WAMU 88.5 Celebrates 50th Anniversary With Vintage Entertainment

By Adele Chapin November 2, 2011, 6:11 PM EDT

Photo: Tony Brown/Imiji

WAMU 88.5 celebrated the station's 50th anniversary on Saturday evening, hosting a gala celebration at the National Building Museum for 550 public radio fans, sponsors, on-air hosts, and staff. The event celebrated the station’s past, present, and future. The evening's program included remarks by current hosts like Diane Rehm, Kojo Nnamdi, and station general manager Caryn G. Mathes; a video tribute to the founders of the station; and a performance by bluegrass band the Gibson Brothers in honor of the station’s original bluegrass programming. A collection of 1950s-era radios was on display in the museum’s atrium.

“It was all about celebrating 50 years. For a public radio station, that’s a huge milestone,“ said Paul Mozzocci, WAMU 88.5’s director of special events. “We wanted to make sure people had fun, pay tribute to the history, and look forward to another 50-plus years.”

Mozzocci worked with Philip Dufour of Dufour & Company to create the look for WAMU 88.5’s golden anniversary, draping the atrium with gauzy curtains uplit in amber hues (courtesy of Event Tech). They covered the dining space’s round tables with gold tablecloths from Perfect Settings and dusty pink rose centerpieces from Jack Lucky. The station is known to only hosts galas for special occasions, such as its 40th anniversary or The Diane Rehm Show’s 30th anniversary, and Mozzocci selected the National Building Museum as a fitting venue for the station’s largest event to date. “Because this is a fiftieth, the Building Museum is quite appropriate, with the grandeur and beauty of it,” he said.

Guests arrived at 6:30 p.m. for a reception in the atrium and a V.I.P. reception upstairs in the Pension Commissioners’ suite. The evening’s three-course meal by Occasions Caterers and the program began at 8 p.m., including an inaugural public broadcasting award for NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg, a community service award for the William J. Clinton Foundation, and recognition for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum for leadership in public broadcasting. Carl Kasell, judge and scorekeeper for NPR’s news quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” and comedian Paula Poundstone auctioned off six prizes, including a weekend in Chicago package to see a taping of “Wait Wait” and a trip to France with Diane Rehm.

After the program, guests returned to the reception space, where the four-sided bar had been removed to reveal a black- and white-tiled dance floor. As a homage to the station’s “Hot Jazz Saturday Night” program, Doc Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra played big band hits and guests stuck around until midnight to watch the performance and dance, while servers passed out brownies and mini ice cream cones. 

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