Glenn Hollis Bent His Ear to Tales of Love and Loss. Now He Has His Own Sad Story to Tell.

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Walking into Glenn Hollis's studio at WASH was like stumbling onto the kind of Hallmark card you give to your sweet Aunt Rose, who has led a sheltered life. Hollis would have tall candles burning all around the broadcast control board as he played the ballads of Josh Groban and talked on the phone with listeners, encouraging them to tell their tales of loves lost and found. Nothing ever got more explicit than a kiss.

But WASH (97.1 FM) has canceled Hollis's popular "After Hours" show after a dozen years. He's been replaced by "Delilah," a nationally syndicated program of light pop and love stories that bears a superficial resemblance to the Hollis broadcast, but which takes you down a different aisle in the greeting-cards store. Delilah Luke -- on the radio, she has but one name -- offers a show that matches up to the cards found under the big, calming sign that reads, "Inspirational."

Ever since he was summarily removed from the air in March, Hollis has been besieged by fans addicted to his evening program of soft-rock standards and calls from listeners who needed an ear for their stories about boyfriends who didn't know how much they were loved, and wives who would know how much they were cherished only when the DJ played the couple's favorite song. From his studio overlooking a gas station on Rockville Pike, Hollis limited his role to egging callers along with a gentle "mm-hmm" and reading an occasional bit of anthologized romantic poetry.

Delilah, by contrast, has won a network of more than 200 stations from her perch in Seattle by offering similar music -- lots of Jon Secada and John Tesh -- and much more advice. She's no Laura Schlessinger -- whose AM talk show dispenses edgier, "stay home with your kid and put on a dress" directives -- but rather an extra-friendly guidance counselor who has a bottomless supply of inspirational quotations.

"Delilah tells you what's best for you, while I'll listen, just make you feel good, maybe pick up people's spirits with some bits of wisdom I've found," says Hollis, who is hanging out at home in Frederick these days, rediscovering the daytime.

Hollis and Delilah -- both in their mid-forties, both devoted to their children, both possessing soothing, gentle voices -- were part of an uneasy effort by radio companies to restore some personality to music stations in an era when most people don't need a radio to get the music they want. As more and more programmers realize that what sets radio apart from the iPod is the ability of creative DJs to bond with listeners, shows such as Delilah's should gain traction. Hollis's more laid-back approach, although popular with the Washington audience, might have hurt him.

But the occasion for WASH's decision came when the host tried to extend his franchise throughout the night and it didn't work. About a year and a half ago, Hollis jumped at a chance to go beyond his evening show on WASH and keep going till dawn, via a nationally syndicated program. He would come to Rockville, do his local show during his old time slot, and then do a national version that ran until 6 a.m. on about 50 stations.

But the overnight show didn't win enough outlets to make money, and the syndicator dropped it. By that time, says Bill Hess, WASH's program director, "our agreement was with the syndicator, and Glenn was no longer our employee." So when the syndicated show died, WASH moved on.

"Glenn's show was all dedication-based," Hess says. "Delilah is more focused on people talking about their relationships. She goes deeper and she's the leader in that genre."

Despite his own attempt to take his show national, Hollis laments the loss of local DJs as more and more stations switch over to nationally syndicated talent.

"The music and the personalities become a bit more generic and radio becomes less interesting," he says. "I don't know if there's a market for me anymore. I still think it's important that my show wasn't about me; it was about the mood, the music and the callers. Is Delilah better programming? The audience will decide."

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