Erika Pulley-Hayes

WAMU 88.5: Building a Stronger Community One Story at a Time

“An informed community is an empowered community,” states Erika Pulley-Hayes, general manager of WAMU 88.5, the leading public radio station for NPR news and information in the greater Washington, DC, area.

Airing first on American University’s campus in October 1961, WAMU has been connecting Washingtonians with each other and the world for over 60 years through programming and work in the community. Over the years, WAMU has continued to evolve, expanding its presence beyond the FM dial to smart speakers, mobile devices, podcasts, social media, the web, and more.

WAMU remains licensed to AU and furthers the university’s commitment to service. The station is an integral part of Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University. Its work in Washington, DC, exemplifies the campaign’s Lead pillar, which aims to build stronger communities locally, nationally, and globally. WAMU’s fundraising progress is reflected in the campaign’s $500 million goal. “It’s what we live on,” notes Pulley-Hayes about the importance of philanthropic gifts, grants, and sponsorships.

With six decades under its belt, WAMU is a longstanding resource—with a very loyal audience—for individuals to turn to for information they can trust. The station produces stories without bias and hopes that being a voice of truth will positively impact the community over time.

“We support civic life in media and community,” Pulley-Hayes says. “We work to make sure that we have a community that is well-informed about the things that are happening in it, around the country, and around the world.”

Sharing the many voices of the region, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented areas of the community, is central to WAMU’s mission. “There are stories in these communities that can and should be told with dignity, and it shouldn’t always be associated with crime,” says Pulley-Hayes.

Voices of Wards 7 and 8—an initiative focused on two of the District’s most historically disadvantaged areas—continues to develop. Currently, a dedicated photojournalist presents neighborhood stories in visual form. WAMU plans to expand its efforts by adding a new journalist position to offer broader storytelling in the coming year. Similarly, the station hopes to spotlight stories from Maryland’s Prince George’s County to build more awareness about this area of the community.

Its trusted voice, brand recognition, and deep roots in the District enable WAMU to forge partnerships with local organizations. For example, through a collaboration with the Creative School in southeast Washington, DC, WAMU is helping to foster the next generation of journalists. To equip young people for a career in journalism, the station cultivates students’ storytelling via workshops and showcases a selection of their works online.

Likewise, WAMU partners with AU to provide student internships and work-study arrangements beyond journalism. “We cross every business area, from marketing to sales, communication, technology—we have so many different areas of operation that it is a place that can contribute to the learning experience for students,” notes Pulley-Hayes.

WAMU’s partnership with El Tiempo Latino—the Spanish-language, free-circulation weekly newspaper covering the region for over thirty years—helps reach the area’s Latino audience. The station has a reporter assigned to cover immigrant stories and, together, WAMU and El Tiempo Latino share translated content across their media channels. This collaboration furthers WAMU’s commitment to reaching the information needs of individuals across the region.

National programming, like WAMU’s 1A—a show hosted by seasoned journalist Jenn White that airs on over 400 stations daily—helps further the station’s mission to connect Washingtonians with each other and the world. 1A, which has received much recognition, covers some of the day’s most pressing issues through news and conversational format—telling stories that impact the nation, not just the Washington, DC, region.

WAMU’s work does not come without its challenges. The decline of newspapers and traditional media over the past twenty years and the rise of social media, where there is little fact-checking, makes WAMU’s NPR role more critical today. The station must cut through the noise to ensure its audience has trusted information that enables them to make informed decisions in their lives and communities.

The station also needs to continue evolving. In 2018, WAMU acquired the local news site DCist, bringing a second brand and audience to the station. Now, WAMU must figure out how to remain true to its core audience while growing a new one in the digital space. Pulley-Hayes’s hopes for the two? “That both brands achieve the same recognition, respect, and trust of the community so that through either DCist or WAMU, we become the region’s primary source of news.”

To help WAMU continue to present unbiased news, share the region’s many voices, and build a stronger Washington, DC, community, make a gift today.