News & Politics

WAMU Will Announce a New Host for “1A” on Thursday

WAMU's headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, Northwest. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

WAMU General Manager JJ Yore made a number of newsy announcements during a virtual town hall event for donors, sponsors and foundations Monday. Yore and NPR President John Lansing appeared at the event and were interviewed by local broadcasting legend Diane RehmWashingtonian learned about these announcements via a participant on the call and confirmed them with Yore. This is the kind of post that requires bullet points.

A new host will be named for 1A on Thursday. The host, a woman, has signed a contract. The show’s inaugural host, Joshua Johnson, left the popular daytime show, carried by hundreds of public radio stations, late last year for MSNBC. Since then Todd Zwillich and 1A national reporter Sasha-Ann Simons have served as interim hosts.

The Covid-19 pandemic that has battered so many newsrooms has not left WAMU unscathed. The station projects a $2-3 million drop in revenue for its current fiscal year, which ends in June, and 20 percent less revenue in the next fiscal year. Most of that drop is due to less corporate sponsorship revenue. What this means for station staff: the elimination of “a small number of non-content positions,” Yore tells Washingtonian. He expects to “add some new journalism roles, to maintain the expanded hours of coverage we began in March, and to further enhance our local journalism.” The station’s leadership team has “committed to cutting our pay for at least some portion of the next fiscal year,” Yore says. They don’t have specifics yet, which will depend on what American University, which owns WAMU, decides with regard to across-the-board salary cuts.

Setting up the hosts at home has not been cheap. Yore told the gathering outfitting it cost about $10,000 to gear up each host, about $150,000 total. The station’s staff is working almost entirely remotely; only two or three people are in its Connecticut Avenue, Northwest, headquarters at any time.

Listenership and readership went up, way up, during lockdown. At one point, listenership was up 20 percent over the beginning of the year. Since then it’s returned to normal levels, Yore says. WAMU.org and DCist saw large traffic gains in April, up 128 percent and 40 percent, respectively, from April 2019.

Perhaps not coincidentally, an April one-day fundraising campaign was the single biggest day in WAMU history. The organization raised $200,000 more than its previous record single day.

WAMU’s tower renovation project could mean more listeners—and revenue. The installation of a new antenna, partly funded by a bequest from a Loudoun County schoolteacher, means WAMU has the capability of reaching 400,000 more listeners than before, Yore says. WAMU already leases space on its tower to competitor WTOP, which funded its portion of the project.

During Lansing’s portion of the program, he spoke about NPR is coping with the pandemic. The network has also seen a drop in corporate sponsorship revenue, leading to pay cuts amid a projected deficit of $30-45 million. NPR plans no increase in dues paid to it by stations this year, Lansing said, and NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara confirms. He also said that of the 850 people who normally work in the network’s NoMa headquarters, about 80 can be found in the building now.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.