Special guest Donnie Simpson, more on Pop Culture With Paul Farhi

SIGNING OFF: Donnie Simpson, a 95.5 personality since 1993, is ending his contract 131/2 months early.
SIGNING OFF: Donnie Simpson, a 95.5 personality since 1993, is ending his contract 131/2 months early. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post)

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Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: The one and only Donnie Simpson left his longtime Washington radio home, WPGC-FM, for good on Friday, but he's here as a special guest star on Station Break. Join us as Mr. Video Soul and the man who's woken up Washingtonians for more than three decades takes your questions and comments.

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all. Thanks for stopping by...So, you know the news: Donnie Simpson, legendary morning radio man, former host of BET's "Video Soul," all-around nice guy, walked away last week from WPGC-FM, his broadcast home for the past 17 years. Shocking, frankly. It's an understatement to say local radio won't be the same, because of course it won't. I literally can't remember living in Washington without hearing Donnie, and two days in, it's weird not to hear him.

How to explain how a guy lasts 32 years on the air, in the most high profile timeslot of all? Maybe by saying what Donnie isn't and wasn't. He wasn't a shock jock; he didn't stuff his opinions down your throat; he didn't do raunch, didn't trash people, never went lowbrow. Instead, I think, Donnie succeeded by going in the other direction--by being likeable, by being himself. He was kind of a throwback to a time when morning radio personalities established a next-door-neighbor bond with their listeners--something I think we're losing. For four hours every weekday morning, you'd get some humor, a few opinions, some topical conversation, some news (R.I.P., David Haines), and a lot of great music with your first cup of coffee. Simple, smooth, unforced and grown up. Donnie made it seem easy--which of course was the whole point (plus, Donnie had one of the best wake-up jingles in the business. Who even has jingles any more?) Special bonus for suburban white guys like me: Listening to him I felt a connection to black Washington that geography, genetics and lifestyle couldn't otherwise bridge. It's funny how people you don't really know can seem like people you do.

Anyway, it's a pleasure to welcome Donnie to the chat to talk about then, now and what's next.

Hi, Donnie....

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Donnie Simpson: First of all I want to say hello to everyone, and thank you for all the love you've shown me not just over the weekend but over the last 32 years. I'm delighted to join you for this chat this afternoon.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Donnie,

You're such an institution here in the Washington, D.C. area, and I will definitely miss hearing you in the morning. Now that you're able to pursue other opportunities, are you looking at doing a show on BET or TVOne similar to the "Imus in the morning" show on Fox Business News? I think you'll be a tremendous success and asset to either organization!

Best Regards.

Donnie Simpson: That's an idea that we actually explored 6-7 years ago. At this point, I'm not really thinking in that direction... but TV could be in the plans! Let's stay in touch through donnieonair@gmail.com and I will let you know.

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Capitol Heights, Md.: Donnie, what was the motivation that kept you on the air here in D.C. for 32 years?

Donnie Simpson: Music... and love. I love music, and I love people. And the people of DC have always shown such incredible love for me. And I think that's because they feel the love I have for them. So 32 years was easy and went by quickly.

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Arlington, Va.: When are you coming back to the airwaves, Donnie? We already miss you!

Donnie Simpson: I miss you guys to! This is not easy for me, we've spent mornings together for 30 years now. And of course, I miss you. I'm not at liberty to say right now when I will return to the airwaves, but like Arnold... I can say this... I VILL BE BACK!

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Washington, D.C.: I just want to say as a D.C. native I'm now 40 years old, but when I was about 12, my sisters and I begged our mother to let us go to the Langdon Rec. Pool because Donnie Simpson was gonna be there. Donnie was doing a WKYS promo and giving away WKYS T-shirts and New Edition records. I will never forget that fond memory and I could have sworn to all my friends he winked at just me that day. Thank you Donnie for being a wonderful constant through through the good and bad times in this city. Thank You,

Michelle Kiah

Donnie Simpson: You're so kind, Michelle. It's been my pleasure to spend all of these years with you.. and just for the record... I was winking at you! LOL

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Chevy Chase, Md.: How can you leave your morning radio show? How will we ever wake up? Do you realize future historians will trace the collapse of the American government to oversleeping federal workers who lost their motivation to continue once you leave? As Fox News would put it: why do you hate America by leaving us?

