D.C. DJ Donnie Simpson may be leaving his longtime radio station, WPGC-FM (95.5)

Morning-radio personality Donnie Simpson signs off after a falling out with his longtime station, WPGC-FM (95.5).
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 16, 2010

Iconic morning-radio personality Donnie Simpson has begun negotiating the termination of his WPGC-FM contract -- a move that could end his 32-year career on Washington airwaves, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Although Simpson has more than a year left on his two-year contract with the CBS-owned station, he probably will leave before March 11, the anniversary of his hiring by WPGC, the sources say.

Simpson, 55, known for his golden-throated voice and easy-going personality, has been one of the most popular DJs in the Washington region for decades. His weekday program has been a morning wake-up call for more than a generation; he has also been instrumental in introducing a long list of R&B and soul artists via his radio program and "Video Soul," the interview and performance program he hosted on Black Entertainment Television for almost 15 years. (Simpson occasionally appears on BET, hosting its annual Walk of Fame awards.)

Simpson joined WPGC (95.5) in 1993, after a long stint at WKYS-FM (93.9).

The unwinding of his contract would keep him off local airwaves for at least a year under terms of its "non-compete" provisions.

Contacted this week about the negotiations, the station managers and Simpson declined to discuss them publicly.

Simpson's ratings, as well as WPGC's overall audience, have fallen since the introduction of a new electronic measurement system in October 2008 by Arbitron, a media and marketing research company. Perennially among the top-three morning programs in the region before the new system's advent, Simpson's show ranked No. 10 during the first three weeks of December.

The new system, which uses small electronic monitors called Portable People Meters, has been controversial; some broadcasters have charged that Arbitron systematically underrepresents African American and Latino listeners in its PPM sample, thus harming the ratings of stations programmed to appeal to many of those listeners.

Some stations that appeal to black audiences, however, have recovered in the ratings under the new system. Comedian Steve Harvey's syndicated morning program on WHUR-FM (96.3) ranked second overall in December, and Tom Joyner's syndicated show on WMMJ-FM (102.3) was No. 7.

Simpson has enjoyed a long and profitable run as a broadcaster. At one point during the 1990s, Simpson was reportedly making nearly $1 million -- the first black radio personality to reach that plateau.

In mid-2007, during an interview on the 30th anniversary of his start on the air in Washington, Simpson expressed satisfaction with his career and his relationship with the station. "I work four hours a day!" he said at the time. "I get 10 weeks off a year. I get to kick it with people I love, including my son. And they pay me for it. I can't imagine a better life, but if I could," he said, pausing mischievously, "it would involve Shakira!"

Since then, Simpson has clashed with WPGC's management over how to manage his show in the era of people meters.

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