In the area of 7th and U Streets NW, just three blocks removed from each other, Glenn Harris and Harold Bell ply their trades in strikingly dissimilar circumstances.
Harris, 38, is the sports director of WHUR, a powerful FM radio station that finished No. 1 in the most recent Arbitron ratings book for the Washington area. Bell, 46, is the sports director of WUST, a 1,000-watt station that operates from sunrise to sunset in the static-filled AM backdrop of Washington radio.
But as working professionals, Harris and Bell are strikingly similar in one important regard -- they are black sportscasters who have worked only in black radio, here in their hometown of Washington, and that doesn't appear likely to change.
"I'm trying to be the best sportscaster I can be," Harris said. "This is one of the few metropolitan areas where black people have money, real estate, a political foothold . . . I want some breaks. I want a break. I'd love to do Bullets basketball on the radio, but nobody's trying to knock the hinges off my door."
Harris, a graduate of Anacostia High School and Howard University, started professionally as a public-address announcer. He worked briefly at WOL and has been full-time at WHUR for five years.
Bell, who attended Spingarn High and Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University, has an even longer history of working for D.C.'s black and gospel/inspirational stations. He spent time at WOOK (now WDJY), WOL and WYCB before joining WUST four months ago.
"I've paid my dues. I've done a lot," said Bell, who remains active in working with inner-city youth. "No. 1, this is a tough market for blacks and whites. But it's especially tough for blacks to break into . . . This market is vicious. There are so few opportunities for blacks that when they open up, they'll do anything to get them.
"When I see a guy with the class of Martin Wyatt (a former WRC-TV sportscaster, who is black) have to leave town, what chance is there for me? He had all the credentials -- he was articulate, good-looking and he was not controversial."
Harris and Bell both acknowledge that their biggest problem is one of perception; many whites don't see them as sportscasters, but as black sportscasters. This is particularly curious in the case of Harris, working for a station whose popularity results from its ability to play "crossover" music that appeals to all races.
"I can sense the arrogance at the Capital Centre press table," Harris said. "They don't even recognize (WHUR)."
According to Andy Ockershausen, executive vice president and general manager of WMAL Radio, there is no conscious discrimination against black sportscasters. "It's not a calculated thing. It just happened this way," he said when asked why no major nonblack stations here have black sportscasters. "There's no color in radio. The issue is experience and how they get it. None of our guys ever leave. If we ever had an opening, we'd consider Harold Bell."
An AM station news director who asked not to be named said, "The resumes and tapes we receive are from (black) people with little experience . . . They simply don't have the skills."
Aside from Harris and Bell, Washington radio has only two other black sportscasters -- Gregg Mosso, who also works for WHUR, and Tom Mills at WYCB.
"A lot of stations don't want blacks in jobs," said Harris, who does two daily sportscasts and a Sunday call-in show. "You have to be Ahmad Rashad, Reggie Rucker, James Brown. All are pro athletes -- good-looking, articulate, college-educated. WMAL or WTOP still would consider me a black sportscaster. But if I were at WMAL, then people wouldn't consider me black -- unless I overstepped my bounds.
"Do I sound arrogant? I'm tired of sounding humble. I'm 38 . . . I want respect just like anybody else."
Bell, too, is past the point of expecting to work at a nonblack station. Besides, he reasons, he's probably better off sticking with the community he knows. "I use my show as a vehicle to enlighten the black community. Maybe (white stations) can't deal with someone who's black and controversial."
Bell refuses to lean on the race issue as an explanation for the current situation. "It's frustrating, but I don't like to use my blackness as a crutch." In fact, Bell ends his Saturday "Inside Sports" program -- probably D.C.'s best sports talk show because of its provocative topics and guests -- with the words: "And remember, every black face you see is not your brother, every white face you see is not your enemy."