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WASH Radio Station Wheaton tower building 4

When the sign says WASH, you expect a Laundromat … how about a radio station?  The WASH Radio Station to be exact …

The History of the WASH Radio Station

This is the current-day scene on University Boulevard in the busy business center of a community named Wheaton, Maryland, located just about 10 miles due north of downtown Washington, D. C. Other than this tower which sits directly behind the building, you wouldn’t realize this is the former home of one of Washington’s major FM stations, along with its daytime-only sister AM, WDON … unless you’ve lived in the area for many years.

WASH Radio Station Wheaton tower building 3Chosen because of its high elevation relative to the main population center at the time, the tower and building was erected in the late 1940’s by Everett L. Dillard to house his FM station, WASH radio station. He had begun operating the station a few years earlier at the behest of Major Edwin Armstrong, FM radio’s inventor, who had created a fledgling network of stations known as the Continental Network and needed an outlet in the Nation’s Capital.

Today you see no evidence of an FM transmitting antenna on the tower, as WASH radio station was sold to  Metromedia in July 1968, and they quickly moved the entire WASH operation to the WTTG TV Channel 5 studio and tower location on Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington, which they already owned.

For most of the nearly 20 years that the station operation was based at the Wheaton location, though, there was a sign on the front of the building which simply said “WASH.” Which begs the question:

When the sign says WASH, you expect a Laundromat … well, maybe!

Reliable sources tell me that on more than one occasion, a woman walked through the front door of the building with a basket of laundry which she expected to have washed! Considering the location was on the edge of the primary business section of the growing community, I think this could be a logical assumption … don’t you?

We’re not quite sure where the sign was, as we’ve not been able to locate a photo from the early days of the station. However, Bill Halvorsen, a local radio historian who grew up in the Wheaton area, provided us with an ad from 1958 which included this line drawing of this front view of the property––as you see, though, it does not include the WASH sign, which likely was positioned in the area where the sign in the current view is located.

WASH Radio Station Hi-Fi Advertisement - 1958Before we leave the subject of WASH radio station in Wheaton, Maryland, let me note that shortly after the FM began operations from this location, Everett Dillard applied for the AM station permit, which originally proposed occupying 540 KHz. at the very low end of the band. This application was rejected, likely because a station licensed to Bethesda, Maryland, was operating on 570 KHz., which was closer in frequency for stations so close geographically than permitted by FCC rules. Mr. Dillard resolved the matter by simply placing a “1” in front of the “540” on his application. No more issues arose and WDON began operations in 1953 on 1540 KHz … the call letters chosen to honor Everett’s son, Don, who would become a DJ on the station.

Oh, one more quick note: As you may know, there are two parts to an AM station transmitting system … for every vertical tower, there are dozens of wires that extend out from its base like spokes on a bicycle wheel, and are virtually equal to the height of the tower in length. We’re not sure how he got them under the building in front of the tower, but Everett was seen laying the wires out across the street … which happened to be being repaved at the time WDON was being constructed. There are times in life when the timing just seems to be perfect, right?

I must credit one Bill Tynan for much of this historic information. Bill worked for Everett Dillard and WASH in those early years and would in 1961 hire me in my first fulltime job in commercial radio when he and partner, Robert J. Carpenter, acquired the permit for and built WHFS, the first FM Stereo station in the Nation’s Capital region.

For a little more background on Everett Dillard, you can read his obituary that was posted by R. Alan Campbell.

January 27th, 2018

Posted In: Radio

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2 Comments

  • Rich Maryman says:

    I believe that the first Stereo FM station in the DC area was actually WGTS-FM (owned/operated by Columbia Union College – now Washington Adventist University.) WHFS >might< have been the first commercial FM Stereo station, however.

    • Rick … I was there when WHFS signed on November 12, 1961 and I’m sure if that were the case, we would have acknowledged that – months after this date, we published a listing of FM stations in the Washington-Baltimare area and there was no note of WGTS offering any programming in stereo. Thanks for the question though.

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