Every morning, 365 days a year, the music swells in the background on station OK-100 and the voice begins:
"Friends, to brighten your day, here is your message of hope."
That line, 33 years old, has endeared Richard Eaton to thousands in Washington who, over the years have listened to his radio program, "A Message of Hope."
Eaton, the 81-year-old founder of United Broadcasting Co., was honored last night at the Mayflower Hotel for his contributions to the broadcast industry. He pioneered black-oriented radio programming in the United States by putting WOOK-AM on the air here in 1947. And since WOOK's first year, he has produced, in various forms, his daily "Message of Hope."
"Do you every wake up in the morning feeling lonely, depressed, discouraged for no apparent reason whatever?" he asked in yesterday's message."In all probably the appearances of things are no different than they were . . . Yet today you feel discouraged and disheartened . . ."
Eaton's voice sputters out inspirational messages daily at 8:30 a.m. over WOOK, now OK-100, in between boogie and quick money contests on the "black album station."
Yesterday's message and the 364 others he recycles each year have been recorded during his 33 years in radio. He is part cleric, philospher and psychologist in his daily word, touching on such timeless themes as sorrow, depression, anger, parenting and marraige. He tries to inspire the weary, the love-lorn, and salvation seekekrs who want a personal uplift at the touch of a dial.
"The station called up right after the broadcast and said it was imperative that some young man be sent a copy of Message of Hope 197" aired yesterday, said Cathy 'erdmann, Eaton's assistant.
For 13 years she has answered the daily requests for copies of the message or copies of Eaton's book, "Work Wonders Within Yourself."
"One day a young man came in from his job to pick up that day's message," Erdmann recalled. "He and his wife were separating. He said that day's message gve him new hope. 'I felt he was talking right to me,' he said."
More than 100 requests for the message come each week to Eaton's Bethesda office, headquarters for UBC. Some pople just send in $4 for the book. Others, like a writer who addressed his letter "St. WOOK," write, looking for a shoulder to cry on, hoping to get some personal counseling.
"I'm shocked at the different people who write," Erdmann said. "Requests come from professionals like doctors and dentists, prisoners from Jessup, minister and little old ladies who can barely scrawl the words."
Eaton, nearly deaf in both ears and confined to a wheelchair since a stroke five years ago, sees some of the letters and responds personally when he can.
He sat high in his chair -- head up, chest out -- posing for a picture behind the desk in his airy eighth floor office.
"It is our privilege in life to try to find the best means to serve those who need us," he explains.
That is why Eaton, who is white, a Quaker, and a Chicago-born Harvard history graudate started the first black radio station, the first Hispanic station in Miami (WFAB) and the first Japanese station in Honolulu.
Eaton started building his company after losing a chain of newspapers in France in 1940. When the Germans invaded Paris, Eaton, who had lived there as a child and planned to make it his home, abandoned the papers and made a quick escape.
He came to Washington and saw racial segregation that contrasted with the relaxed attitudes of Europe.
"Like Martin Luther King Jr., I was very impressed with the black community's need for equal representation," Eaton said.
His second wife, a stylish Cuban businesswoman about 45 years Eaton's junior, is a constant in his office, helping keep track of the nine radio and two television stations owned by UBS. Three of the radio outlets are minority-oriented.
But what about the man who offers all manner of logic, religious counseling and psychological interpretatoin and who is now consumed and putting it all into one final book?
"I'm always happy. I made a good life," Eaton says simply. But isn't he ever depressed, angry, or full of sorrow himself, he is asked.
The answer, he pointed out, is in yesterday's message:
"Life is what you make it. Your experiences only reflect your own secret thoughts, your acts, your words. Your life is a result of what you think. In fact, it is what you think."
"Knowing this," he asked, "are you not inspired to think constructively?"