The greater Washington, DC area has been home for many great musicians in the worlds of bluegrass and country musics over the years, but it has also been the home of some truly pioneering and influential radio waves, personalities, and shows.
On Saturday, September 10, at the historic Lucketts Old Schoolhouse there was a lovely celebration honoring the founders of what has become the Bluegrass Country radio station that evolved from terrestrial radio to the now internet radio station dedicated to bluegrass music. Many great bluegrass DJs have come out of this area and its bluegrass scene, and it all started at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday July 2, 1967, when the American University Radio station aired its first half hour bluegrass program called Bluegrass Unlimited. This radio broadcast was hosted by the great Dick Spottswood, and engineered by Gary Henderson. This eventually became WAMU-FM and became one of the most influential bluegrass radio stations in the country.
In 1970, Jerry Gray started his country music show, and Gary Henderson introduced a three hour long bluegrass show on Saturday mornings. Soon Katy Daley joined as another DJ. In 1974, Gary Henderson began his show Stained Glass Bluegrass. Then Lee Michael Demsey joined the list of WAMU DJs. The name “Bluegrass Country” was first used at the station for Jerry Gray’s show in 1980. Since then, WAMU and Bluegrass Country have had so many well known, well respected, and well loved radio personalities hosting their shows with their own personal flare and tastes in music.
With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, WAMU launched BluegrassCountry.org to add 24 hour internet bluegrass music to its still existing over-the-air programming. In 2009, Bluegrass Country introduced its first iphone app. Then by 2016 the WAMU radio station decided that it wanted to focus on news and talk radio, and was no longer interested in having bluegrass music on its radio waves, so that year the Bluegrass Country Foundation was created by music fans in and around Washington, DC to save the music and the shows they had loved so well, and to help keep the bluegrass station alive as on internet radio. Today this organization is run by volunteers, and can be heard on 88.5 HD-2, and can be streamed worldwide at BluegrassCountry.org.
To commemorate the 55 years of bluegrass and American roots music on the air, there was a celebration of the founders of this great bluegrass institution and its legacy. A lovely full color, hard-back book was created and shared with attendees. Lee Michael Demsey sat between Dick Spottswood and Gary Henderson and the three giants of bluegrass radio reminisced and shared their stories with a delighted room of some of the region’s bluegrass who’s who. The day was filled with stories, food, concerts, jams, and a few speeches.
If folks would like to check out the music and the shows, or would like to donate to keep music stations alive that have real live hosts and not just computers working algorithms, they can go to their website at BluegrassCountry.org. The Foundation’s goal is to not only provide professionally-produced bluegrass radio, but to also be involved in preserving and collecting important older music so that it will not be lost. They are also hoping to expand some of that type of work into finding, collecting, and digitizing, and making publicly available valuable recordings from the history of the music, and to educate, preserve, and promote bluegrass and American roots music wherever their signal reaches.
The Bluegrass Country Foundation in an independent 501C(3) nonprofit association, and is presently fundraising to create an endowment to ensure that the station and the music will securely survive well into the future. The station is no longer supported by any university, government, or institutional funding. They are totally supported by private donations for their day-to-day operating expenses. They are hoping to find new underwriting from organizations interested in reaching their listener base, and are also looking for a sales rep to help in reaching out to possible underwriters. All donations are tax deductible.
4401A Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008