- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

A popular radio veteran and the owner of a longtime record store plan to revive the sounds of a legendary local radio station.

WHFS-FM, which gave its disc jockeys free rein over music selections, now exists only in memory.

Starting next month, the station’s rebellious “homegrown” philosophy will live again in a venue being opened by Damian Einstein, a longtime ‘HFS disc jockey, and Joe Lee, who has owned Joe’s Record Paradise in Rockville for 33 years.

They will bring artists from genres as diverse as bluegrass, Cajun, rhythm and blues, folk, reggae and rock ‘n’ roll to El Boqueron II, a 550-seat club next door to Mr. Lee’s record shop that plays salsa and merengue on Friday and Saturday nights.

Mr. Einstein and Mr. Lee will use El Boqueron on weeknights as a venue for local and national acts, giving suburban Maryland music lovers an alternative to grinding through Beltway traffic to reach the Birchmere in Northern Virginia.

“In Montgomery County there’s nothing to do; there’s no club,” Mr. Lee said.

At the same time, they are sticking it to “pompous corporate rock” — what Mr. Lee described as the increased commercialization of radio.

Mr. Einstein was more charitable. “We’re seeking out music that we think should be shared with people,” he said.

Few people know the area music scene better than Mr. Einstein, who after three decades recently ended his on-air career with alternative rock station WRNR-FM in Annapolis.

Mr. Einstein would not comment on the circumstances of his departure. Sources familiar with the situation said he was fired for a purported drop in Arbitron ratings. Michelle Stevens, senior vice president of programming of Nassau Broadcasting, which bought WRNR last year, said she could not comment on personnel issues.

Mr. Einstein, 57, began his career with WHFS in 1971, when the station was based in Bethesda. His father, Jake Einstein, started the 2,500-watt station 10 years earlier and transformed it into a place where DJs elevated their playlists to something close to an art form.

“He was one of the most knowledgeable music people that I ever ran into,” said Josh Brooks, who hosted the “Spiritus Cheese” talk show on WHFS for 10 years and now is a national sales manager for Clear Channel Radio.

“He not only had a broad range of knowledge about all different kinds of music, but he was somewhat of a musician himself,” Mr. Brooks said.

The key to Mr. Einstein’s show was his playlist that gave a seamless transition to songs — whether Cajun, blues or R&B; — based on their beat, key or pattern of guitar riffs.

A nearly fatal car crash in 1975 put his career on hold for two years as he relearned how to walk and talk.

He returned to WHFS and was bumped off the air to a management position because of a slight speaking disability he developed after the accident. After the Maryland government upheld a discrimination complaint he filed, Mr. Einstein returned to the airwaves.

Mr. Einstein said he has forged relationships with band members from the Who, the Moody Blues and Little Feat, and knew Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet and Emmylou Harris before they became superstars.

“People aren’t used to this kind of good music out here,” he said.

On Thursday nights on WRNR, Mr. Einstein brought in local artists to play live on “Damian’s Homegrown” show.

Mr. Einstein plans to use his friendships to bring musicians to his new venue.

“We meet a lot of people out on the road, and Damian is a hard guy to forget,” said Bill Payne, keyboard player for Little Feat. “He’s a true music fan. … He had a conviction to play the right music. You could see a fire in his eyes. He was not a corporate person. I think that’s probably hurt him.”

Mr. Lee and Mr. Einstein have used El Boqueron for fundraisers and a WHFS reunion. Two years ago, they organized a benefit concert for local rocker Billy Hancock to help him pay hospital fees.

Though bookings are not final, Mr. Lee and Mr. Einstein said, area music fans can look forward to such groups as Soldiers of Jah Army, Little Feat, Taj Majal, Nighthawks, Buckwheat Zydeco, Booker T. and the MGs, Room Full of Blues, Klutch and the Holmes Brothers.

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