Mfume's last show will be reflective of a good run

February 02, 2002|By Gregory Kane

HE WALKED in to a standing ovation and the whoops and cheers of the audience. He smiled and waved, acknowledging those he knew personally.

Kweisi Mfume, wearer of many hats - current NAACP president, ex-congressman, former 4th District Baltimore City Council member, one-time radio disc jockey and program director - was about to hand in the one he perhaps wears best: television talk show host.

Mfume was in WBAL television's studios Wednesday night to tape The Bottom Line one more time, for broadcast Feb. 9. He's been at it nine years and - when he learned WBAL was canceling the show - asked to do a farewell. The request was granted and now here was Mfume, watching a studio television monitor along with the audience as highlights from some of those shows were played.

There was the Revvum Al Sharpton, responding to Baltimore pundit Frank DeFilippo's charge that he used the 1999 police shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo to bolster support for Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate candidacy in New York.

"Diallo was killed in February of 1999," Sharpton responded, "months before Clinton even announced her candidacy."

Then there was lawyer Johnnie Cochran talking about the trial of music mogul Sean "Puff Daddy" - now "P. Diddy" - Combs on charges of shooting up a Big Apple nightclub. Then there was C. Miles - the former Radio One talk show host - making his famous and outrageous charge that a "blue-bonic plague" of police brutality was running rampant across the country.

That clip was from a show that aired in September 1997. It was inspired by the shooting of James Quarles, who was wielding a knife on Lexington Street in August of that year and refused the orders of police Officer Charles Smothers to drop it. Smothers shot Quarles dead and Miles, along with other black nationalist activists in Baltimore, went ballistic. Loudly - and wrongly - they proclaimed Smothers a murderer.

But that was a strength of The Bottom Line. It allowed us Balti-morons to be loud and wrong at length about all kinds of issues. On some issues, we were right. On others, downright weird.

After the clips wound down, the announcer's voice urged the audience to welcome state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV to the show. The senator from the 44th District walked out and sat in a chair next to the host. Some of those Bottom Line shows, Mitchell told the audience, dealt with things that were paranormal.

Clips then ran on the monitor again. There was the show about professional wrestling - "Shot right here in this studio!" Mfume shouted to the audience - and the one about angels. The corker was the woman who said she was visited nightly and abducted by aliens who looked like two little gray men.

"She was serious about that," Mfume told those assembled. OK, so there were some dumbed-down topics on The Bottom Line. But Mfume's show could be dumbed down 80 percent and still be more intelligent than most talk shows currently on the air.

After the weirdo clips, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant commended Mfume for giving a voice to young people on his show. Several clips of teens speaking their minds followed. Then the announcer asked the crowd to greet some guy named Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Hizzoner walked in to a standing ovation that almost matched Mfume's. The two chatted about the 1999 mayoral campaign - the one that featured 19 candidates and hence some very lonnnnnnng debates. One took place on The Bottom Line with Mfume as moderator.

O'Malley said he took special pride in pronouncing Mfume's name correctly every time he uttered it. Then the mayor introduced clips of folks who clearly weren't as fastidious.

There was Mary Wilson of the Supremes calling him "Kwazy." Songstress Patti LaBelle anglicized his first name completely, stretching it to "quiet and easy."

Miles Harrison and Chip Silverman, co-authors of Ten Bears - a book about Morgan State University's lacrosse team of the early and middle 1970s - were the next guests. Silverman and Mfume waxed nostalgic.

"I remember you when you were Frizzell Gray," Silverman said. "We go back 40 years." Silverman worked in a clothing store on Pennsylvania Avenue and sold threads to a young man who hadn't quite found his way in life yet. They discussed Mfume's years as a firebrand student activist at Morgan, when he led the charge that led to the establishment of WEAA - the university's radio station that is still running today.

Those are Mfume's deepest roots - in broadcasting. Thank heavens WBAL - though ending The Bottom Line - has seen fit to keep him in the business. Wanda Draper, a spokeswoman for the station, said there's a new show for Mfume in the works.

"We're hoping for big things nationally for him," Draper said. "This move [canceling The Bottom Line] is to work on syndicating him in a talk show."

It looks like Mfume had better not hang up that TV talk show host hat just yet.

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