It was business as usual -- almost -- for WHFS-FM disc jockey Damian Einstein as he returned to regular duties yesterday morning, 18 months after station management removed him from his DJ slot citing a decline in ratings.
Not exactly usual, however, was the bouquet of balloons in the control room reading "Welcome back!" Several flower arrangements in Mr. Einstein's office and dozens of messages faxed in during his 9 a.m.-to-noon on-air shift also were clues that this was not quite an average business day.
And if there were any lingering doubts, they were dispelled by the three TV camera crews pressing in to record for posterity (or at least the evening news) the sight of Mr. Einstein giving about the longest spiel you'll ever hear from the reticent DJ: "And that was the Grateful Dead doing 'The Eyes of the World,' and you're listening to WHFS, 99.1 on your FM dial."
"I guess I assumed a few people would pay attention, but I didn't expect anything like this," Mr. Einstein said. "I'm flattered and I'm very surprised."
The 40-year-old disc jockey -- known as Damian on the air -- has built a reputation as one of the area's most knowledgeable music people. When he was removed from his regular DJ duties in April 1989, his hundreds of letters of support included messages from Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Little Feat members.
"It sure makes doing this job a different number, because you know you're being received by people," he said appreciatively of yesterday's congratulations.
Mr. Einstein, who has worked at WHFS since 1970, suffered a severe head injury in a 1975 truck accident. Off the air for three years during his recovery, he returned with speech patterns noticeably less smooth than most disc jockeys.
He was removed from his regular airtime duties a little over a year after the station had been purchased by the Duchossois Group, a Chicago-based conglomerate. T. Alan Hay, who
became general manager in 1988, said the action was part of a general review of the station's strengths and weaknesses.
But Mr. Einstein charged that he was removed because of unlawful discrimination and filed a suit with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.
In February, the commission found in his favor, describing the station's removal as a "stereotypical discriminatory attitude." WHFS appealed the finding, and it would have gone to public hearing this month. Instead the station put Mr. Einstein back in a regular DJ slot.
Mr. Hay would not comment specifically on the station's reasons for changing its stance. "We're glad to have Damian back," he said. "We anticipate a successful transition back to his normal airtime duties."
In the past 18 months, Mr. Einstein has worked as assistant program director, hosted a two-hour blues show on Saturday mornings and done two five-minute pre-recorded weekday spots about the roots of rock and roll and local bands.
Now, along with his weekday broadcasts, he will continue as assistant program director and host the blues show, which has been moved to Sunday evenings from 10 p.m. to midnight.
Michael Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, said yesterday that the case had "landmark" implications and that it highlighted the intended focus of recent federal legislation barring discrimination against the handicapped.
"Here's an example of a person now being judged on his abilities and not his disabilities," Mr. Foreman said. "The winners here are all the WHFS listeners and the people of Maryland who get Damian back with all his years of expertise."
The stack of faxes collected by Mr. Einstein yesterday included these messages from fans:
*"WHFS hasn't sounded so great in 18 months"
*"Hi Damian. Soundin' great. Soooo glad you're back"
*"Congratulations on being vindicated"
*"2 + 2 = 4. E = MC [squared]. Damian = WHFS"
*"Alright, the rock 'n roll doctor is back in practice."