Infinity Broadcasting and rock jock Don "Cerphe" Colwell have agreed to another three-year deal that is likely to keep the WJFK-FM (106.7) host drawing the biggest salary for an afternoon-drive show in the area.

WJFK enticed Cerphe from WWDC-FM (101.1) in spring 1987 with a contract that initially paid him $125,000, followed by sizable increases in each of the next two years. While neither Cerphe nor WJFK General Manager Ken Stevens would say exactly how much Cerphe is being paid, each described it as "a significant increase" over the last deal. The deal also calls for a ratings-incentive bonus plan. Stevens and Cerphe had been negotiating the new contract since spring under an extension of the last contract.

"Things are moving along well and it looks good at WJFK," Cerphe said. "Infinity has been very good to me."

While it's not uncommon for morning radio hosts to earn large salaries -- WKYS-FM's (93.9) Donnie Simpson is in the $700,000 range, DC-101's Doug Tracht ("Greaseman") makes about $600,000, and WMZQ-AM/FM's (1390/98.7) Jim London and Mary Ball reportedly each earn about $375,000 annually -- it's unusual in this market for an afternoon personality to earn more than six figures. But Infinity Broadcasting has an industry reputation for paying large sums to personalities it values. For instance, morning mouth Howard Stern reportedly earns $1 million for broadcasting live from New York's WXRK-FM. The program is simulcast to Philadelphia's WYSP-FM and WJFK; each station is believed to shell out another $500,000 to $600,000 to Stern for the four hours of vociferous, adult radio.

But Cerphe, 41, whom Stern occasionally describes on-air as an "old hippie," prefers to take another tack. He is a smooth-talking, mellow throwback to the early days of progressive radio.

The only other afternoon radio announcers thought to be in the same salary league as Cerphe are WMAL-AM's (630) banter-boys, Bill Trumbull and Chris Core. According to the Arbitron summer ratings, a 1.7 share of the 25-to-54-year-old afternoon audience tuned into Cerphe's show, compared with Trumbull and Core's 4.5 share. WMZQ's Keith MacDonald hosted the most-listened-to show in that time slot with a 7.8 share. When told of Cerphe's salary increase, MacDonald said, "Hey, I'm glad he's making the money. I don't understand it. When I break $100 {thousand}, I'll let you know. I ain't close yet."

Asked why Cerphe is compensated so richly, compared with hosts of other afternoon shows with higher ratings, Stevens said, "Those guys are underpaid; Cerphe is irreplaceable. I couldn't go to New York to get a guy with what Cerphe has" -- name recognition, friendships with recording stars and personality.

There's More Where That Came From

Stevens yesterday was speaking like a man with deep pockets, whether real or imagined. He also expressed an interest in talking with WAVA-FM's (105.1) "Morning Zoo" team of Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara, who each earn about $330,000 a year and whose contract ends in 14 months. Does that mean Stevens, in acquiring the duo, would get rid of Howard Stern? "Nah, but I bet I could find a place for them," he said.

Geronimo, asked if he'd be interested in talking to Stevens, said, "Sure, I'd be interested. I'm tired of getting up at 4 a.m. I've talked to Mike about it and we'd like to do afternoons. We want to work for the people who would pay us the most money."

The Deal Is Done

Cathy Hughes's Almic Broadcasting has dropped its $6.4 million bid to purchase Baltimore's WWIN-AM/FM following a year of negotiations. Her son -- Almic co-owner Alfred Liggins -- said yesterday the company "wanted to wait and see how the first half of the new year went," citing the economic downturn. That means leaving a $200,000 escrow deposit in the hands of WWIN seller Ragan Henry, an amount Liggins said was better to lose than $6.4 million.

Trading Basketball for Gulf

The Army Reserve has interrupted the basketball season in a big way for Rich Chvotkin. The radio voice of the Georgetown Hoyas for 17 years -- the last 10 on WWDC-AM (1260) -- has been placed on active duty in the Persian Gulf. A lieutenant colonel with the Army Medical Services unit at Fort Meade, Chvotkin is also a Washington psychologist. Until his return, Charles McNeil -- "Charlie K" -- will take over at courtside.

On Air

WMAL-AM (630) will carry the 10th annual "Christmas Eve at the Kennedy Center" on Monday beginning at 10 a.m. Johnny Holliday will host the program in the Grand Foyer.