- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Thomas Penny, a manager at a Silver Spring nonprofit, has won WMAL-AM’s “Who Wants To Be a Talk Show Host?” contest.

His prize: His own one-hour show, which WMAL (630) will air Sundays at noon for at least four weeks, beginning Sept. 5.

Mr. Penny was one of four finalists given a one-hour tryout Aug. 29. More than 200 listeners voted, and the Ellicott City, Md., resident received twice as many votes as his next closest competitor, according to the station.

Mr. Penny said he isn’t sure why he proved the most popular, but he suspects it has something to do with the unusual perspective he brings to the airwaves.

“I’m a black conservative and a former liberal. There aren’t a lot of people who fit that description,” he said.

WMAL began its contest in July, asking listeners to send in three-minute audition tapes. On Aug. 2, the station began airing one tape each weekday for three weeks.

Although the listeners voted on the finalists — the others were an ExxonMobil Corp. lawyer, an Alexandria retailer and a Gaithersburg homemaker — the final decision really rested with WMAL’s program director, Randall Bloomquist, who judged Mr. Penny the winner.

The ABC-owned station has only scheduled Mr. Penny’s show for four weeks, but he will likely be called to fill in for WMAL hosts such as Chris Core when they go on vacation, Mr. Bloomquist said.

“I fully expect we will be hearing more from him,” he said.

That suits Mr. Penny just fine.

He helps manage an organization that matches minority college students with corporate internships, but as a boy growing up in Indian Head, Md., Mr. Penny idolized legendary Washington area disc jockey Donnie Simpson.

Mr. Penny has dabbled in voice-over work over the years, and even recorded the book-on-tape version of “Finding Fish,” the memoir that inspired the 2002 film “Antwone Fisher.”

But hosting his own talk show is his real dream come true. “I’m thrilled,” he said.

Cos and effect

Bill Cosby is scheduled to call into the “Ask the Chief” program on WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) tomorrow at 10 a.m. to discuss raising responsible children with Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Mr. Cosby was scheduled to call in last month, but canceled at the last minute.

Gone to Gotham

WTTG-TV (Channel 5) has seven staffers — including anchor Michael Gargiulo and reporter Will Thomas — in New York this week to cover the Republican National Convention, the largest crew from any Washington area station.

Rivals WRC-TV (Channel 9) and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) have smaller crews. WJLA-TV (Channel 7) has none.

WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) and WAMU-FM (88.5) each have three persons in the Big Apple.

Each station sent the same number of people to Boston in July to cover the Democratic convention.

Ratings gold

NBC’s prime time coverage of the Summer Olympics drew an average 331,000 local households on WRC. Its late news averaged about 156,000 households during the 17-day period.

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

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