Jack Rowzie, 96; D.C. officer walked different beat as rock-and-roll DJ

In the 1 a.m.-6 a.m. slot on WWDC, Jack Rowzie ran
In the 1 a.m.-6 a.m. slot on WWDC, Jack Rowzie ran "Night Beat," a police-themed show. (The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 10:11 PM

In the mid-1940s, Jack Rowzie was a D.C. police officer who supplemented his income as a part-time disc jockey for WINX, a radio station in Cambridge, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. His second job violated police department rules, but Mr. Rowzie loved music (and needed the money). Besides, the station was so far away, how would anyone on the force ever find out?

One day in early February 1946, a WINX executive called and said the station was doing a remote broadcast from the District, but the announcer had taken sick. Could Mr. Rowzie fill in?

He jumped in a cab.

When Mr. Rowzie entered the auditorium, he saw his microphone on stage, along with the D.C. police band. In the audience was his boss Col. Edward J. Kelly, the District's superintendent of police. It was Kelly's retirement ceremony.

Mr. Rowzie did the broadcast, but the beans were spilled. The department made him decide between his two careers. He chose to become a full-time deejay at WINX. Later, he went to WWDC in Silver Spring.

His wife was relieved when he quit the force because she thought he would have better working hours. Instead, WWDC gave Mr. Rowzie the 1 to 6 a.m. slot for "Night Beat," a police-themed show that was introduced with a song about a paddy wagon.

Mr. Rowzie, who was 96 when he died Dec. 23 of congestive heart failure at a nursing home in Middleboro, Mass., became a local radio fixture with "Night Beat" and was one of the first disc jockeys in the D.C. area to broadcast rock-and-roll.

The show was an eclectic mix of music, prayers and jokes that Mr. Rowzie - who wore a police hat during broadcasts - delivered in a mellow, ministerial voice.

He often snoozed between tracks. "I can sleep on a dime," he told listeners.

Mr. Rowzie, who was passionate about his Christian faith, ended each "Night Beat" show with gospel music or a hymn. But the bulk of the show presented the controversial new sound of rock-and-roll, and his core listeners were teenagers.

"Our teenagers are turning to rock-and-roll and making their own favorites and stars of tomorrow," he wrote in a 1956 letter to The Washington Post.

Mr. Rowzie, who said he "learned about crime the hard way - not from sociological textbooks," dismissed widespread claims that rock-and-roll turned kids to violence.

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