D.C. City Council member Nadine Winter was certain the other day when Sonny Till, lead singer of the 1950s ballad group The Orioles, died that she could turn to WHUR-FM for details.
"We lost our Elvis Presley," said Winter, explaining why she thought this city's top black radio station would react immediately to Till's death. And she was right. Early on Thursday morning, the station had the news and a musical tribute to Till.
WHUR, the fifth-highest rated radio station in Washington, has been celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. So far, the station has had a "Gong Show" at Constitution Hall and a masquerade ball at the Four Seasons Hotel. Last night Winter was among 400 people who attended a reception on the Howard University campus, the home of WHUR.
In the university ballroom, the atmosphere was as relaxed and informal as the station the party was celebrating. A short program featured a presentation to Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co., which gave the station to Howard in 1971; remarks by university President James Cheek and Mayor Marion Barry; introductions of 30 station personnel, and an oldies concert by the Wayne Linsey trio. "I'm proud to know you have the No. 1 show in the evening. I thought Felix Grant had the evening hours all locked in," said Graham.
Melvin Lindsay, the host of that No. 1 evening show, "The Quiet Storm," is one of several station personalities who have given WHUR an unmistakable identity as an informed voice with a mellow approach. Some critics think the station is too relaxed, and sometimes lax. But the station attracts 400,000 listeners a week and will earn a projected $2 million in advertising revenues this year. And its programs have a strong constituency. For example, when John Blake's Caribbean show was threatened earlier this year because of low ratings, its listeners lobbied the station and saved a shortened version.
One of WHUR's distinctions, said Jesse Fax, director of music and information, is "not only the music. All the stations have access to the sounds. But basically what you do between the cuts. We try to say something intelligent.