Rita Quinn, 24, often gets "a chill all over" when she listens to gospel radio. It's the music and the preaching that moves me," she says. Whether she's riding around town in her green Plymouth Valiant, cleaning downtown offices as a General Maintenance Service employe or resting at home in Northwest D.C., she listens.
"It's almost like I'm in church all the time," Quinn declares. I'm really searching for deeper spiritual understanding and peace. And the radio programs help me find that."
She is one of thousands of Washington residents who regularly tune into the preaching, singing and public affairs programs on D.C.'s top gospel radio stations -- WYCB 1340-AM and WUST, 1120-AM. But, unlike many, Quinn doesn't prefer one station over the other -- she simply wants to hear as much gospel music and fervent preaching as she can.
Quinn and others like her who find not only entertainment and relief in "these troubled times" by listening to the music, but buy it as well, have made Washington "the gospel capital of the world," says Ricky Simone, gospel music coordinator for a local record distributing company.
"When a recording artist wants to break a gospel record," he says "this is the number-one testing ground. If they can make it here, they can make it all over the country."
Wesley Boyd, director of the Wesley Boyd Gospel Workshop Choir, added: "There are hundreds of church groups, independent groups and individual gospel singers in D.C. There are concerts every weekend. People in D.C. buy more gospel albums and attend more gospel concerts than anywhere else in the world (spending at least $400,000 annually). TV religious programs, record promotions, WUST and WYCB are all partially responsible for this. But radio makes the greatest impact on people."
WYCB, which began broadcasting in August 1978, is now the top black-oriented station on the AM dial, according to the ratings. But WUST, a daytime-only station, hold the distinction of pioneering D.C.'s first all-gospel programming in 1968.
Today WUST, known as the "Gospel Soul Train," continues to broadcast live and recorded church services, radio-ministry evangelists. Negro spirituals and traditional gospel tunes which, like a steady heartbeat, have become a vital party of the lives of many loyal, church-oriented listeners -- the majority of whom are low-to-moderate-income blacks, starting at about 35 years old.
Just east on the dial, at 1340-AM, WYCB fires up its audience with the fast, upbeat tempo characteristic of contemporary gospel, message and inspirational music.
Station manager, Howard Sanders explains
Station manager, Howard Sanders explains: "This station is not totally church oriented. We're just trying to uplift our listeners, give them confidence. Adults between 25 and 59 are our main listeners confidence. Adults between 25 and 59 are our main listeners; however, we have a strong listenership among younger people as well, from 12 to 29. All our listeners relate to the upbeat contemporary gospel message music of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Lou Rawls and Natalie Cole, which we play."
Whereas WUST sells time each month to about 32 different churches and evangelists, representing a kaliedoscope of religious beliefs, WYCB focuses on music, public affairs programs and public service announcements, reserving church broadcasts for Saturday and Sunday.
Because of the spiritual background of the District's huge black population, not only have WUST and WYCB developed a loyal adult following, but they also have successfully carved out a niche among a significant number of young people.
As one young listener noted, "It's very surprising to find out that people who you would think were the finger-popping, boogeying type, actually listen to WYCB or WUST in their car or at home."
Hundreds of District youths who sing in gospel choirs at church and school listento gospel radio to keep up with what's happening in the gospel world. Many not only keep their voices primed by singing along, but they also record new gospel releases on cassette tapes, then take them to choir rehearsals to teach their respective groups.
Nathaniel Peeler, 17, who sings tenor with the youth choir of the Holy Temple of Christ, recently become a regular.
"I started because I heard my grandmother listening to WUST at her house one day, and I liked it," he said. "Now, when I come home from school (Armstrong Adult Evening School), I just turn it on. It's relaxing."
The lively praying, singing, preaching and testifying characteristic of the black church and its music is stimulating, Peeler said.
"I like the preaching the most," he added. "It makes me think of the things I do and the things I should be doing. Number one, I shouldn't be smoking no herb, or cigarettes, or hanging out in the street . . . . I should be getting to church more regularly, and reading the Bible.
"I listen to the radio alone in my room most of the time, so I can think about what the preachers are saying and about what the songs are trying to get across. I sing and pray right along with the people on the radio. Sometimes, I put my hand on the radio when the preacher says to -- for healing and spiritual power."
Other listeners are mainstays. Lucille Price, 67, a retired cleaning woman, remembers how she and co-workers often listened on little transistor radios they carried in the pockets of their blue smocks as they swept, polished and scrubbed passenger cars at Union Station.
