The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bill Mayhugh, longtime D.C. radio host who raised millions for charity, dies at 91

Bill Mayhugh, longtime D.C. radio host, with his wife, Shirley. (Family photo)

Bill Mayhugh, a longtime Washington-area radio host who had an overnight jazz and easy-listening program for almost 30 years, helped raise millions of dollars for charity and was a founder of the Marine Corps Marathon, died Oct. 12 at an assisted-living facility in Olney, Md. He died on his 91st birthday.

He had complications from a broken hip, said a son, Jack Mayhugh.

Mr. Mayhugh was a native Washingtonian who began his career as a jazz drummer when he was 16. He turned to broadcasting in 1949, reading the morning news on WFAX-AM in Fairfax County, Va., and soon gave up performing music in favor of talking about it.

Early in his career, he was the host of a morning show and a children’s show, and he had a brief turn as a television announcer in the early 1950s before finding his niche as a DJ and interviewer, where he brought a musician’s insight to the airwaves. He first joined WMAL-AM in 1953 as the host of “Mayhugh’s Moods” from 10 to 11 p.m.

Dashing from the studio to a downtown hotel, he was back on the air one hour later with one of the Washington area’s first radio talk shows. “Midnight With Mayhugh,” which was carried live from the District’s Ambassador Hotel, featured after-hours interviews with performers appearing in nightclubs, theaters and concert halls, including comedian Don Rickles; singers Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett and Perry Como; and actors Doris Day, Peter Ustinov and Jimmy Stewart.

Chuck Conconi, the “Personalities” columnist for The Washington Post, wrote in 1988 that Mr. Mayhugh “represents the best of sane, responsible broadcasting.”

Early in his career, Mr. Mayhugh said, he learned the secret of radio’s particular sense ofintimacy.

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“People don’t sit in groups and listen to the radio,” he said in a 2009 episode of “Out of the Past,” a local-access television program in Fairfax County. “You must speak just as though you’re talking to just one person.”

During the 1950s, Mr. Mayhugh produced and hosted an ABC Radio show of jazz big bands appearing at the Glen Echo ballroom in Maryland, where he chatted with such well-known musicians as Count Basie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.

In 1954, Mr. Mayhugh moved to WOL-AM, where he began with a late-night show before shifting to a daytime slot for eight years. He returned to WMAL in 1964 as host of the “All Night Show,” which ran from midnight (later changed to 1 a.m.) to 6 a.m. He came on the air immediately after renowned DJ Felix Grant, giving the station a formidable jazz lineup.

Mr. Mayhugh, who also had a Sunday morning show called “Music, Memories and Mayhugh,” was a fixture on WMAL for 29 years. On a typical night, he would play recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Andy Williams. He interviewed performers and composers, such as Henry Mancini, and regularly featured District-based military bands on his shows, interviewing the groups’ directors and showcasing the musicians’ versatility.

“I’ve always thought that they haven’t received the acceptance due them,” Mr. Mayhugh told The Post in 1982. “All the guys in the bands are super musicians who can sight-read anything you put in front of them.”

Mr. Mayhugh’s relaxed, low-key, overnight broadcast was followed by the comic antics of Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver on a folksy show that dominated morning radio in the Washington area for decades. (Weaver died in 1992; Harden died in June.)

In addition to his music programs, Mr. Mayhugh was the host of a Washington Redskins pregame show and led a radio roundtable discussion during the old Kemper Open golf tournament, which was held in the 1980s at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Beginning in the 1950s, he was a frequent emcee at charity events, including golf tournaments and other benefits. For more than 20 years, he hosted an annual ­25-hour radio marathon to raise money for leukemia research. He was credited with raising more than $15 million for that causealone.

Mr. Mayhugh, who was a lifelong runner, often ended his broadcasts with the exhortation to “run a mile a day, if it’s okay with your doctor.” Along with three other people, he founded the Marine Corps Marathon, which had its inaugural race in 1976. He served as the event’s official announcer for 25 years.

Throughout his career, until he left the airwaves when WMAL switched to an all-news format in 1993, Mr. Mayhugh acted as the writer, producer, director and host of his shows.

“We were on radio at a time when we were allowed to play what we want, say what we want, interview whomever we wished, and they would support it,” he said in the 2009 “Out of the Past” episode. “I don’t think radio is that way today.”

William Southall Mayhugh was born Oct. 12, 1927, in the District. His father was a commercial painter.

He grew up in Northeast Washington and began playing drums while still a student at St. John’s College High School.

“I was first introduced to serious music when my mom and dad used to drag my brother and me down to the Capitol and we’d sit out on the blankets and listen to the military bands give concerts,” Mr. Mayhugh told The Post in 1982. “I was 5 or 6 years old and used to run and crawl into the percussion section of the Navy Band.”

After high school, he served in the Army as a musician, attended broadcasting school in Washington and led jazz combos until he was 23. He remained close friends with many celebrated jazz musicians, including pianist Oscar Peterson, who once balanced Mr. Mayhugh’s son Jack on his knee while playing “Happy Birthday.”

Mr. Mayhugh received the Touchdown Club of Washington’s Hubert H. Humphrey Award for humanitarian service in 1987.

His wife of 57 years, the former Shirley Culpeper, a onetime model and singer who performed as Sherry Gibson, died in 2016. Survivors include two sons, Scott Mayhugh of Ocean View, Del., and Jack Mayhugh of Silver Spring, Md.; and five grandchildren.

In 1984, Mr. Mayhugh and his wife gained some unwanted renown after receiving two telephone bills at their home in Annandale, Va., for more than $200,000. The second bill, totaling $194,656.79, was 2,199 pages long and weighed eight pounds.

Months earlier, while the Mayhughs were in New York, someone distracted Shirley Mayhugh at Pennsylvania Station and stole her purse, which contained a telephone credit card. The Mayhughs canceled the card immediately, but they were still charged for thousands of calls to 47 countries.

It was the largest case of individual telephone fraud reported in the country up to that time, and the story was picked up by The Post and People magazine.

“We had a case of human error,” a spokesman for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. tried to explain.

Eventually, the bill was canceled, but not before it brought Mr. Mayhugh “more attention than I’ve had in 35 years of radio broadcasting.”

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