Susan Clampitt – Fast 50 2003


In 2001, WAMU eliminated its popular bluegrass programming in favor of more news and talk. But “we promised our bluegrass listeners that we would not abandon them,” says Susan Clampitt. So WAMU launched, a 24-7 Web-streaming service. The site is the fourth most popular Internet-only broadcasting site in the world.


Susan Clampitt
Executive director and general manager, WAMU 88.5 FM
Washington, DC


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
We have created the fourth most popular Internet radio-only website in the world–Just 18 months ago, WAMU 88.5 FM, the American University affiliated NPR station in the nation’s capital, changed its format from talk and bluegrass music to news, talk and culture. When we did this, we made a promise to our loyal bluegrass listeners that we would not abandon them. Our biggest achievement has been to keep those listeners happy by launching, a 24 hour-7day a week Internet web streaming service. Changing formats is a huge challenge to any radio station. Listening, especially in public radio, tends to be habit bound. With we have managed to retain the loyalty of our bluegrass aficionados, as well as attract a new global audience to this indigenous musical form that has roots in the Washington region. All of this was accomplished with no marketing or advertising, just hard work, great music and word-of-mouth. We consider the success of a tremendous achievement.

Our next challenge is to figure out how keep the service growing and self-sustainable. This is still pioneer territory for most Internet services. Drawing on our public radio experience, we are hoping to achieve the majority of the needed revenue through membership. Our members are known as Bluegrass Neighbors. A Bluegrass Neighbor is asked to join at an annual rate of $40, which is the level we estimate is needed to keep the stream thriving. We have already begun to develop the program and will roll it out fully beginning March 2003. We know that there is enough interest in the genre and in the site to generate the support we need. Listeners who join as Bluegrass Neighbors will receive special benefits some of which will include an online music magazine for members that focuses on the Bluegrass musical scene, streaming live events and festivals that will be offered to our Neighbors as part of membership and otherwise offered on a pay-per-listen basis. We anticipate that additional support will come from corporate underwriting and events. With the latter in mind, we plan to produce a Bluegrass Country Live concert here in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2003.

What was your moment of truth?
Our moment of truth came in November 26th, 2002. According to Measurecast (a division of Arbitron), is the 4th ranked Internet-only broadcast site in the world. Our 89,808 monthly listeners enjoy approximately 278,804 hours of Bluegrass music every month. We moved up four places in this ranking in the past four months. The truth is that bluegrass is mighty popular out there. In the end, the results are in the numbers and in the mountains of positive feedback we get from listeners.–with no formal marketing or advertising, is the 5th most listened to Internet-only streaming site on the Internet today. We believe we are an example for content developers everywhere of how much potential to succeed exists when you design with relevant content based on what you already know about your audience. (The exact date? 11/26/2002)

What were the results?
As a result of, we are among the leaders in Internet audio broadcasting, especially within the public broadcasting community. We find great satisfaction as a public radio station in using today’s technology to export and this share this American roots music globally. It is a wonderful complement to our news, talk, culture radio format and pleases our very particular audience at the same time. We intend to build into the number one music Internet station, not only in popularity, but in award-winning quality, as well.


What’s your parting tip?
We have three:

  • Let your imagination drive your vision.
  • Make sure to thank those who help to make that vision a reality. In our case there are many: The National Endowment for the Arts that gave us the seed money, our farsighted, can-do staffers notably Dick Cassidy, Francis Ying, Lettie Holman, Frank Hamilton, David Joray, Michael Horn and Amy Wielunski, and, of course, our world-class music hosts Eddie Stubbs, Ray Davis, Dick Spottswood, Lee Michael Dempsey, Gary Henderson, Les McIntyre, Lisa Kay Howard, Red Shipley, Fred Bartenstein and Mike Kear.
  • And remember, “If you build what they want, they will come.”