The station was Washington's top rated rhythm and blues music station through the 1960s and 1970s. Originally simulcast for extensive coverage on its FM sister station, they later changed the FM sister station WMOD to an oldies format. (WMOD-FM later became now Heritage Country station WMZQ). During the 1980s, as the station got new FM competition from WKYS, WMMJ (which later became co-owned with WOL) and WPGC-FM, the station slowly deemphasized its music programming and evolved into an African-American based talk station.
In the 1980s, Cathy Hughes and then-husband Dewey (once the station's program director) purchased the station as the flagship for her new company, Radio One Broadcasting.
During the 1960s and 1970s, WOL was home to Petey Greene, a former convict turned popular talk show host, comedian, and activist, who began his professional broadcasting career at WOL. His story was portrayed in the 2007 film Talk To Me.