Weasel: ‘We played our music, talked about our politics’; WHFS tribute show this weekend

DJ Weasel reflects on the early days of WHFS — D.C.-area musicians will pay tribute to the groundbreaking FM station with a BandHouse Gigs show at the Warner Theatre this weekend.

Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert says he almost flunked out of American University because he was so focused on working on the school’s on-campus station, “which could only be heard in the dorms and the student union.”

Weasel couldn’t have known he would soon become part of what became — and remains — a musical and cultural phenomenon.

By Oct. 1970, Weasel was hired at WHFS Radio, located on Cordell Avenue, in Bethesda, Maryland, during the early days of FM radio: “Up to that point, everything was on AM radio. And FM stations had to create their own programming.”

Press photo of Weasel, for “Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM.” (Courtesy Feast Your Ears — The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM)

A perfect fit for Weasel: “They were desperate to find cheap programming, and as college kids, we were willing to work for minimum wage.”

Another DJ hired in 1970 was Cerphe Colwell.

Asked to describe WHFS’s secret sauce: “We started talking, basically, to our own — people our age. We started playing our music, and talking about our politics,” said Weasel.

“We were the reflection of what was going on, youth-culture wise,” said Weasel. “And, we did it in the nation’s capital, where the Nixon administration and everybody else could hear exactly what we were doing.”

At the freeform WHFS, disc jockeys had the freedom to play the music that moved them: “We never knew what was going to happen, because nothing was ever planned.”

“It was a great environment to work in,” said Weasel, who worked at WHFS until 2003. “We’d walk into the studio with one song on our mind, by the time we’d done four or five hours we’d done an entire radio show.”

The pioneering station introduced D.C. area music fans to artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, NRBQ, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, Bob Marley, and many more.

Saturday night, local musicians will take part in a BandHouse Gigs Tribute to WHFS, 1969-1975, at the Warner Theatre, in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit group has been producing themed performances since 2004.

BandHouse Gigs co-founder Ronnie Newmyer said WHFS also was a great supporter of local music.

“As a local musician, it was the biggest thrill in the world to hear our songs played on WHFS,” said Newmyer.

Featured musicians and artists at the WHFS tribute include Eric Scott, Jon Carroll, Jenny Langer, The 19th Street Band, Kelly Bell Band, Holly Montgomery, Carley Harvey, The Sidleys, Danger Bird, The Half Smokes, Me & The Boys, Bill Starks and Greg Hardin.

Weasel will take part in the tribute show at the Warner, along with other WHFS alum Adele, John Hall, Don Grossinger and Fred Sirkey.

“One of the unique things about WHFS is that our core are still living right here in the area, within a few miles of where we started, in Bethesda,” said Weasel.

Could there be another WHFS?

“There could be, but I don’t think it would be on the radio,” said Weasel. “Podcasting has taken that place — for anything you might want to listen to.”

Given today’s climate in over-the-air music radio, “I don’t think we could have that magic again,” said Weasel.

WHAT: Bandhouse Gigs Tribute To WHFS Music 1969-75
WHERE: Warner Theatre
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6
TICKETS: Available through Live Nation

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