WAMU’s Bluegrass Country Lives On

Bluegrass Country radio has a new lease on life.

A new foundation, using WAMU’s broadcasting license, will take over broadcast and streaming operations for the long-running Washington, D.C., bluegrass institution on February 6.

An agreement between WAMU 88.5 and the Bluegrass Country Foundation will be enacted today, according to one of the participants, just days before the vaunted bluegrass transmissions were scheduled to end.

“We are overjoyed with this outcome,” said Randy Barrett, president of the DC Bluegrass Union and one of the key players in the foundation. “The outpouring of support has been inspiring.”

Added WAMU General Manager JJ Yore, “We all had the same desire, which was to have the WAMU bluegrass legacy continue. With a mutual goal in mind, we worked quickly and collaboratively so there would be no loss of service for our bluegrass community.”

In the short run, with few exceptions, bluegrass fans who listen on 105.5 FM and WAMU 88.5 HD 2 in the DC area or stream the music live at bluegrasscountry.org, will notice little difference when the changeover takes place. Many familiar voices will be heard, including Gary Henderson, Dick Spottswood, Lee Michael Demsey, Lisa Kay Howard and Al Steiner.

But one of those differences will be obvious right off the bat. Early morning DJ Katy Daley, who has been spinning songs and telling stories for decades, will retire from her show. So, too, will Bill Foster and a handful of others.

Bluegrass debuted on WAMU in 1967, but changing demographics forced station management to announce a change in direction last year. Fortunately advance notice was given so bluegrass lovers could try to raise money to take over the operations and keep bluegrass music on the air in and around the nation’s capital and online worldwide on bluegrasscountry.org.

While the life of Bluegrass Country has been spared for now, Barrett said much hard work remains.

“Now the big job starts: Funding the station going forward. There are no vacations here, for the foundation or the listeners on whom we will largely depend for support,” he said. “The biggest difference is that Bluegrass Country is no longer financially backstopped by a large institution [American University]. Whether the station lives or dies is entirely up to our listeners and sponsors. We’re truly community radio now.”

In addition to bluegrass, the foundation plans to boost its appeal to younger listeners by expanding Americana and roots music programming beyond what WAMU schedules now.

The first big fundraising push will be an April 23 concert featuring Tim O’Brien, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Danny Paisely, Larry Stephenson, Jim Hurst and others. The venue will be announced later.

“We are proud to become the stewards of such an important resource and we look forward to bringing bluegrass and related roots music to a new generation of listeners,” said Jeff Ludin, president of the nonprofit foundation.

More information is available at www.bluegrasscountryfoundation.org.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, songwriter and upright bass player. He has spent much of his career as a wire service political reporter, including nearly 14 years with The Associated Press and a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and has recently retired as senior editor for Kiplinger Washington Editors.