Tune in on radio personality's 50th birthday

September 25, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

LOOK UP the list of celebrity birthdays in today's paper, and you probably won't find Tim Watts listed there.

But if you're a rhythm-and-blues fan in the Baltimore area, today is worth celebrating. Watts, WWIN-FM 95.9's drive-time disc jockey from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., turns 50 today. It's tempting, and downright cliche-ish, to say that Watts, with nearly 25 years as an on-air radio personality in this town, is a Baltimore institution. But that's not quite the word. A Baltimore monument is more like it.

Who else would have stayed in this burg after what Watts has been through? He started at V-103 in 1978 when it was an "urban contemporary" station. Management changes led to some firings. He was canned at V-103 and then started working at the rival WWIN-FM. He went back to V-103 and eventually ended up at WWIN again. During all that turmoil, he found time to take a year off and went to California, where he tried his hand at standup comedy.

Watts became a near-legend in these parts when, early in his V-103 days, he talked a young woman who had climbed to the top of the station's tower out of committing suicide. These days, he distinguishes himself as Baltimore's top radio personality.

I know we writer types are supposed to qualify such statements by saying that Watts is "arguably Baltimore's top radio personality," but on this point I'm not prepared to argue. In my book, Watts is it. His is the one radio show I refuse to miss.

Where else can R&B fans get double doses of an old record and a more recent release? That's a feature Watts calls "Now and Then." He'll play the remake, let listeners guess who made it and then tell them who it is. Next he plays the original, and the fun begins. Listeners flood the station with calls, telling Watts which version they like the best. On some occasions, when more than two versions of the same tune have been recorded, Watts will play as many as possible.

It's every Friday at 5 p.m. Watts' fans don't want to miss. That's his "Battle of the Stars" segment. He'll pit, in his words, "artists against artists, bands against bands, groups against groups" and then let listeners vote on their favorites. In the past he has pitted Frankie Beverly and Maze against the Isley Brothers. The Isleys won that encounter, but we Frankie Beverly fans know our guy could, in his sleep, out-sing any one or all three of the Isleys.

Watts pitted Curtis Mayfield against Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. (Babyface got slaughtered.) He had to be feeling devilish when he had Aretha Franklin and Patti Labelle square off. But his piece de resistance came a couple of weeks ago, when "Godfather of Soul" James Brown and that nonpareil R&B-er Jackie Wilson went at it. Wilson won by a nose, and that one hour had to send chills down the spines of true R&B fans throughout the area.

Here's wishing my fellow Beatles and Temptations fan Watts a happy Five-Oh and another 24 years in Baltimore broadcasting. And speaking of the world of broadcasting ...

Is anyone as happy as I am that HBO's The Sopranos has finally premiered its new season and that the hype has now died down? Moogly ooglies, Sopranos fans are worse than Elvis fans, with one slight difference: At least Elvis lived up to his hype.

I can hear the tarring and feathering mob of Sopranos fans milling in front of the Sun building even as you read this. But let's look at it dispassionately for a second, shall we? Elvis, an American white guy who got many whites hooked on the black art form of rhythm and blues, was something of an original.

The Sopranos continues the stereotype of Italian-Americans as gangsters. Hollywood has done that story 200 times if it has done it once. Enough already. Hollywood muckety-mucks need to move on to something else.

Now I'll move on to something else. Several e-mailers want information on how to get the video Black Confederates: Forgotten Men in Gray that was covered in Sunday's column. The truth is: I have no idea.

Just kidding. Stan Armstrong, the producer and director of the film, can be reached at 702-739-7472 and e-mailed at producer_1@usa.com. Jack Maples, his partner in the film presentation and author of Reconstructed Yankee, can be reached at 703-335-1838 or e-mailed at jackrmaples@aol.com.

Please, folks, no more e-mails on this topic. But on a related matter: Yet another debate on reparations will be held at the University of Maryland, Baltimore from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in Room 160 of the School of Law at 500 W. Baltimore St. It will be interesting to see how those on the pro side answer the question of whether descendants of black Confederates are entitled to reparations.

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