Cerphe’s Up

As I was inserting the picture, above, of Cerphe from the late ’70s, when he was already a D.C. legend, my father called. “I wanted to commiserate about your boy,” he said. I certainly wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to refer to Cerphe as my boy, but I know I’m not alone amongst many classic rock aficionados who grew up in these parts and consider Cerphe a big brother of sorts. You see, Cerphe (Don Cerphe Colwell) has been around, spinning music (vinyl, cassette and CDs and maybe an 8-track or two) for as long as dudes my age have been alive. To say we grew up with Cerphe is not only stating the obvious, but should imply the type of bond commuters and kids in their formative years form with DJs they love. Cerphe was one of a large and constantly rotating cast of characters (Adam Smasher and Young Dave Brown anyone?) that kept classic rock cool back in the day. Cerphe was the only constant presence, and that alone, in an industry where disc jockeys come and go like the one-hit wonders they promote, speaks volumes about how well regarded he has always been. I recall being in the car when DC/101 bragged that they had bagged him in the early ’80s, I remember serving him when I waited tables in college, and I remember hearing him break the news that Syd Barrett had died, on a hot July evening in 2006. It was therefore appropriate, and more than a little meaningful to me, when I wrote an appreciation for Rick Wright, and he posted it on his page at the 94.7 website (the link has already been disabled, which is a distressing commentary on how quickly “94.7 Fresh” wants to put the past behind them; for a sneak peak at the vapidity to come, go here).
I remember when it was big news for Cerphe to come over to DC/101 back in 1983. At that time 101 was the badass number on the dial, having housed Howard Stern is his early, often awkward years (see above), then launching The Greaseman into the stratosphere for a the rest of that decade. Of course WHFS, where Cerphe (and his colleague, The Weasel) first flew their freak flags, was the thinking man’s progressive station. But for the kids, DC/101 was where rock music was played by rock star DJs. Toward the end of the ’80s, when “classic rock” became a lucrative brand, Cerphe remained a fixture in this town, fondly recalling the older acts he saw in his younger years, and interviewing every legend who blew through town. (To get an idea of Cerphe’s unimpeachable street-cred, he was the first DJ in the DC area (possibly in all of America) credited with playing Springsteen in the early ’70s: his advocacy earned him a gold record of Born To Run, a special gift from The Boss.) Cerphe has been so reliable a presence, it’s difficult to imagine the radio without him. Indeed, many of us have yet another reason to never turn the radio on again (other people reading this will ask, “do people still listen to the radio?”). Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve been a loyal radio listener, despite my commute. But I’ve always been a Cerphe fan.
For a fuller examination of his career, there are a few good articles here and here and from today, here.
I have a feeling we’ve not heard the last from Cerphe. I hope we have him around, in whatever capacity possible, for many more years.


  1. Wow…before Fredericksburg, VA was annexed into NoVA, I remember listening to DC 101 from mid-8th grade on. One snow-day afternoon, while making Lucy’s Lemon Squares with my neighbor-friend, Elizabeth, my mom came into the kitchen to find two snickering pre-teens, powdered-sugar akimbo and The Greaseman calling on God for the weather. She was…mortified.
    From then on, I had to slip into covert Ops to catch Cerph and the Grease…always well worth it. Thanks for rustling up the memory, Sean. :)

  2. Holland says:

    Well done, Murph. You get an A+ on your assignment. J, so far, gets an F.

    To someone like me who was virtually raised on the radio (not to sound cliche), Cerphe has indeed been a Washington institution for as long as I can remember. Every night I would listen to his sign-off where he would drop some Shakespeare and then say good-bye in about 10 different languages. I remember when he switched from WAVA to DC-101. Nowadays, when I actually felt the inclination to listen to *music* on the radio, it was usually to listen to Cerphe and the knowledge he would drop in between sets. I guess I have absolutely no reason to listen to FM music anymore. Who knows, maybe he’ll start a pod-cast…

  3. Well said sir… your are a gentleman and a scholar. Can I copy your homework assignment above and submit it to Holland? That guy is a hard ass!

  4. Pete Farmer says:

    Anyone know where Weasel (Jonathan Gilbert) is these days? I used to listen to these guys on WHFS back in the 80s.

  5. L-cubed says:

    In case you didn’t know, Cerphe’s back on the air. From a news release: “WHFS, the legendary rock radio station, marks its return to DC on Wednesday, June 10 when it launches digitally on 94.7 HD2. Available to consumers with an HD Radio receiver, HFS will feature D.J. Cerphe, an original alumni of WHFS from the late seventies, hosting the station’s debut (12:00Noon-2:00PM, ET).” They’re also streaming on http://www.hfs2.com Enjoy!

  6. Wow–thank you for all the heartfelt messages. I am only seeing this today. I did launch a podcast at http://www.ecoplanetradio.com Cerphe’s Progressive Show and through the power of syndication–the show will hopefully be coming to a radio near you soon! In the meantime, please listen online at http://www.ecoplanetradio.com. From theme sets, deep tracks and lost classics to the well known and unknown–no music is off limits. My one-man-crusade to keep the segue alive. Be well, Cerphe

  7. foivoloxias says:

    Big fan of Weasel from 82-86, I was a foreign student in GMU. It was a shock to me that my American classmates knew nothing about Frank Zappa and Peter Gabriel…

  8. Doug Stiers says:

    Oh man, I loved Cerphe. I didn’t know until just now how he spelled his name. What was he on before DC 101? Was it WAVA? That was down on Lee Highway right? What did he always say “to the ships at sea and all the little ladies of the night”?

    I remember sitting down next to the river with my girlfriend listening him play rock and roll on a transistor radio of all things. Much simpler times. Summer nights in Arlington, how much do I miss those.

    Thanks Cerphe.

    -Doug Stiers

  9. Did Cerphe used to say “For all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and other Shakespearian quotes in-between unknown and fabulous music? If so I’ve been searching for this dj’s name for decades. My favorite of all time! Just always wondered who he was – couldn’t remember his name. I used to work at the all night bake shop waaaaaay up near AU. We would listen to him all the time. Fabulous.
    Thanks Cerphe – if it is indeed you. I hope the “slings and arrows” have been good to you!

  10. Sean Murphy says:


    Check Cerphe out online: http://musicplanetradio.com/cerphes-progressive-show/

    He’s still going strong and the Cerphe’s still up!


Speak Your Mind