- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009


Patrick Ellis is many things to many people. For spiritual people and lovers of gospel music, he is their go-to guy on Sunday mornings.

For people who are battling cancer and sickle cell anemia, he is a lifesaver. For the hungry and the needy, he is a rock who always comes through. He is tops in the region when it comes to mixing messages and music. Some even call him the “backbone.”

Mr. Ellis is the voice of “Sunday Morning Gospel” at WHUR-FM (96.3), and this year marks his 30th anniversary as host.

When listeners tune into the Howard University station on Sunday mornings to rejoice, they hear a peaceful voice that helps them refocus on the Lord’s Day, a voice that reminds them, “Today is Sunday.”

Mr. Ellis, 62, is inspiring people on the same grounds where he was born and the same campus where he earned a degree in communications.

He was born at the old Freedmen’s Hospital, which at the time was in the building where WHUR is housed. Raised by both his parents, he is a Howard University graduate who has many family members who also graduated from Howard, including his mother, daughter, aunt and nephew.

Although he has been at WHUR since the station hit the airwaves in 1971 and has hosted the Sunday show for 30 years, this local voice of gospel doesn’t consider himself a media star. He does, however, accept that his particular mix of music and message is inspiring.

“Look, I’m just a DJ playing some music,” Mr. Ellis said. “I don’t have any ministry. I’m no preacher, but I’ve come to understand that, like it or not, the Sunday gospel program affects many people.

“Sometimes people tell me they had walked away from religion, they left the church, but came back because they had been inspired while some song I played or by something I said resonated in their spirit. Or they might have heard the experience of another person that I related over the air. They found God again and again became active in church. When in distress, folks confide in me,” he said.

Mr. Ellis, who lives in Mitchellville with his wife, began his broadcasting career at WHUR in 1971 as a producer. Later, a program director, Jessie Fax, asked him to host a Sunday gospel show. Mr. Ellis’ initial reaction was to think about it. He had never been an on-air personality with his own show. Hosting “might be a challenge for me,” he thought.

“I was there when WHUR was chartered, the day the station signed on the air. It has been 38 years total,” said Mr. Ellis, who has held a number of positions, including directing the Office of Student Affairs, public affairs director and station production director.

Mr. Ellis said he always loved gospel music, and he finally decided to take Mr. Fax up on the offer. He asked for 30 days to research and learn which gospel songs were popular. He needed to know what people were listening to and did his own homework.

To learn quickly, he studied record labels, went to bookstores, listened to customers’ conversations about their purchases, and asked questions about what songs were hot. He discovered what type of gospel songs people liked and became comfortable being on the air. He also practiced. He imagined friends sitting comfortably in his living room, and then he would push open French doors as if turning on a microphone.

About 18 months later, a WHUR employee showed him an Arbitron report that said “Sunday Morning Gospel” was at the top, with more than 100,000 listeners. Mr. Ellis said he was “stunned.”

Since then, “Sunday Morning Gospel” has been the No. 1 Sunday morning radio show in the area for many years, and it still is.

Mr. Ellis and his program have strong ties to the community and have reaped civic recognition for sowing faithful seeds. His on-air fundraising drives benefit children and families in need of food, coats and toys; patients battling cancer and heart and sickle cell disease; and victims of domestic abuse. In 2008 alone, he hosted 60 church-related events.

Earlier this year, the on-air personality was honored with a proclamation signed by Prince George’s County Executive Jack. B. Johnson and members of the County Council.

The honor, delivered on June 16, sums up the community-driven Mr. Ellis in four simple words: “backbone of community radio.”

c Lyndia Grant is a writer living in Washington.

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