The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Frank Harden, longtime D.C. morning radio host, dies at 95

Every morning at 6:55, they played a hymn on the radio, and at 7:25, they broadcast a good old march. If someone in the D.C. area lost a pet, they’d announce it on the air. From 1960 to 1992, Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver ran the most popular program in a gentler and more polite Washington.

Mr. Harden, who died June 15 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md., while watching a movie with his wife, was the straight man to Weaver in a 32-year morning routine that was as vital to Washington’s identity in that era as the Redskins, the Beltway and the green-and-white awnings on so many D.C. rowhouses. He was 95.

His son, Robert Harden, confirmed the death but did not cite a specific cause.

Six mornings a week on WMAL (630 AM), using an approach they dubbed “dynamic inaction,” Harden and Weaver reeled off a four-hour roll call of news headlines, weather and traffic reports, school closings, a bit of middle-of-the-road music, some spoofing of the commercials, and visits with a roster of made-up characters, including a nameless lady with a high-pitched voice whom they introduced as being “informed on nothing and has opinions on everything,” as the New York Times reported in a 1985 article. She would mangle the language come springtime with blather about the “venereal magnavox” or worry in summer about people getting “heat prostitution,” the Times noted.

Their goal was to appeal as broadly as possible to an audience that they believed was more drawn to amiable companionship than to the agitation of polarized politics or the thrill of breaking taboos.

“We’re not in the business of alienating people,” Mr. Harden wrote in 1983.

As one of their show’s jingles put it, the show existed “to pass the time away and catch the world as it goes by.”

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Characters from Harden and Weaver’s stable became part of the region’s daily conversation in offices, schools and shops. Rocky Rockmont, a fictional car salesman at the real-life Rockmont Chevrolet, turned into such a household name that the actual salesmen at the dealership donned buttons saying, “Hi, I’m Rocky.”

They were more interested in serving listeners than in stirring the pot. On nights when snow was in the forecast, they’d sleep at the station to be sure they’d be on hand for their 6 a.m. sign-on.

“The focus today seems to be controversy,” Mr. Harden said in a podcast interview last year. “I think the most controversial thing Harden and Weaver ever said was, ‘Good morning!’ ”

After Weaver died in 1992, Mr. Harden continued the morning show with Tim Brant and Andy Parks until 1998.

Harden and Weaver’s characters included a pompous and empty-headed U.S. senator; Dr. Lucifer Headcold, the too-nasal conductor of the minimally talented Albino State Teachers’ College Marching and Symphonic Band; and Boscoe Osgood, a roving reporter who somehow never quite found the right location where news was happening — a twist on Wally Ballou, the inept newsman invented by Bob and Ray, the radio comedy duo who inspired a fair amount of Harden and Weaver’s work.

To a new generation of radio comics, Harden and Weaver’s approach could seem too quiet and subtle. “They don’t do anything!” complained Don Geronimo, co-host of the raucous “Don and Mike Show,” which pushed the limits of comedy and language on the airwaves from 1985 to 2008.

Mr. Harden was the first to concede that he didn’t do edgy shtick. It would never have occurred to him to test his welcome in people’s bedrooms, kitchens and cars by taking political stands or being the slightest bit nasty. “He had his own politics, but nobody ever knew what they were,” his son Robert said Sunday. “He believed the show should be for everybody.”

Radio executives had not yet subscribed to the notion that each station should appeal to one thinly sliced demographic group. “Washington had several strata: the international set, the big businesses, the federal workers and the black community,” Mr. Harden told The Washington Post in 1998. “But we could still be broad and invite them all equally.”

Harden and Weaver put much of their energy into winning advertisers, which they did by the score, even if — or expressly because — they took considerable liberties with the commercial scripts.

Reading a spot for Billy Martin’s Carriage House in Georgetown, Mr. Harden noted on a 1970 show that “they got valet parking at night. You drive up there for dinner, a valet jumps in your car, and that’s the last you see of it. . . . They got six dining rooms to choose from. Just go crazy going from dining room to dining room trying to decide where you want to sit down. Some people miss out on eating entirely that way.”

The duo raised millions for Children’s National Medical Center through the years and made countless appearances at charity events and community meetings.

The 20th anniversary of “The Harden and Weaver Show” was celebrated with a tribute that drew a full house at the Kennedy Center.

When Mr. Harden retired in 1998, WMAL’s president, Tom Bresnahan, said there were few shows left on the air that aimed to reach everyone and avoided controversial topics. “Call it old-fashioned or decent, but we still think there’s an audience for it,” Bresnahan said then. WMAL soon changed its programming to focus on sharply conservative political talk.

Mr. Harden, born in Macon, Ga., on Oct. 28, 1922, served in the Army in 1944 and was still in uniform when, freshly discharged, he walked into a radio station in Savannah, asked for a job and got it. The pay was $17.50 a week. After stops in Atlanta and Denver, he was hired at WMAL as an announcer, first on radio and later on TV as well.

He introduced programs and read the news, on the radio and at the Trans-Lux movie theater on 14th Street NW, where he provided a live news update between features on the silver screen.

He teamed up with Weaver in the late 1950s to do a program of light comedy sketches on the ABC radio network. They moved their show to WMAL-TV and then to the morning radio slot in 1960. By the mid-’60s, they dominated the ratings, regularly drawing a quarter of all radio listeners in a crowded market.

“They had an almost telepathic ability to pick up on each other’s thoughts,” Robert Harden said. “They wrote almost nothing in advance. One of them would start something and the other would pick up on it and it would just happen.”

Mr. Harden’s first marriage, to the former LaVerne Lawson, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 47 years, the former Berit Hagelberg, of Chevy Chase; three children from his first marriage, Robert Harden of Naples, Fla., Daphne Harden of Miami Beach and Geoffrey Harden of New York; two stepchildren, Catherine Falknor of Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Jon-Erik Falknor of Bethesda; a brother; and nine grandchildren.

An earlier version of this story did not report that Mr. Harden’s first marriage ended in divorce. It also has been updated to attribute a paragraph to a 1985 profile in The New York Times. The Times's account was not credited in the original version of this article because The Post's reporter relied on information provided by another source, which had drawn from the Times's story without attribution. Attribution to the Times's article has been added to this report.

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