WAMU memories


Radio_Microphone_mediumLots of readers wrote in to share their memories of WAMU. Here are a few of the letters we received in response to this issue’s “Eagle Tales.”

Jonathan Lusher, CAS ’70

I was the station manager of the AM station in my senior year at AU, and also worked at FM as a reporter, production assistant and on-air person. I worked for Susan Stamberg on “Kaleidoscope” which was the predecessor to “All Things Considered.” I reported on Woodstock for Susan as well as providing rock music criticism,  as well as news reporting during those turbulent times. Some may remember demonstrators turning Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s car over on Ward Circle, which I reported, as well as the several large marches and demonstrations in DC. I also had a one-hour-a-week show about what we then called “Progressive Rock” and this was probably the first such show on public radio. NPR was a fledgling enterprise at best in those days.

This all took place at the communications building on campus, long before moving to the old WTOP building. The article in the latest magazine does not reflect the fact that the AM station was entirely student run, and it, not the FM station, was confined to the campus only.


Adam Konowe, SOC/MA ’91, SOC adjunct lecturer and WVAU faculty advisor

The history of WAMU  is illustrious, but let’s remember that student radio continues to this day. AU’s other radio station, WVAU, picked up where WAMU left off when the latter became an NPR affiliate. By contrast, WVAU aired via modest “carrier current” technology to the dorms for many years, including my grad school days, when I was a DJ and the operations manager. Fortunately, today’s audience is infinitely wider as WVAU reaches the world thanks to web streaming at wvau.org.


Joe Gaunt ’62, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Thanks to the editors of American magazine for publishing an archival black-and-white photo of a WAMU announcer at the audio console, on page 43 of the August 2013 edition.

In response to the three questions posed at the bottom of the page, I can respond “YES!” to the first two, but regretfully “no” to the third question because I have lived in Wisconsin for more than 44 years—far out of earshot of WAMU-FM’s signal.

Yes, I remember when WAMU debuted on the FM dial, because I “worked” at the station—as an unpaid volunteer student.  During fall semester 1961, when the FM station signed on, I was in my senior year as a broadfield communications major with a minor in education,  student teaching English and journalism at Williamsburg Junior High School (now Williamsburg Middle School) across the Potomac in north Arlington, Virginia.  Management of the fledgling FM station, including Roger Penn and George Geesey, selected students as the initial announcers who could bring to WAMU experience working in commercial radio.  I was employed on weekends as an announcer at WFMD in Frederick, Maryland, so I qualified.

On many a long evening in the communications center built for American University by The Evening Star, I played classical music LPs on WAMU-FM, announcing nothing but the titles of the works, the artists, and station identifications.  Because the length of one side of a twelve-inch vinyl long-playing record was approximately 22 minutes, I had plenty of time between announcements to type my lesson plans for the next day at Williamsburg Junior High School.

That’s right, the station broadcast no news, no commentary, no interviews that I can recall—just recorded classical music.  My supposition is that the university administration recognized the value of staking its claim on an FM frequency before all of the noncommercial reserved spectrum allocated to the Washington area had been snapped up by competing applicants.  The minimum broadcast schedule acceptable to the FCC in the early 1960s required the station to be on the air six days each week for six hours each day.  So the classical music was a place-holder to secure the valuable frequency until the university could determine how best to capitalize on its FM station.

All the excitement for a 21-year-old college lad like me was down the hall where WAMU-AM, the carrier current station described in the first sentence of the American article, was broadcasting into dormitories and automobiles circling the campus.  There I had rocked away many an afternoon as “Joe Sparks” on the “Swing” program: “Afternoons are larks with Joe Sparks!”