- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Has Kojo Nnamdi taken a wrong turn off Brandywine Street NW? It is a Tuesday evening in early July, and Mr. Nnamdi is presiding over a taping of his WAMU-FM (88.5) talk show inside the old town hall in Fairfax.

These aren’t exactly his usual stamping grounds.

Mr. Nnamdi’s name has been synonymous with D.C. affairs throughout his career, beginning in the 1970s when he was a driving force behind “The Daily Drum” newscast on Howard University-owned WHUR-FM (96.3).

The rise and fall and rise again of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry? The deterioration of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River? Life in the District after September 11? Mr. Nnamdi has covered it all.

Yet here he is on this summer evening, chatting up more than 100 Northern Virginians who have come to his taping to gripe about crowded schools, property taxes and other suburban maladies.

“We hope going into these communities will help us get a better understanding of their issues, and help us get the rest of the region interested in their problems,” said Mr. Nnamdi, who celebrates his fifth anniversary at WAMU next month.

He plans to schlep into the suburbs from WAMU’s Brandywine Street studios every so often for a new segment called “Kojo in Your Community.” The first installment was taped in Fairfax last week and will air today from noon to 1 p.m.

Mr. Nnamdi has been taking his show into the District’s neighborhoods for years. He will continue to do so, but WAMU wants him to go outside the city’s borders, too.

Fifty percent of the station’s listeners live in Maryland, 33 percent live in Virginia and 17 percent live in the District, according to research provided by WAMU, a National Public Radio affiliate that American University owns.

Mr. Nnamdi is up for the challenge. Born and raised in Guyana, he came to the United States in 1968. He worked at WHUR from 1973 until 1985, when he became host of “Evening Exchange,” a weekly public affairs program on PBS affiliate WHUT-TV (Channel 32). In August 1998, he succeeded Derek McGinty as WAMU’s midday host.

Mr. Nnamdi confesses he still gets turned around outside the District. He recently signed up for a yoga class in Langley, which gives him an opportunity to explore the Northern Virginia suburbs on Saturdays.

The broader focus of “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” is just the latest change for the program.

The host’s longtime friend and sidekick, commentator Mark Plotkin, bolted WAMU last year to join rival WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM), where he now hosts a show similar to Mr. Nnamdi’s “D.C. Politics Hour.” Later, NPR dropped Mr. Nnamdi’s show from national distribution, citing “limited growth potential.”

Despite the upheaval, Mr. Nnamdi remains as cool behind the scenes as he does on the air.

He recently named Jonetta Rose Barras, formerly a reporter for The Washington Times, as Mr. Plotkin’s successor. The fiery Ms. Barras is passionate about accountability in the D.C. government, Mr. Nnamdi said.

“She knows when the accounts receivable at some D.C. agency are down 2 percent. At times I have to tell her, no one cares about this,” he said.

Despite the competition from WTOP, Mr. Nnamdi’s program still makes news. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican, grabbed headlines when he appeared on the program last month and said he will push for voting rights for District residents.

“Every year I say I am going to cut back and do less work, but every year my enthusiasm level goes up,” Mr. Nnamdi said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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