With a lot of help from friends of Bill Cerri, fill-in announcer David Ginder managed to make yesterday morning's five-hour on-air tribute to the fallen classical radio host a sparkling celebration of Cerri's life. Cerri, 60, died Tuesday after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while doing his morning WETA-FM (90.9) show.

Acknowledging that "it was a tough job to do," Ginder began the program at 5 a.m. "trying to think of as many things that Bill liked to play on the show, or things he liked personally. But as the show went on, listeners called and began reminding me what he liked to hear."

While Ginder talked to the audience, associate program director and music director Marilyn Cooley, who hosts the midday show, along with membership staffers Lynn Terrell, Lisa Eggers and Ann Potter, answered an estimated 500 calls from grief-stricken listeners, many of whom were just learning of Cerri's death.

"Many callers were crying, literally," Ginder said. "A lot of callers were pleased with what we were doing. What helped me get through was knowing that the listeners were there helping me pay tribute to Bill."

Ginder, whose voice quivered noticeably several times during the show, said: "The show ended up entirely different from what I planned. I was very happy with it. I think Bill would be pleased. We all {staffers and listeners who called} banded together and celebrated Bill's life. We wanted to do it with the respect that he deserved and I think that's what we did."

About 30 pieces of music were played including the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise"; "Variations on the Carnival of Venice" by Wynton Marsalis; and Cerri's "all-time favorite song," said Ginder, "Parlami d' Amoue Mariu," a Sicilian song by Giuseppe Di Stefano.

The music was interspersed with tales of Cerri's life and of his character, to which there was much testimony. At one point, Ginder introduced a duet from the opera "The Pearl Fishers" by Bizet, best known for his "Carmen." Cerri was not impressed by "Carmen," Ginder reminded listeners, and he often said, "What's the big deal about 'Carmen'?"

At the show's end, Ginder told listeners that "numerous times this morning, I didn't know if I would make it through the show," and then he signed off with another of Cerri's favorites: "New Day," a fresh, upbeat a cappella piece by the King's Singers.

Ginder, 35, who has been a staff announcer and producer at the public radio station for 13 months, applied for the morning host's position after Cerri announced in May that he planned to retire on Aug. 24. Ginder said yesterday that he hopes to return the show to "normal but a little subdued" atmosphere this morning, acknowledging that "it's going to be tough on all of us for a while."

A memorial service for Cerri will be held Saturday at the Reston Bible Church. At 9 a.m. Saturday, WETA-FM will repeat a two-hour "Desert Island Discs" program featuring Cerri, his stories and his music.