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

By Timothy R. Smith
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.

"I helped apprehend a number of criminals," he wrote in his letter to The Post. "Not one ever claimed that he 'did it because of the music.' "

John Weldan Rowzie was born June 1, 1914, on a farm outside Manassas. He moved to Washington as a teenager and graduated from McKinley High School in the 1930s.

He was an auto mechanic until joining the police in 1942. He walked a beat around Thomas Circle, then began moonlighting at WINX three years later. He joined WWDC in 1950 and, in the late 1950s, moved from the overnight show to the 4 to 6 p.m. rush-hour slot.

Mr. Rowzie often turned to gimmicks to increase ratings. During his overnight show, he would pay $1 for usable news tips phoned in to him. When he moved to the 4 p.m. slot, he posted a colleague on the road to give dollar bills to rush-hour commuters listening to his program.

In 1961, he left to be a deejay at WEEL in Fairfax County, but within two years he returned to WWDC, where he later did color commentary for Washington Senators games during their sunset seasons in the city. He was sports director when he left the station in 1970.

After his radio career, Mr. Rowzie became public relations director for MCD Enterprises, a New Carrollton residential development firm. During the 1980s, he was a spokesman for WTKK, a Christian television station in Manassas.

In 1955, Mr. Rowzie won a national contest as the disc jockey with the most requests to read a poem, "Why Do I Love You?" He had more than 10,000 requests. He donated his $500 prize to the Forest Ridge Baptist Church in Forest Hill, the church he belonged to until he moved to Massachusetts in 1993.

His marriage to Edith Evans ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 33 years, Yolanda Garafolo Rowzie of Middleboro; three children from his first marriage, Kathi Rowzie of Memphis, Jon Rowzie of Punta Gorda, Fla., and Donna Shpil of Richmond; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Rowzie once auditioned for WOR in an attempt to break into the bigger game of New York City radio. He did not get the job, The Post reported in the 1950s, because he sounded too much like another announcer on staff: his younger brother.

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