First came the Italians. Then came the French and the Indians The Spaniards, Turks and Jamaicans followed. And there's a good chance the Vietnamese, Chinese and Iranians will appear this fall.
Sunday has become international music day on WHFS-FM, Bethesda, with a string of ethnic deejays dishing up 17 1/2 hours of what station executive vice president Jake Einstein called "a radio delicatessen."
From 7:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. WHFS-FM broadcasts, in order: The Old Ship of Zion Gospel Show, The Max Resnick Jewish Show, The Italian Melodies Hour, The French Hour, The Indian Show, The Revista Dominical Spanish Show, The Turkish Hour and The Dr. Dread Reggae Show. Iranian and Irish shows will air starting Sept. 5, Einstein says, and Vietnamese and Chinese shows later this fall.
A progressive rock station, WHFS-FM (102.3) broadcasts on a 3,000-watt signal that covers a 75-mile radius. The Sunday disc jockeys mix music with community and educational news, public service announcements, recipes, birthday and holiday announcements and news from their native lands.
The number of Sunday listeners is unknown. The dejays estimate there may be as many as 200,000 Spanish, 4,000 Turkish, 185,000 Jewish, 40,000 Italian, and 20,000 Indian listeners.
The first foreign-language show came to WHFS-FM in 1967 with G. Pino Cicala, who has been the host of Italian radio shows here for almost 30 years. Cicala approached Einstein about bringing his program to WHFS-FM at a time when the station executive was trying to think of ways to increase revenues.
Einstein agreed and slated the show for Sunday, a day when he thought the station's audience either slept late or watched football. Einstein charged Cicala rent for the use of the studio.
A year later, Charles Bressler, a Chevy Chase travel agent who grew up in Paris, approached Einstein about a French show. A WHFS-FM advertising salesman had asked Bressler to buy ads for the travel agency on the station, but Bressler offered to buy an hour's time for the show. The other Sunday programs have been added gradually.
The deejays arrange their own programs and sell their own advertising to help pay the $300-an-hour studio rental fee. All but Max Resnick, host of the Jewish Show who has 35 years of radio experience, pursue full-time careers.
"It's a labor of love," explained Punita Bhatt, host of the Indian Show since 1971. "Some of the listeners call in and say they cried when they heard a song. I have records that are over 50 years old and are no longer sold in India." Bhatt, who teaches English at the University of the District of Columbia, said she travels to India once a year to buy records.
Resnick, who said he owns 3,000 records, directed a variety show on Channel 5 from 1957 to 1959. His radio show is broadcast to the Soviet Union by the Voice of America.
Resnick favors "up tempo" albums, ranging from pop to classical, that are in Yiddish or Hebrew. "Families have planned their days around our shows," Resnick said. "They make sure they're home when our show is on."
Cicala, an architect-designer, uses a contact in Italy to broadcast live reports of Italian soccer games. "I have made so many friends from this show that I feel I would betray them if I stopped it," he said. "I feel obligated."
The hosts for the Spanish Hour, the most recent addition to the Sunday lineup, are Luis Emilio Leon Escobar and Ciria Sanchez-Baca. "Our aim is to communicate with the entire Hispanic community," Escobar said. "We know what they need: for example, consumer affairs and child care."
The Turkish Show is directed by Yavus Somen, who received his master's degree in agronomy at the University of Maryland and has worked for the Voice of America in Washington. His show is sponsored by the American Turkish Association.
Gospel Hour host Walter Kennedy has been on the station since 1970. The reggae show, which features Jamaican music, is run by Dr. (Night of the Living) Dread, otherwise known as Gary Himmelfarb, a local record distributor.
Einstein noted that "We got mail from a school in Montgomery County which said they require their French students to listen to the French Show." His two sons, David, the program director, and Damian, are deejays for the station.
WHFS-FM began in 1961 by broadcasting classical music, which it later dropped for "middle-of-the-road" music by such artists as Peggy Lee and Jack Jones. That format was abandoned in 1968, and the station shifted to a wider range of music. Today, WHFS-FM is a progressive rock station.