Rock station sale ends hippie's reign

This Just In...

April 16, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

JAKE EINSTEIN, the 79-year-old hippie who has long enjoyed the status of radio cult god for creating progressive, free-form rock stations in Maryland, sold his WRNR-FM (103.1) in Annapolis Friday. Einstein says the sale was finalized in 15 minutes at his kitchen table. Empire Broadcasting, which bought WRNR along with Einstein's WYRE-AM for $2 million, is headed by Steve Kingston, program director at K-ROCK in New York City. He's Howard Stern's boss! (If there is such a thing.)

In a sense, it's the end of an era.

Back in 1967, Jake Einstein won over discerning rock lovers by turning a Bethesda easy-listening station into ""that hippie station," WHFS. Einstein's DJs played virtually anything they wanted - a lot of new music, interesting cuts they found deep in albums. They aired Little Feat, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello before they were big. In an age when rock stations were becoming increasingly corporate and their play lists highly circumscribed, Einstein's jumped off the tuner. Some of us still refer to ""the old 'HFS," a way of distinguishing it from the present-day, more mainstream WHFS.

Einstein moved WHFS to Annapolis in 1982, sold it in 1988.

After a six-year absence from FM radio, he bought a small station with a studio in Annapolis and a 6,000-watt tower on the Eastern Shore. He changed its call letters to WRNR and put his son Damian and John Hall - both from ""the old 'HFS" - behind microphones. They air music you don't hear anywhere else in an eclectic mix that makes aesthetic sense; it's a very organic approach to rock radio. On any given day, at any hour, you're likely to hear blues, jazz, progressive, reggae, zydeco, folk rock, even a little swing. Yesterday, Damian served a fabulous lunch of Taj Mahal, Traffic, Bob Marley and Neil Young.

Will all that change under a new owner?

Hard to say. Einstein describes Kingston as ""an excellent modern-rock hype artist" who has been after WRNR for a few years.

Why did Einstein finally sell? He'd had a falling out with what he calls ""dissident stockholders" in WRNR. Rock radio veterans Kenny Kandell and Jim Fox went into the venture with Einstein in 1995. It was not a pleasant experience for them, what one might call a clash of philosophies over the complicated dynamics of a radio station that wants to stay on the edge of alternative programming while still making money.

There's a reason you don't hear a lot of beer advertising on WRNR. It's spelled J-A-K-E. Kandell and Fox got fed up and fled the Jake scene almost a year ago. By selling WRNR, Einstein says he hopes to settle up and move on.

Move on to what?

Einstein still controls WNAV-AM, with 5,000 watts in Annapolis. And he's planning some changes there. Are you ready for books-on-tape from midnight till dawn?

""It's never been tried before anywhere else, as far as I know," Einstein says.

""We're still going to be the lead station for the [Bowie] Baysox. We'll still carry Navy football and the Redskins. But we're going to go with a lot of singer-songwriter stuff. You'll hear Van Morrison, but you might hear just about anything. Might hear some swing, maybe some reggae, even some old Dean Martin once in a while."

The Einstein era might not be over yet.

Project Beulah update

Beulah Wilbur's old house in West Baltimore still stands - even though one of Danny Henson's ravenous demolition crews came within inches of the south bearing wall. Within the past six weeks, contractors hired by the city knocked down the old corner grocery at Gilmor and West Pratt, then the abandoned rowhouse next to it. They might have busted into Beulah's - if not for the building permit that's been obtained in the all-volunteer effort to renovate the 69-year-old widow's fire-damaged rowhouse.

That building permit, in the hands of contractor Mike Maher, constitutes a stay of execution for Beulah's condemned house on Gilmor Street.

It was damaged in 1995 by a fire that started next door. Beulah, a school crossing guard, had no insurance. (It had been canceled by her carrier after three break-ins.) With no money to pay for repairs - but a determination to get back into the house she owned for 35 years - Beulah went looking for help and got it.

A roofing contractor, Joe Greaver, put a new top on the place to keep the rain out. Maher, whose home improvement company is called Project Doctor Inc., has signed on to be the general contractor, pro bono. Volunteers, including a contingent from the Naval Academy, have been organized through St. Benedict's Church on Wilkens Avenue, and they are due at Beulah's house this week to clean up the inside.

The city? Aside from an overture from 6th District Councilman Norman Handy's office, local government hasn't lifted a finger to help this woman hold her ground. All the city has done so far is tear down the two buildings next to Beulah's. (In the process, the contractor damaged some of the brick facade on the back of her rowhouse as well as the roof of the second-floor rear. Debris, orange plastic drums and wooden work-site barriers were left in the back yard. They're still there.)

Maher says he needs more building materials and some skilled volunteers - carpenters, in particular - for the job. More on Project Beulah as it progresses. (Just thought you'd like to know that Beulah's house survived its close encounter with Demo Man.)

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact Dan Rodricks by voice mail at 410-332-6166, e-mail at, or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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