman will server as interim program director until that position is filled.

Daley also said to expect a recurring schedule for their Black Box theater live shows, with live performance segments continuing as part of the daytime programming.

Everyone at BGC is happy to see ratings and listenership going up, but Katy wanted to remind everyone how important their contributions are to the station’s survival.

“NPR statistics show that it sometimes takes 7 years for people to decide to become members – and we don’t have 7 years.”

You can find out how to support free, 24/7 bluegrass music online, along with the various benefits of becoming a sponsor.

Below is the new weekly schedule for WAMU’s Bluegrass Country (click to enlarge), effective March 2, 2015.

WAMU's Bluegrass Country broadcast schedule, effective March 2, 2015

You can hear their signal online at bluegrass, at 88.5-2 on HD radio, or at 105.5 FM or 93.5 FM in the DC area.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.