Jacob Einstein

[ Age 90 ] Radio executive owned FM rock stations WHFS and WRNR, where he broke away from commercial formats.

Mr. Einstein trusted his disc jockeys to make their own playlists, and they had to know their music.

September 18, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Jacob "Jake" Einstein, a radio station owner whose broadcasts drew a devoted audience for the alternative rock music scene he championed, died of an aortic aneurism and emphysema complications Wednesday at his Potomac home. He was 90.

Mr. Einstein, who called himself "the oldest hippie alive," spent nearly six decades in radio work, much of its as a salesman and station owner who had an astute ear for emerging musical tastes. He made a name by giving a free hand to his disc jockeys to play the music they wanted - not what the music industry was pushing.

"Back in 1967, Jake Einstein won over discerning rock lovers by turning a Bethesda easy-listening station into `that hippie station,' WHFS-FM. 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," a 1997 Sun article said.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville, he was a 1935 Mount St. Joseph's High School graduate. He sold radio advertising at a Rockville station and held jobs in Michigan and Annapolis. In the 1960s, he began selling air time at WHFS, a small station whose call letters stood for Washington High Fidelity Stereo. He became general manager and part-owner of the low-rated, 2,300-watt Bethesda station in 1967.

"He loved radio, and he loved his family," said Alex Cortright, the morning host and music director at WRNR in Annapolis, a station Mr. Einstein later owned. "More than a great knowledge of music, Jake knew how to hire. He knew what to look for. He recognized knowledgeable and passionate talent."

"You had to know your music - blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass, reggae, all genres of music to work for him," said his daughter-in-law, Patricia Ebbert, who is married to Mr. Einstein's son Damian, a disc jockey who worked for his father for three decades.

"The thousands of albums from which the station's music is selected are not categorized or organized in any manner, other than having the newer releases kept separate - but also chaotically arranged - from the others," a 1984 Evening Sun article said. "The jocks, after years around the records, can locate the ones they want instantly."

His daughter, Rose Einstein, who lives in Los Angeles, said her father told his disc jockeys "to break away from a commercial radio format and forget Arbitron and the record promoters. He'd say, `It's all about the music.'"

Mr. Einstein was an early advocate of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

"Jerry Garcia was absolutely a part of the social changes of the '60s and '70s. ... He gave somebody a place to go in their desperation and frustration," Mr. Einstein said at the musician's death in 1995. "He did a lot for music and he did a lot for young people. He brought along a new sound at the time, and he had a very receptive and eager young audience."

Newspaper articles said that in 1983, despite a grass-roots campaign that elicited 17,000 letters of protest, Mr. Einstein sold the original WHFS for $2.2 million. He transferred the call letters to a station he had bought in Annapolis (broadcasting at 99.1 FM) and rehired many of his old DJs. In an Evening Sun article, he described his listeners as "an extremely dedicated cult audience."

"They were flower children then," he said his of early audience of listeners in 1984. "But they now have mothers-in-law and wear suits to work. But they want to hear that music."

In 1987, he sold WHFS and WNAV-AM - which he later reacquired - for $8.2 million. Mr. Einstein later owned an alternative rock station, WRNR-FM in Annapolis, as well as WYRE-AM, before selling them in 1998.

"You know me, I've been retired four days, and I figure another four would do me in," he told a Sun reporter in 1998, at his retirement. "I'd like to come back and do something with radio, maybe in the Baltimore or D.C. area."

"Jake could not sit still," said Ms. Ebbert, his daughter-in-law. "He spent two months in Lima, Peru, earlier this year."

Services were held yesterday in Washington.

In addition to his daughter and son, survivors include his wife of six years, Teresa Tizon; three other sons, Timothy Einstein of Sterling, Va., David Einstein of Cape St. Claire and Jake Einstein III of Salisbury; two other daughters, Cassandra "Cassie" Collier of Baltimore and Mimi Husser of Frederick; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. He was married for 35 years to Rosamond Dyer, who survives him. His second wife, Rena Eanet, died in 1995.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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