Donnie Simpson: I'm shocked to know that I have that kind of impact on America's psyche! That's very flattering, but I think I'm too dark for Fox News to cover anyway. LOL

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Silver Spring, Md.: I am so happy that Donnie Simpson left that show. It was an annoyance to me that the format had changed so much this year. I remember when Donnie and Tony Perkins were together and then later, Chris Paul. They were always a pleasure to listen to and I never missed them in the morning for all of those years. I hope he doesn't leave the area because I look forward to his next venture. What will that be?

Donnie Simpson: Well, I said on the air 2 weeks ago that anyone that had listened to me over the last 30 years knew that what they heard over the last year was not me... and that's why I bounced. The issue is not being stuck in the past, I have always been able to move on musically. I've always been able to make all generations dance and love and I think I still can. When I came into radio it was called "broadcasting", now they want me to NARROWcast... I ain't doing it.

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Judiciary Square, D.C.: As a life long D.C. resident, I've grown up listening to Donnie. I'm sad to see him sign off of D.C. radio, maybe just for the time being. Since your son was your producer what will become of him? Thanks.

Donnie Simpson: DJ and I have a lot of plans, we will be working together. He was always my right hand, and I've always felt comfortable in that hand. Rest assured that whatever I do going forward, DJ will be there with me shoulder to shoulder! That's my boy!

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Potomac, Md.: For those of us following, reporting on, working in and associated with local and national broadcasting, here's a stark truth regarding radio, broadcasting, CBS, WPGC and the too-soon resignation of Donnie Simpson: CBS Radio, which was once the gold standard in radio broadcasting, has nose-dived in quality through the years to the point where it is horribly mismanaged, run by too much of a focus on the bottom line, run by people who literally don't know what they're doing, and just basically become an industry joke. The current local and national CBS Radio managers have systematically picked apart, dumbed down and dismantled what was once a great radio network. Now, it's just either average or below-average. In recent years, at least 10 of the D.C. and Baltimore regions' best disc jockeys have been coldly pushed off the air -- and not for good reasons -- and the airwaves are now suffering because of it. CBS, of course, should have done everything it could have to keep all of these talented, smart and experienced people on the air -- and that includes Donnie Simpson. As a result of CBS Radio's insane management, we're now left with a bunch of below-average, dehumanized, dumbed-down and generally talentless radio stations that represent either average broadcasting -- or below-average broadcasting. Donnie Simpson, and the others, should still be on the air.

Donnie Simpson: CBS has been berry berry good to me. Like in any relationship, there are differences. But I look back over my 17 years with CBS with great fondness, and I wish them well.

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Alexandria, Va.: Donnie's warm spirit is more powerful than he could ever imagine. I attended his 30th anniversary celebration at the Warner, a day before my then 34-year-old daughter was scheduled to undergo brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins. My family felt my attending the event would ease and relax my soul. It worked. All is well, my daughter is doing OK. The Browns love you Donnie and we're your lifelong fans wherever you are.

Alice A. Brown

Donnie Simpson: Thank you so much for that Alice. I'm happy to know that you're daughter is doing well. The warm spirit that you spoke of is generated by the love you guys give to me. DC makes me feel warm, even in this cold winter were having! I'm truly amazed at the love and respect you guys show me. I really don't understand it.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd like to know if Donnie would be interested in doing an updated version of his "Video Soul" show? I think it would be a good look.

Donnie Simpson: For the last 3 days I've been practicing walking with my pants on the ground... I'm gettin ready!

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Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: This is a relatively content-free message, but I am a suburban Maryland radio listener who came upon the good humor and music of Donnie's show when I was a teenager. I have been a devoted fan ever since. Listening to Donnie Simpson and hearing the needle dropped on a sweet slice of soul in the middle of a furious morning commute was one of the signature graces of dwelling in the Washington area.

