“I feel like we are essential like a fire department, [the] armed forces, or the police department,” says James “Jas” Funk, a volunteer DJ at public radio station WPFW 89.3 FM. On Jan. 23, as a blizzard blanketed the D.C. area in a record-breaking amount of snow, Funk kept the station that plays jazz, soul, blues, news, and more on the air from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Early that morning, with much of the city shut down, Funk got in his four-wheel-drive vehicle and headed to WPFW’s studio at 1990 K St. NW with a bunch of CDs he intended to play during the “Oldies House Party” and “House of Soul” shows he always co-hosts between 7 a.m. and noon. Funk, who is also a go-go talker for Proper Utensils and Rare Essence, was also scheduled to fill in for the host of the bluesy “Roots and Fruits,” which ends at 2 p.m.
But Funk soon realized he would also be guesting for the hosts of later shows, too: the funkier “Southern Soul Rumpin” and the Motown-friendly “The Andrea Bray Show.” Alone in the studio, Funk did his best to pick music that stayed true to the themes of each show, log the song titles into WPFW’s website, answer the phone when he could, and engage in his usual amiable on-air chatter, which on this day included snow-plow talk.
With the freedom that only a public radio station like WPFW can offer, Funk played bouncy three-minute R&B tracks from the Clovers and when he needed a breather, 14-plus-minute psychedelia-influenced tracks from the likes of Rare Earth and Iron Butterfly. Midday he presented gritty Etta James numbers, early afternoon included the Nellie “Tiger” Travis stomper “Mr. Sexy Man,” and by evening, he dispensed lush soul like the Dells’ “Dry Your Eyes.” At 7 p.m., Funk turned over the studio to Program Director Katea Stitt, who also spent a lot of hours on-air that weekend.
Funk used to work long days at a post office and says he is thankful for the calls he got that day, but he “wasn’t looking for any accolades.”
“It felt good that I touched a lot of people and touched their hearts. But it was just part of my duties as part of the station.”