Waiting for a Metrobus Sunday in front of Bible Way Church, 1130 New Jersey Avenue NW, another longtime, faithful WUST listener, 71-year-old Annie Baker, her face shaded beneath a flower-topped gray felt hat, told a reporter, "I love the preaching of the gospel and the spirituals. I listen to the words of the songs and that reminds me of all I've got to be thankful for, Praise the Lord."
She laughed, then added, "I thank God for WUST and everything!"
Loretta Shaw, 38, another regular and an unemployed Southeast resident, is an insomniac who says the gospel sounds of WYCB soothe her to sleep. Most nights, she calls Valerie Yarborough, WYCB's midnight to 6 a.m. on-air personality, and talks briefly about whatever is on her mind, or asks her to play a gospel record -- her "main one" is the old-time favorite, "Down Through the Years," by Mildred Clarke and the Melody-Aires.
"On other stations they'll play whatever's tops in the charts for a while, then you don't hear it anymore," Shaw said, "But on gospel stations, you can always hear a lot of the old and a lot of the new. I like the gospel songs. Listening to them is like going to church for me. It's how I feed my soul. Like you need gas to run your car, right? Well, you've got to have something spiritual to carry you through the day."
"I listen to the talk shows too," she added. "You need them too."
Public affairs talk-show hots on WYCB include the District's congressional delegate, Walter Fauntroy congressional delegate, Walter Fauntroy; Petey Green, known for his streetwise candor, and Calvin Rolark of the United Black Fund and Washington Informer. WUST has a morning call-in show hosted by Mitch Clarke.
Both stations broadcast so many announcements about church anniversaries, rivivals and the like that they easily qualify as the church bulletins of the air. But their appeal is based on much more.
"Gospel music is a psychological relief for blacks; it always has been and always will be," says Billy Best, 45, a D.C. teacher who tuned his radio to WYCB and left it there as soon the station began transmitting.
"We have suppressed hurt feelings. Most of us are economically deprived; being able to release our feelings through the spirituals and gospel music has tided us over to today," he says. "Gospel music, spiritual music, represents something that the white man could not take from us. It is the backbone of survival for black people in America. I just love it."
Listeners give all sorts of reasons for tuning in.
"I enjoy singing, so I sing right along with the music," says Jean Collins, 43, a beautician at Princes Salon of Beauty in Northwest D.C.A devoted follower of WYCB, she says, "I've been ill, and while I was in the hospital (the staion) dedicated songs to me and that was very inspiring."
Raymond Olfus likes to immerse himself in the "power" of gospel music.
"Listening to WYCB gives me a lot of inspiration," says the 37-year-old laundry worker at Georgetown University Hospital. "I almost never change stations or turn my radio off. I sleep with it -- it gives me good dreams. I dreamt (recently) that one of my army buddies and I were walking down the road singing, 'He Gave Me Peace, He Gave Me Joy.' When I woke up, that song was playing on the radio -- it was beautiful."
A patient at the Washington Hospitl Center, Jean Page, 40, often calls WYCB late at night to request a favorite, such as Mahalia Jackson's classic gospel rendition of "Precious Lord."
Page, disabled and unemployed, says: "I'm Catholic, but I love gospel music. I leave it on all the time. It seems like they know when to play the songs I need to hear; they fall right in place -- if I'm down or worried, or when I'm feeling up and just want to praise God."
Madame Lucille Banks Robinson Miller, a gospel historian who hosts the "Love Club," a public affairs program on WYCB, has traced the roots of gospel music and says it has helped keep hope alive among blacks.
"We first had the spirituals, which was our slave foreparents singing what they couldn't express any other way," she says. "Nobody would bother them as long as they were singing. They sang songs like 'I've been 'buked and I've been scorned.'
"Then we began to learn different instruments. And we moved into gospel, The difference between gospels and spirituals is in the beat. The spirituals are sort of depressed; with gospel we have more hope. Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the first gospel composer, wrote 'Precious Lord,' which is truly a song of hope and determination. This type of music motivated a stronger expression of our spirituality. And more blacks began dancing in the church.
"To this day, gospel music still strikes a chord within us. It makes us happy and hopeful about the future. It's just unbelievable; when I go to the station Saturday and Sunday mornings, many people call in and say they can't sleep, so they listen to gospel all night.
"People call in on Sunday mornings and say, 'I was going to church, but I've just had church with you.' And they're shouting and praising God right on the phone."
"Many are lonely, despondent and many are ill," she concluded. "They say gospel is soothing and helpful in giving them the uplift that they need."