Donnie, I hope retirement is both good to you and not particularly prolonged. Come back to the airwaves as soon as you can.

Donnie Simpson: That was so well written, have you been reading Paul Farhi long? I assure you I will return to the airwaves in some form. I'll keep you posted, just stay in touch with me at donnieonair@gmail.com or find my fan page on Facebook.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: First of all, I'd like to thank you Mr. Simpson for being a shining example of what a successful man of color can become without compromising his dignity or self worth. Your presence has impacted many in this area and nationally as well. My question focuses on the radio industry and its move in the recent years to satellite programming and its impact on local programming, community involvement and of course the job market of the all the local DJs losing out in the area. I've always prided myself on listening to local radio over satellite DJs and with your departure this is becoming increasingly difficult in the DC market. What is your take on this current trend and how do you feel it will impact local radio's future and future radio personalities/personnel to come. Continued blessing to you and your family.

Donnie Simpson: First of all, thank you for all the kind things you said about me. It's not just satellite radio that is having an impact on local radio, it's also the internet and the fact that advertising dollars have gone there instead of traditional media. Just like what you saw with NBC and Jay Leno, an attempt to get cheaper programming... It seems that radio is also headed down that road. Someone should call NBC and ask them what's at the end of that road? They've already seen it.

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Clinton, Md.: Donnie

A lifelong resident of D.C. ... I miss hearing you in the morning. You always had a nice mix of old and new school music. That brings me to my question. I am very open minded musically, but I must say that much of the music played today is garbage. No meaning, no lyrical content and overly sexual. You really cannot listen to mainstream stations with your kids in the car. How much of the change in music lead to your decision to leave PGC? And have you ever thought of doing a 30 minute TV sit down program with current (good ones) and past music stars similar to what Tavis does on PBS with his guest?

Donnie Simpson: The music on my show and the control of it was a major factor in determining my leaving. I've always had control of what I played on the air. I, like you, have always had very open ears. My musical taste has gone from Smokey and the Temps to Tupac, Biggie, Garth Brooks and John Mayer. I've always felt that people's ears are wider than programmers are ever wiling to give them credit for. It's always been very important to me that you not have to turn me off because your kids are in the back seat. As far as the Tavis type show goes, we're looking at a number of different things and I'm really not at liberty to talk about any of them now. But you can join me on Facebook or donnieonair@gmail.com and I will keep you posted. Let me say this to, going back 30 years if I listened to the programmers then OR today, Donnie Simpson never would have happened... Melvin Lindsey never would have happened. You have to allow creative people the room to create.

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Reston, Va.: What was up with the two new co-hosts? Did you actually have a contest to select your successors (no comparison, IMHO)?! Are those two planning on running the show from here on out or will they be switching formats altogether. And ... how was last Friday, seeing all those people, receiving all that love?

Donnie Simpson: Anji did win America's Next Top Jock contest. As far as what they're planning on doing with the show, I don't know. It's not the Donnie Simpson show anymore. Anji emailed me this morning, and told me that she missed me and that it felt like I was on vacation. I wrote her back and told her that I am not on vacation... I'm gone. And that this morning, God painted his canvas so beautifully with purple shades of joy as I was waking up. I told her, I'm good... right here. I don't know what they are going to do but I hope they do it well. Break a leg!

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Herndon, Va.: Dear Donnie,

I'm and grew up listening to you. Back in the day if it wasn't for you, that school bus would've rolled without me! My mom absolutely adores you, so could you give a shout out to Gwen D out in Reston? I know this is goofy, but her birthday is next week and she would be thrilled. Thank you! Peace, love, and death to Non-Competes -laugh-

Donnie Simpson: Next week, I will open my window and shout out your mom! I hope she lives next door because I don't have a microphone anymore. Please wish her happy birthday, and thanks for the love!

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Hey Donnie: If you ran a radio station, what would it be like? Who's your demographic, baby?

