As the windows of Adams-Morgan are thrown open to the warm air each spring, people in the neighborhood have grown used to the sound of Latin music reverberating onto the streets. WFAN - the city's only Spanish-language radio station was linking the Latin immigrant community to its roots with words and music.
But this weekend the radios will fall silent. WFAN is being taken off the air, sacrificed as part of a long involved legal wrangle aimed at a completely different kind of station.
Community leader in Adams-Morgan and throughout Washington's various Spanish-speaking communities have been searching for some way to keep the programming - if not the station - alive.
"It's a matter of survival as a community," said Silverio Coy, one of the organizers of a coalition now searching for an alternative. "This is going to affect 150,000 people, many of them are illiterate and the radio is their only vehicle of communication . . . If tomorrow you turned on the radio and television and discovered they are all broadcasting in Portuguese, and all the English stations have gone off the air, you would panic."
"We're losing out," said Coy, "and it's not our fault."
The demise of WFAN-Am is tied to the fate of black-oriented WOOK-FM. Both are owned by Richard Eaton of the United Broadcasting Company.
Beginning in 1966 a biracial group of influential Washingtonians called Washington Community Broadcasting challenged Eaton's license for WOOK and in 1969 they accused Eaton of allowing a numbers racket to operate through the religious programming on the station.
Preachers on WOOK would reportedly give out tips on supposed winning numbers in the illegal street lottery by using Bible references.
"The first three figures is 547 - My God, my God," said one, according to Federal Communications Commission documents, "And you take the mysterious two that was blessed through last week, if you place it on the five you'll see it's still working for you and the 74th and the seventh verse was a blessing to Washington, D.C."
Listeners were asked to call or visit the preachers, for further blessings. Eaton was also accused of various deceptive advertising practices on WOOK.
He denied all the charge and fought to keep the stations, but in 1975 the FCC revoked his license for WOOK.
Now, here's the twist that has the Latin community so upset.
The challenge brought against Eaton was technically for the AM frequency of WOOK, 1340. Eaton's Spanish-language station, WFAN, was on the FM frequency 100.3.
When it became clear, after several court appeals, that Eaton would lose 1340 - though granted a time extension to prepare for its demise - he swithched WFAN's Spanish program to AM and put WOOK's black-oriented programming on FM.
The result of the move is that WOOK stays on the air, and WFAN - which has never been accused of any misconduct - is going off on April 22.
Monroe Oppenheimer, attorney for Washington Community Broadcasting, called Eaton's move a "legerdemain, a flimflam," but said there was nothing his organization could do about it. Oppenheimer said there were no plans for his group to carry Spanish-language programming. "We announced from the start that we were going to carry Spanish "would be us pulling Eaton's chestnuts out of the fire," Oppenheimer said. "It's up to the Spanish to protect themselves. That's the cold fact."
Silverio Coy and a group calling itself The Washington Metropolitan Coalition Pro-Radio Latina have turned their attention now to WGTB, Georgetown University's educational frequency, which Georgetown is giving up because of its controversial programming and lack of student participation.
A spokesman for Georgetown said earlier this week that the station has been offered to the University of the District of Columbia. If UDC turns it down, however, then it will be given to the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington as a Spanish-language station.
"We're committed to move on this if we get the offer," said Father Maurice Fox, who extimates the cost of running WGTB in Spanish would be at least $50,000 a year.
"I think this is a tragic situation," said Fox. "There's absolutely no programming for the Spanish speaking community." He said WGTB is the only answer, and he has no idea what its fate is going to be. "There's only so many frequencies in this area. We'd have to buy an existing station and the cost (in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) is prohibitive."
Even if the archdicese if able to get WGTB, however, it would be some time before it could be put in operation, and for much of Adams-Morgan, that will mean a silent spring.