Radio Ministry

Duane Johnson leads 'The Praise Party' Sunday mornings on 92Q, hoping to reach -- and preach to -- the hip-hop generation

January 03, 2000|By SANDRA CROCKETT | SANDRA CROCKETT,SUN STAFF

The caller's voice hesitates, trembles. She has a problem, a serious one, and she needs to talk about it.

She's addicted, strung out on drugs, and she's sick of the madness. She wants to get clean, stay clean and be a good mother to her children. But she is afraid. You see, she's tried this once before, and before that. And each time she tries to climb her way out, the pull of the drugs proves stronger than her will to remain clean.

It's early on a Sunday morning, and the woman reaches out anonymously to someone she doesn't even know. Perhaps she feels safer this way. Whatever the reason, she makes the call.

"How do I do this?" the woman asks Duane Johnson. "How do I stay strong."

Johnson is not a drug counselor or a social worker; he's a 28-year-old radio personality. His station, top-rated 92Q (WERQ), is known for playing rap and urban R&B hits. But on Sunday mornings, it's church time and Minister Duane Johnson -- as he is known to the radio audience -- is in the house.

"Time to get your praise on! If you feel it, throw your hands in the air!" says Johnson, greeting his listeners.

Johnson is a preacher to the hip hop generation. He knows his audience and how to reach them. "It's geared toward people who don't go to church," says Johnson of his show, which has been broadcast from 6 a.m. to noon on Sundays since last March.

He thinks about that statement for a second and decides it's not quite accurate.

"Well, it's probably a 70-30 mix," he says. "Some folks may be on their way to church. And if they are tuned in, they will hear a happening, contemporary radio show that has a definite urban bent. It's called `The Praise Party.'

"A real sanctified die-hard churchgoer couldn't get with this," he concedes.

He's probably right. You're sure to hear rap music during the "Praise Party," though in these songs the rappers are proclaiming their deep love for Jesus. Grammy-award winner Lauryn Hill and rapmeister Puff Daddy get a lot of airplay, as do gospel music star Kirk Franklin and gospel singer Yolanda Adams.

In between the music, the phone lines are open, and the calls stream in from listeners who want to request songs, say "hello" or who need help. There are prayers for people in need, including the woman wanting to get off drugs. Johnson prays for her on air, reassures her that God is there for her, asks listeners to pray for her as well.

He asks if she belongs to a church. She does not. He names one that is near her home then encourages her to call back with an update.

She promises she will.

There are others who call in for prayers, such as the daughter of a man hospitalized with pneumonia:

"Lord, we know you can heal him. We pray that he will be healed. We ask that you touch his lungs. Lord, I thank you, I praise you. No matter what church you are going to, let's pray that he be healed."

The show also includes upbeat "shout-outs" -- when callers say hello to family and friends -- and the "Praise Party Top Ten Countdown" -- when listeners vote for their favorite current songs, the ones with a religious bent, of course.

"My number one jam is Puff Daddy, and I'm about to go to church," one young listener phones in.

Duane Johnson may have come by preaching naturally. His father, the Rev. Carroll Johnson, is a pastor at Maximum Life Christian Church, a nondenominational church in Woodlawn. Mother, Muriel Johnson, also preaches there. His wife, Cynthia, takes her turn at the pulpit, as does Johnson.

Both parents are, of course, fans of "The Praise Party," though they sometimes wonder about the music. "The program is geared toward contemporary -- I guess you would call it club music? My wife once said, `That's too much for me!' " says Rev. Carroll Johnson, who once owned a music recording studio in Baltimore. "But you got to let this generation do their own thing."

Johnson grew up in Northwest Baltimore and the county and at one time thought he would want to be a physician. "I was a pre-med major at first but switched to communications," he says.

"He didn't like the sight of blood," his father says.

He's planning to enroll in Howard University's Divinity School in the spring but already has a degree from Morgan State University in communications and is in his fourth year of teaching. During the work week, he's "Mr. Johnson" to his sixth graders at Lombard Middle School.

His first exposure to radio came working as a college intern for Morgan State's WEAA (88.9). He got his first break to play host to a talk show when WEAA radio host St. George Crosse became ill one evening. That led to his own weekly talk show on the station from June 1997 until February 1999.

That show, called "Speak to My Heart," was Christian radio with an edge, he says. "We talked about things like traditional vs. contemporary gospel music, and homosexuality in the pulpit."

He's been there

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