An Information Community Case Study: Washington, D.C. - Radio

August 5, 2010 |
WTOP microphone

A WTOP microphone on loan to the Newseum (Photo credit: Mr. T in DC/Flickr)

D.C. has 25 city-licensed radio stations. For the purpose of this study, we have identified and included radio stations that are located within the D.C. area and whose programming centers heavily on the local market. However, highlighted stations may broadcast beyond metro D.C. and into Maryland and Virginia. These stations also cater to programming niches including sports, classical music, jazz and news. Of these 25, four are publicly funded radio stations: WAMU (88.5 FM); WETA (90.9 FM); WGTS (91.9 FM) and WPFW (89.3 FM). Among them, D.C.’s radio stations are served by approximately 219 journalists.1

The largest publicly supported station, WAMU (88.5 FM), transmits from the campus of American University. Reaching approximately 505,200 adults (14.5 percent) in the D.C. area, the station features both local and national programs.2 It is affiliated with NPR and the BBC and features notable programs from both such as All Things Considered, Marketplace and Newshour. On the local level, WAMU prides itself in its connection and coverage with the D.C. area.3 The station presents a weekly news magazine, Metro Connection, which captures bits of Washington’s neighborhood news, including events, politics, music, art and other topics. WAMU has also partnered up with The Washington Post on Friday mornings to produce a weekly wrap-up of the top regional news. As on his television show at WHUT, Kojo Nnamdi’s eponymous radio show on WAMU is one of the station’s flagship local programs.

WETA Classical (90.9 FM) is a flagship public broadcasting station founded in 1961 and airs classical music. The station serves Virginia, Maryland and the District with educational, cultural, news and public affairs programs and services. The station reaches approximately 389,000 adults within the D.C. area.4 As a public entity, the radio station, like its TV counterpart WETA TV, relies heavily on public giving, grants and federal and state government support for funding.5

WGTS (91.9 FM) is a family-friendly radio station owned by WGTS/Columbia Union College Broadcasting in Takoma Park, Maryland, a self-supporting subsidiary of Washington Adventist University.6 It is a non-commercial radio and recognized as a federal 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Thus, it relies heavily on business sponsorships and listener support. The station reaches approximately 250,700 adults or 7.2 percent of the DC listening area.7 Programming includes topics pertinent to Christians at both the national and regional levels.

Founded in 1949, WPFW (89.3 FM) is a media outlet for “Blacks, Hispanics, cultural groups, women, seniors, youth and other ethnic and non-traditional groups.”8 According to their site, WPFW’s mission is to provide programming that exemplifies the concept of community radio.9 In addition, they state, “WPFW is dedicated to programming which reflects progressive social change and democracy.”10 Programming lends itself to on-air listener participation and jazz. The station is commercial free and in conformance with Pacifica Foundation resolutions prohibiting commercial under-writing of programming. It relies heavily on volunteers to maintain its operations. It reaches approximately 156,400 adults in the D.C. area.11

WCSP (90.1 FM) is privately owned by C-SPAN, a non-profit company that is funded by fees paid by cable and satellite affiliates who carry C-SPAN programming. The radio station offers commercial-free public affairs programming 24 hours a day that center on political events such as congressional hearings, key speeches from national leaders and judicial proceedings. C-SPAN now broadcasts in a digital format and thus can provide three channels of programming at its frequency. On 90.1 HD-1 - WCSP-FM, programming includes a mix of Congressional hearings, Presidential speeches etc. 90.1 HD- 2 presents coverage of the House of Representatives. Additionally, 90.1 HD- 3 covers the Senate and Book TV.12 The station reaches approximately 109,400 adults in the D.C. area. The nature of its programming lends itself to national and international political news. It lacks any hyperlocal or D.C.-centric programming.

WTOP is an all-news broadcast radio station serving the metropolitan D.C. area. It is owned by the Bonneville International Corporation, which owns and operates 26 radio stations throughout the nation. Bonneville touts their focus on local programming and therefore formats its programming to address local news. WTOP offers traffic and weather updates every ten minutes along with business news at :25 and :55 every hour. According to the data reported in the station’s quarterly programs and issues report, WTOP hosts regular “community outreach” programs to introduce local officials to the public.13 On its local politics program with Mark Plotkin, the station airs interviews with metro-Washington officials. “Call for Action” director Shirley Rooker investigates consumer affairs issues and offers advice to protect listeners from scams and consumer fraud.14

The D.C. area also hosts two all-talk sports stations, WTEM 92.7 AM (owned by ESPN) and WJFK 106.7FM (CBS affiliate). Both feature programming that center around local D.C. professional sports teams such as the NFL’s Redskins. The area also features one Spanish language station, WLZL 99.1 FM, which is owned by CBS Interactive Music Group. Programming content features international and national related entertainment, news, politics and sports relevant to its Spanish-speaking audience. The station reaches approximately 217,100 adults in the D.C. area.15

It should also be noted that the District currently has nine additional digital radio stations. These stations were included as their main transmitting location falls within the D.C. area, but may broadcast to locations outside of their resident communities. Digital stations rely on broadcast digital signals and are synonymous with HD radio. Currently, the majority of digital stations are actually hybrids where broadcasts are both in original analog format and in a digital simulcast.14 D.C. area digital stations include: WFED-AM (1500.0); WTNT-AM (570.0); WMAL-AM(630.0); WWDC-FM(101.1); WKYS-FM (93.9); WRQX-FM (107.3); WTEM-AM (980.0); WBIG-FM (100.3); and WPGC-FM (95.5).


[1] Calculation based on phone calls to radio stations and news reporters and DJs listed on radio websites. Data were not available for the following stations: C-SPAN Radio, WJFK, WLZL.

[2] Ibid (p 31)

[3] See, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[4] Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 31,, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[5] “WETA Community Report”, WETA,, Accessed 23 July 2010.

[6] “About Us”, WGTS,, Accessed 23 July 2010.

[7]Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 31,, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[8] “Our Mission,”,, Accessed 25 July 2010.

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 31,, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[12] “About”, C-Span,, Accessed 24 July 2010.

[13] Melvin R. Chase, Jr., “Community Commitment Report, 4th Quarter 2009,” WTOP public interest obligation flie, obtained at Washington, D.C., studio in February 2010. p. V.

[14] Melvin R. Chase, Jr., “Community Commitment Report, 4th Quarter 2009,” WTOP public interest obligation flie, obtained at Washington, D.C., studio in February 2010. p. VII.1.

[15] Melvin R. Chase, Jr., “Community Commitment Report, 4th Quarter 2009,” WTOP public interest obligation flie, obtained at Washington, D.C., studio in February 2010. p. VIII.1.

[16] Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 31,, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[17] “Digital Technology could save radio- is anyone listening?”, Investigative Reporting Workshop, 14, July 2010,, Accessed 4 August 2010.

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