The time is 7:30 a.m. Already Harambee House is alive with mellow music and the frantic activity of radio production assistants winding up last-minute preparations before going live at 8:15 a.m. with the Breakfast Club.
The Club is a monthly part of WHUR's Morning Sound, broadcast weekdays from 5 to 10 a.m. by Jerry Phillips.
Developed, produced and hosted by Phillips, the Breakfast Club is a black town hall meeting held every fourth Thursday on WHUR, 96.3 on the FM dial.
The format -- a panel discussion followed by a question-and-answer period -- offers everyday people an opportunity to question the experts, who, in turn, hear what the citizens have on their minds.
Breakfast Clubbers air their concerns about D.C.'s community problems -- housing, crime, unemployment -- from a black perspective. And after 14 months, the show is going strong.
On any fourth Thursday some 100 people will pay $3 each to enjoy a bountiful buffet breakfast, built around grits, sausage, scrambled eggs and hash, and to listen to the month's community forum.
Undeniably, meeting Phillips, a former seminary student who says he has made 15 years of local radio broadcasting his ministry, ranks high on the show's list of attractions.
But it is the Breakfast Club's content that seals its popularity. Supporters have been known to skip work to attend. Regulars, like Shaw area resident Freddie Reynolds, have started breakfast clubs of their own. They meet in places like their neighborhood libraries for discussions with their guests. Phillips is often invited. Mildred Brooks, a volunteer-nutritionist on the show, describes Phillips as "an engaging Aquarius, with a warm sunshine-like kind of vibe about him. He comes across as a person you would like to meet."
Suddenly, the breakfast crowd breaks into applause. Phillips has arrived -- smiling, witty, a loving guru to the people who applaud him, both on cue and spontaneously, during the fast-paced, informative show.
He strides regally around the room, a microphone cord snaking lazily behind him. He addresses the panelists and encourages questions from the audience.
His voice expresses joy, anger surprise, wonder. The body weaves, poses and pirouettes as he questions, challenges and directs the interplay between panelists and community activists invited to stack the audience as lay experts on their special interests.
Rhodney and Cassandra Lloyd are typical of most of the audience. They sit back, simply smiling their approval.
I don't think there's any station in the Washington area that's providing the community forum that WHUR has," Rhodney Lloyd, 29, says.
The Lloyds, of Columbia, Md., were visiting the Breakfast Club for the first time. They had come to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
"That's just how important we feel it is," he says. "WHUR is aware socially and politically; It's refreshing to have a black voice that is that vocal."
Phillips says he developed the Breakfast Club to help bring the community together. The formula seems to be working.
Too soon, it's 10 a.m., the broadcast is over until another Morning Sound begins at 5 a.m.
"It's best that you wake up this morning so you can get to work on time!" Phillips fires off over the airwaves as he slips into Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train."
7 a.m., time for much of Washington to go to work again.
Since 5 a.m., Phillips has been off and running with the Morning Sound, the undisputed alarm clock, informant and social conscience for much of black metropolitan Washington and a smattering of white Washingtonians.
According to the Arbitron Ratings Corp., the Nielsen of radio ratings, the latest numbers place the Morning Sound sixth among the 33 metropolitan area stations that air in the same time slot.
With bulldog-like determination, Phillips is holding his own, charging his low-budget, volunteer team against all comers, including the network operations.
Yet the concept had a rough start three years ago. He says the early format was "very loose," a combination of his personal commentary and easy listening music.
"I felt it was time black people stopped getting up to fingerpopping music and be about going to work. To do this, you have to have information," he explains.
But his approach didn't play with the rest of the station's staff. He talked about camping, tennis, travel, skydiving and Chesapeake Bay fishing.
WHUR had been known for its jazz and the smooth, hip banter of the announcers. The first day the Morning Sound aired, Phillips recalls, the news team held a one-day sickout.
"People couldn't take me," he explains. "I consider myself a flat personality. I'm corny and black people couldn't take that."
Critics called the station every day. Four months after the show was on, a listener called and said Phillips was "putting on airs."
Repeating the comment on the air, Phillips appealed to his audience for response, and listeners rallied to his defense. Thus began the two-way communication that has increased his audience appeal over the years.
Phillips stirs strong feelings. Those who know him generally fall into two camps -- the faithful and the turned-off.
He is known as the master of the malaprop, often, according to critics, sending the wrong word in pursuit of his intended meaning. But the faithful forgive such unfortunate foibles.
Before the Morning Sound, WHUR newscaster Ben Dudley contends, "No one had ever served the needs of Washington's black, middle-class community."
Emmett Willis (simply Willis on the air), the station's volunteer traffic caster, and one of the troopers in the volunteer army which helps accomplish the Morning Sound, adds, "In a way, Jerry is all they've got."
Topics on the show range from call-in forums with city officials to self-help tips from one of 25 consultants who volunteer their services to the station.
Updates on the time, news and traffic as well as neighborhood greetings are given periodically.
"It is," a D.C. cab driver notes, "the only station I know that gives coverage to raise the consciousness of blacks to what's going on in Africa, the Caribbean and their community."
Mayor Marion Barry is among the show's stalwarts. He calls often, and Phillips broadcasts their conversations live.
"It was the first show he called on his return from his trip to Africa," Florence Tate, Barry's press secretary, says. "He feels the program presents a warm, positive feeling about the city and the people . . . .
"He may have a comment or a reaction to something that was said. It's the only station I know of where he initiates the calls. He has also been by there several times.
"He called WHUR from Africa. He calls because he likes to keep in touch with his audience."
Other regular listeners, like Valerie Pinson, a White House special assistant for congressional relations, tune in while driving to work.
"The music is relaxing," Pinson says, "and it's good for me to get that kind of prospective going to work."
According to newspaper publisher Calvin Rolark, the Morning Sound has "mass appeal instead of a class appeal. It allows blacks to feel proud . . . they have something they can identify with."
Rolark, a talk show host on another station, said he encourages his audience to listen to WHUR. (KEY OFF) hillips (KEYWORD) says the radio concept is patterned after the versatile black radio broadcasters he admired in the '40s. He believes his show revives their particular style and quality.
"The idea of using radio (for something) other than as a jukebox has always been a part of me," says Phillips, a thirdgeneration Washingtonian who grew up on 15th and S streets NW.
His family, staunch, middle-class Catholics, "forced" him and his brother to listen to good radio, he adds.
Today his particular brand of radio has a following. If Phillips is the Morning Sound guru, leading Washingtonians into good radio, program regulars -- like Willis, astrologer LeBarron Frost, labor reporter Kojo Nnamdi and newscaster Adrienne Felton -- are the apostles of the big-city radio program with the hometown flavor.
"The sun is rising in Leo," Frost intones, after the husky-voiced Felton reports the news. Speaking in a rapid-fire clip, Willis relates that "13th Street is clean and green. Columbia Road is looking good." And Nnmadi reports on jobs listed in the D.C. job bank.
Says Phillips: "When I wake up in the morning, I don't want to hear anyone singing 'Baby, I love you, and I don't want to let you go' when I know I have to go to work."
Phillips, in his "late 30s," has received community service awards from nearly every city agency, and the University of the District of Columbia. In 1977, he was honored at a community roast. Annually he hosts the Shriners Ball, Cancer Society fundraisers, community parades and most of the social affairs of Washington's black society.
"To me," he says, "radio and television communication is the church of today's society."
Sitting behind his cluttered desk, a blue-and-white trucker's cap hugging his graying Afro, he goes on:
"The content should be in the trust of responsible people. I trust myself with my audience . . . I consider myself a public servant. I'm proud of my city. I'm proud of WHUR,"