BOBBY BENNETT, WOL -- AM 1450: Bobby Bennett hits the air at 3 p.m. with a smooth, soulful rap. He sits in the studio tapping his foot, keeping time like a metronone, as his husky voice rollercoasters up and down the airwaves.
"You know I don't even notice that anymore," he says, surprised to find he's tapping. "It keeps a tempo going so you can have a nice vocal pacing."
Since 1972, the pacing, punctuated by drawn out "Yeeeahs!" and "all riiiights," has made Bennett, 35, the WOL Prince of Drive Time. In the frenzied hours between 3 and 7 p.m., he directs traffic through Washington's maze of highways, updates the weather, jives and plays top 40 R&B.
His program is most popular among the 18 and older crowd. But teenyboppers like 13-year-old Tracy Davis of her Silver Spring, Md. said she and her Catholic school friends enjoy Bennett, too.
"He's really funny," Davis explains. "He cracks jokes. He'll talk for a awhile or say something about the songs."
In a radio market criticized for its lack of depth, Bennett says he is an entertainer. The strength of successful top 40 radio in the 80's will not be its social commentary but personality programming, he said.
"People turn me on to be entertained, not to be told what to do in life . . . Ten years ago, as opposed to now, if somebody turned on the radio at 10 o'clock they knew who was on," he said. Styles were distinctive, radio exciting, he said.
"Now (most black-oriented radio) programming has become static. I think it stinks. You have liner notes, (pre-printed) little cards that each jock must read. A robot can do that."
Married, with a 10-year-old son, Bennett and his family live in Silver Spring.
A Pittsburgh native, Benett said he grew up in the projects -- "I mean the sure enough 'jects. In fact, they were so bad they are no longer with us. tMy heritage has been destroyed."
He entered the glitter of radio in 1966 at the urging of a disc jockey friend. After completing broadcasting school, he quit a $165-a-week job as a telephone booth distributor for Western Electric to become a $75-a-week announcer on a local station. In August 1968, he came to WOL as a midnight-to-dawn man.
"I didn't stay there too long because my style of radio wasn't too good for those hours. I sounded like I was on at 5 p.m."
And then, about a week later there was the door incident.
In the middle of his show, Bennett recalled, he left to open the front door for the janitor, and locked himself out.
"I could hear the record going cha-choom, cha-choom. I said, 'Oh, Lord, I'm going to be sent back to Pittsburgh on waivers."
Hearing the stuck record over the air, Dick Lillard, a WOL newscaster who lived nearby came to the station and let him in, Bennett said.
Back on the air, "I said something dumb like, 'Hey, I was in the bathroom. I couldn't help it.' Those little things do happen. Fortunately they don't happen anymore," he grinned.