Longtime host of Haitian radio show turns focus to earthquake recovery

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010

Just before 10 p.m. Saturday, a Maryland state highway engineer sat down in the DJ's booth at WPFW, a tiny radio station on a narrow side street in Adams Morgan.

His name, in official traffic and engineering circles, is Jean Yves Point-du-Jour. But on Saturday nights, sitting in front of an old, dusty soundboard, he becomes Yves Dayiti, host of "Konbit Lakay."

For 26 years, from 10 to midnight on 89.3 FM, Dayiti has brought the sounds and news of Haiti, his native country, to thousands of Haitians in the Washington area.

On Saturday, he was supposed to have the night off. He was supposed to be visiting Haiti.

"But here I am," he said as he opened the show. "We have a lot to talk about tonight."

This was probably the biggest show of his radio career, coming days after an earthquake had flattened the most populous area of Haiti, including the block in Port-au-Prince where he grew up. He assumed -- and a sudden spike in interest from the mainstream media affirmed -- that he would be speaking to a much broader audience.

"It is only in a time of disaster that people know we exist," he said in an interview before going on the air.

But Dayiti's weight in the Haitian community is such that his first guest was U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.). Dayiti has never feared to use his influence, criticizing the Haitian government and describing what he says is neglect of his native country on the part of rich global powers, such as the one based on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

On the phone with Edwards, Dayiti called the $100 million that President Obama pledged to rebuild Haiti "a first step," adding, somewhat sharply, and not as a question: "We can get more than that."

On the show, Dayiti talked with Haitian leaders from Miami and other parts of the United States. He spoke in English, in contrast to most Saturdays, when the program is mainly in Creole. Organizers of relief efforts provided Web site addresses and phone numbers. If the program sounded more like an urgent late-night infomercial rather than the usual offering of Haitian hit tunes and political debate, Dayiti didn't seem to mind.

Dayiti, 56, came to the United States as a student, ending up at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He worked as a dishwasher and has used education -- receiving three degrees -- to build a professional life.

He got the radio show, a volunteer gig, as other hosts often do, starting low on the totem pole. Through fellow Haitians, he had heard that WPFW, a listener-sponsored, noncommercial station, needed extra hands. He answered phones and had some on-air appearances that led to "Konbit Lakay."

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