Thanks in part to a generous $1.2 million bequest from a Virginia public school teacher, WAMU will be making improvements to our coverage area and the consistency of our FM broadcast signal this fall.
Technicians will install a new antenna and renovate WAMU’s 419-foot tower on American University’s campus. When work is complete, WAMU’s broadcast signal will reach approximately 400,000 more people, particularly in the suburbs of northern Virginia and parts of Maryland. Not only will existing and new listeners experience better reception and less interference. WAMU will also be upgrading its transmitter to a more energy-efficient system, helping to reduce our carbon footprint.
Renovation of the WAMU tower is expected to begin in mid-October and will be completed before the end of 2019.
During this installation period, WAMU will operate from its backup site in Arlington, Virginia, where we anticipate continuing to serve the majority of our coverage area with a signal that is similar to what is received today. Audiences listening via smart speaker or online stream will be completely unaffected. We anticipate coverage to be similar to normal for those who rely on WAMU as a companion during their commute by car. In-home listening stands to be impacted the most, as there could be some short-term impact primarily in pockets of the outermost edge of our core listening area. We anticipate the signal received throughout the region to be substantially stronger than ever once this work is complete.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I listen to WAMU while the preparation work and tower project is underway?
There are a few ways you can listen to WAMU during this time without signal interruption.
First, if you are listening indoors on a radio and you are experiencing signal interruptions, try moving the radio to be directly in front of a window and extend the antenna. If it is a model that plugs into a wall, then make sure the power cord is fully extended and not coiled up. The power cord often doubles as the antenna. If your radio is missing its antenna and you listen in the northwest DC area where our signal is usually strongest, your radio may have difficulty picking up our signal. Connect an antenna or consider adopting a new radio.
Other options to listen to WAMU:
- Radios with external antennas will have the best chance of picking up WAMU. Radios with an extendable antenna, such as The Public Radio, stand the best chance of receiving a strong signal indoors.
- Stream WAMU live from wamu.org using a computer or smartphone. Click on the blue “Live” button to listen.
- Stream WAMU through a smart speaker device, like Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Sonos. For example, with Amazon Alexa, say “Alexa, play WAMU.”
I can hear the station signal just fine. Why are you doing this?
The ability for people in our area to hear WAMU varies widely. Some listeners get a perfect signal, some experience static, and some people who should be able to hear the station get no signal at all. The new antenna will broadcast a clearer signal to our current listeners, and it will allow our signal to reach 400,000 more people within our licensed broadcast area. Reaching the entire listening area with a clear signal helps us deliver on our mission as a public media organization. In addition, our transmitter will also be upgraded to a more energy-efficient system, helping to reduce our carbon footprint.
Why are you doing the repair work now?
Technology, security and efficiency have improved over the years. The work at the tower will bring our signal into the 21st century and ensure reliable transmission of our broadcast. In addition, scheduling this project amid a record level of tower activity in the broadcast industry was incredibly complicated. Because of changes mandated by the FCC, thousands of broadcast towers across the nation are undergoing upgrades to accommodate the increasing appetite for wireless bandwidth to support smartphones and other new wireless devices. All tower companies and antenna manufacturers are working overtime to deliver on this demand, creating intense competition for resources. Due to the record level of tower activity in the industry, this was the only window in which WAMU was able to secure the resources necessary to complete this project.
When will the work start and when will it be completed?
The existing WAMU antenna is scheduled to be removed in mid-October, which will be when we shift to our backup tower in Arlington for the duration of the project. We estimate completion before the end of the year. Prior to the start of the project, we will be doing preparation work and testing from our backup broadcast tower. During these prep weekends and duration of the tower repair project, some listeners will experience signal disruptions.
Will I hear a difference in the signal after the work is complete?
If you already had a great signal, probably not. But if you found the signal hard to find or fuzzy you will likely have a much better listening experience after the work is complete.
Where will you be transmitting from while this work is underway?
A broadcast tower in Arlington, Virginia.
What areas of the region will be impacted?
Listeners who stream or use smart speakers to access WAMU will not be impacted. Because we will be broadcasting from a tower in Virginia instead of our tower in northwest DC, the change could impact pockets at the outermost edge of our core listening area and those who live closest to our tower on American University’s campus whose radios may have been accustomed to receiving a very strong signal. Others living closer to the backup tower in Arlington will actually experience improved reception. Again, we expect the experience for listeners in the DC region to be largely similar to our normal signal, with impact predominately isolated to pockets of our fringe signal area located outside of our core listening area.
Are my donations paying for this tower? How is it being funded?
Improvements to the WAMU tower have been a goal for many years but we were able to finally move forward thanks in large part to a generous bequest from a devoted listener. Once the tower work is completed, WAMU listeners will have a much better listening experience.