Donnie Simpson: First of all, I want to say that I like non-competes.. they provide LOOOONG vacations! As for what kind of radio station I would create, all you have to do is look back into DC radio history. At the legendary Kiss. Out of all the things I've accomplished in my career, that is the thing that I'm most proud of. To create a 24 hour vibe is pretty cool stuff. There are still websites dedicated to it's memory. A quote I made back in 1980 described it as being "not disco, but disdat.... some of dis and some of dat." I look at demographics just like I look at music, you don't do this by age, you don't program music by expiration dates. Since the day I got in radio at the age of 15, I always wanted everyone with ears listening to me. I don't know how to narrow that down.

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Edgewater, Md.: I have been hearing about the new ratings system and legislation that is affecting minority-owned radio stations. Can you explain what your take is on that? We miss you bro!

Cori T Coates

Donnie Simpson: PPM has been a disaster. It has killed minority stations across this country. In some cities black stations that had been number 1 for 25 years were suddenly in 14th place. Congress and the FCC are investigating this system now because of it's under-representation of minorities. It's a new system, and I'm sure they'll fix it. But for right now, it's putting blacks and Latino's on the streets.

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Bethesda, Md.: Donnie, just wanted to thank you for what has been a great run on radio. I think that one of the coolest things about your career so far on radio is that you transcended race. I am a 32-year-old white guy who grew up in Montgomery County. However, I felt just as comfortable and connected to your show as my African-American friends I met in college and post grad who grew up in the District and PG County. Hope to hear you back on the radio soon introducing the legendary Frankie Beverly and Maze, "Before I let you go." I could always tell that was a personal favorite of yours. Thanks for the mornings well spent.

Donnie Simpson: One thing I've always been grateful for is the diversity of my listeners. I was at Tysons Corner a week and a half ago with a friend of mine and as I walked through the mall my friend remarked, "You're like the United Nations, everybody speaks to you. All races and all ages." What a blessing that is. I love people, all people. Just like music. There's a certain spirit that connects us all that has nothing to do with age or race... and that's what you tapped into my brother.

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Bowie, Md.: I will miss listening to you in the mornings, but I know that in the future, I will hear or see you again in the world of broadcasting. I was wondering if your former producer, Jeff Newman is still in the business and will he be working with you again? Take care Donnie.

Donnie Simpson: Jeff is one of my oldest and truest friends. One of the many things that has me excited about this period in my life is the opportunity to work with Jeff again. I miss my old team, I miss Chris, Huggy, Jeff and now you. Things change, but you can't stop the love. And these are the people I love. Regardless to what call letters are on their business cards.

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Dumfries, Va.: Donnie...first of all I miss hearing you on the radio in the morning. I remember first listening to you in my early 20s now I am 50 and I miss you so much on the radio. What happened to DJ Rico and why was he released from WPGC?

Donnie Simpson: I miss you to. The hardest part of this, and the only thing that gave me pause, was the thought of getting up every morning and not talking to you guys. Ya'll are who I roll with. As far as DJ Rico is concerned, it's a situation that I can't speak on but I will say this... I love him to death and would walk through a wall for him. He is one of the most loyal people I've ever known. DJ Rico IS DC, and he will be missed greatly. But I'll say this about him, just like I say it about me... He'll be back to, he's got WAY too much to offer!

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Bethesda, MD: Would you consider going back to television, do guess radio spots (Steve Harvey mentioned on his show that he had extended an invitation which is a GREAT idea), or would you do more behind-the-scenes work?

Donnie Simpson: I really don't know what the other side of the camera looks like, I've always been on the shiny side. Television may be in the plans, I'm just not at liberty to talk about it now. As far as Steve Harvey's offer goes, to sit in and do his show... that's very flattering, but to use a phrase from an old late night infomercial.. No my brotha, I've GOT to get my own!

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I Blame the Portable People Meters: Once PPM's started reporting true numbers, and the advertising community realized that they had been lied to for years by stations about their actual listener numbers -- the ad dollars aren't there to support expensive local talent. It's too bad about Donnie, but that's the situation.

Sorry, but after 15 years in the local media business, I gotta call 'em like I see 'em.

