In August 1958, Esquire magazine commissioned Art Kane to create a group portrait of legendary living jazz musicians on 126th Street in Harlem.
Amazingly, not only did 57 of them show up at the unheard-of hour of 10 a.m., but the resulting photograph included such jazz royalty as Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Marian McPartland, Art Blakey, Count Basie and dozens more. "A Great Day in Harlem" has become an icon of jazz photography, an American symbol.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, about 100 members of a different extended family assembled on a loading dock of a former auto-storage facility in Adams-Morgan to take a group photo reminiscent of Kane's master stroke.
The Gator was there, so were Nap Turner, Bobby Bennett, Dorothy Healey and Von Martin. But beyond these local radio celebrities, lesser-known names and faces dominated the landscape of the photo. Like the musicians in Kane's picture, these are people who work together in a labor of love.
"It's all about the volunteers," said Lou Hankins, program director for local radio station WPFW-FM, the Washington branch of the five-station, nationwide Pacifica Radio Network--the first listener-sponsored radio network in the country. The photograph was the first-ever assemblage of volunteers and programmers at a Pacifica station in its 50 years of broadcast radio.
"The Family Photo" was the climax of Saturday's "Family Affair" party, which the 10 full-time paid staff members at WPFW threw for their 100-plus volunteers as a show of gratitude. The deejays are all volunteers, as are the programmers, the engineers and the folks who answer the phones during pledge drives.
"The real uniqueness of WPFW," Hankins said, "is the fact that it is totally listener-supported. We don't take any underwriting from corporate sponsors, and we have up to 105 volunteers who help out every week. . . . That's a lot of volunteers."
Broadcasting 1 1/2 hours of national Pacifica programming a day, WPFW leaves the rest for the volunteers from the local community to tackle.
"Whatever you hear on the air is volunteer," said General Manager Bessie Wash, adding that Saturday's party was an effort "to show them how much they mean to the station."
People began streaming in about 3 p.m. as the final sounds of Rick "the Gator" Bolling's blues show romped through the building, which is owned by the Washington City Paper.
"I like the whole idea for the party," said volunteer Audrey Anne Sukacz. Sukacz, 26, has taken the bus into the District from Alexandria to work the phones for the last few pledge drives as part of an effort to "seek out things where I can make a difference."
She joked with fellow volunteer Ukali Caw, a 59-year-old housewife who has read Sukacz and others their horoscopes. Caw gives her time to the station because she relies on it to "hear a lot of news that a lot of other stations don't get into. You hear things that may be in the paper on page 46."
The "on the air" sign by the Studio B door continued to pulse in red after Bobby "the Burner" Bennett took over at 4 p.m. to spin old-school sounds. Hanging out in the front foyer, volunteers swapped pledge drive stories over catered barbecue as their children chased each other from room to room.
Hankins, the family's favorite uncle, took a few moments to raffle off door prizes and give awards to volunteers who had logged record numbers of days at the station. Aside from Rhythms of the World deejay Bill Barlow, none had given as much time to WPFW as Von Martin, who signed the station onto the air in February 1977 with the show he still does today, Caribbeana. Others, like golden-throated Nap Turner, jazz host of the Bama Hour, were praised for their record fund-raising numbers.
Bill Wax, host of the Blues Plate Special, stressed he and other on-air volunteers may be able "to make the phones ring, but if there ain't no one there to answer them, it means nothing."
While Saturday's festivities celebrated the sometimes unsung efforts of the phone-answerers and the envelope-stuffers, another "purpose of this gathering is to get to know each other," Hankins announced to the crowd. "Are you talking to each other?"
That may seem odd to ask at a party dubbed "Family Affair," but the unique constraints of running a 24-hour volunteer station mean some family members may never have met.
Link Shields, for example, is a statistician for the International Trade Commission who works full time. A street-jock for more than 25 years now, he deejays at parties on the side.
He volunteers at the station as an on-air programmer for Jazz Overnight--from 3 to 6 a.m. on Friday morning. It is not surprising, then, "the only people I really know are here on weekends," Shields said.
Dorothy Healey has been with Pacifica since August 1959. She hosts Dialogue, an hour-long public affairs show on Wednesday mornings. She came to WPFW from KPFK, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles, after moving to the District in 1982 "to be a babysitter for my grandkids."
"It's exciting what you have here," Healey said, gesturing at the array of party-goers, whom she called "the organic intellectuals of the Metro area."
Membership coordinator Greg Miller was a volunteer for about six months before he was hired in June, so he understands not only how much the volunteers mean to the station, but what the station means to its volunteers.
"I believe that they believe in what the station's ideals are in terms of community support and programming," he said on this great day in Adams-Morgan. "It's a medium for the community to voice their opinions and viewpoints and also participate."
CAPTION: WPFW-FM radio personality Andrea Bray, right, greets old friend Sheila Jaskot, whom she had not seen in years, at a party to honor the radio station's volunteers. Bray does a show with WPFW DJ Bobby Bennett.
CAPTION: Von Martin has been working for WPFW-FM since its inception. Martin displays an old program listing featuring his Caribbean music show.