Donnie Simpson: In one rating period, WFRE, a country station in Frederick, MD showed up number one in DC. If you believe that, then you probably wrote this comment. There are so many problems with PPM, just one of them is the fact that it rates what it hears, not necessarily what you hear. If I'm sitting in the Cheesecake Factory for 3 hours and it's monitoring what's played there, although that's not my choice of radio station, that's who's going to get the credit... that's a problem. Maybe some kind of combination between the old diary system and the new PPM system would work, but right now, this thing is a disaster... and that's NOT sour grapes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey, Donnie. I've been listening to you since middle school when you were with Tony on WKYS. I'm now WAY older than middle school but have never stopped listening in the morning.

The ironic thing is that my middle school son came up to me on Friday and said, "Did you know that Donnie Simpson is leaving?" This is the same kid who used to sing, "Donnie Simpson Show Donnie Simpson Show, Donnie in the morning. Get up!" on the way to day-care.

I think it's neat that my teenage kids listen to you in the morning just like I did.

I appreciate that you've always just been you. I'll miss that because all of the other morning jocks just "yell" or try to put on an act. I just don't need that.

I hope you come back to a local morning show. If/when you do I (and my kids) will be listening.

Take care.

Donnie Simpson: Your letter reflects exactly what I always wanted my career to be, generational. I'm honored to have had 3 or 4 different generations listen to me through the years. I think it's great that you can enjoy something that your son also enjoys... how cool is that?! It's like me, Pam, DJ and Dawn watching the Cosby Show back in the day. Family is so important to me and I really appreciate you saying that to me today. I don't think radio has to be sectioned off where you listen to the music for your generation and your son listens to the music for his generation. As Magic Johnson said when he had to sit in for Kareem Abdul Jabbar in an NBA Championship game, "It's all basketball, ain't it?"

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Waldorf, Md.: Hi Donnie,

Thank you for all of your years of service. Thank you for teaching black men such as myself that grew up listening to you that it is okay to be smart and articulate. I especially thank you for showing such class and showing that black men can disagree without being disagreeable. I will miss listening to someone that loves music as much as I do and getting the historical lessons. You will be missed.

Donnie Simpson: Your comments are so flattering. I can't tell you how much I appreciate them. I was told of a caller who said that I was his father, his radio father. That he lost his father several years ago, and that I filled that roll for him through the radio. When I hear those kinds of things, man it moves me to tears. To know that people see you in that way. But it also moves me to tears to know that God sees me in that way, and that that's the role he's chosen for me. I know whose I am.

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Paul Farhi: Donnie (and D.J.) have been ironmen on this chat. Thanks to them, and to all of you for your questions and comments. Sorry we couldn't get to all of them. We've got time for just one more...

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Temple Hills, Md.: Despite not having been a fan of WPGC for many years I have always been a fan of Mr. Simpson. Many moons ago I escorted a (church) youth group to a Globe Trotters game and the kids were permitted access to the players as well as meeting "The Man" himself. Regardless of the reasons, we all know there comes a time when we have to move on and it appears that time has come. I truly wish you the very best and I know I do not have to (but I will) say: "Donnie Simpson is a D.C. institution!" Stay strong my brother and lvie your life to the fullest. Best of luck in the paths you have yet to take. God Bless! Patricia Folks-McPhail.

Donnie Simpson: I thank you for your well wishes for my future. The one thing that I appreciated so much during my luncheon at Ben's Chili Bowl on Friday was the fact that everyone spoke of my future. I was so afraid that people would see this as a retirement, but they didn't. I know I travel down a new road but when I'm traveling with the Army that IS DC... and with God by my side, then as they would say in Australia, I have "no worries mate". Don't forget we can stay in touch through my Facebook page or you can email me at Donnieonair@gmail.com. Thanks for rollin with a brotha, and I'll see you soon. God Bless You.

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Paul Farhi: Thanks so much, Donnie! Looking forward to hearing what comes next....That's all the time we have this week. We'll get back to our regular chat next week. Thanks for stopping by this time. And as always, regards to all!...Paul.

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