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WJHU left off air for 7 hours


For those WJHU (88.1 FM) listeners who choked on their cappuccinos yesterday when all they heard was static, you were not alone - the station was even angrier to be off the air for nearly seven hours.

Communications Electronics, the Virginia-based company that owns the antenna in Druid Hill Park that beams the station's signal, decided it wanted to upgrade its tower starting at 8 a.m. yesterday morning.

So, at Communications Electronic's request, BGE cut off the power, marooning Baltimore-area listeners to WJHU, a National Public Radio affiliate owned and operated by the Johns Hopkins University. The current was restored to the radio tower at 2:55 p.m. yesterday afternoon.

"We apologize," Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea, the station's acting general manager, said midday yesterday. "We're on the air to provide a service to Baltimore, and at this point, we're not able to do that. It's distressing to us."

Hopkins could have continued to broadcast its programs if it had a backup generator, common among other radio stations in the market. But O'Shea said that WJHU, which only regained its financial footing in the past year, does not yet have enough money to maintain a backup energy source.

Station officials first heard about the work from Communications Electronics on Tuesday. O'Shea thought that it was BGE's decision to have the work performed during prime listening hours, instead of late at night or early in the morning. But BGE officials said they received an urgent request Wednesday from a contractor for Communications Electronics to sever the power at 8 a.m. yesterday for maintenance, and that they honored that request.

"We work with our customers," said Rose Maria Kendig, a spokeswoman for BGE. "We know a station, during drive-time hours, should not be out."

In the meantime, listeners besieged the WJHU switchboard with calls to express their annoyance.

John Parle, an official with Communications Electronics, showed little patience for inquiries about the way his company handled the tower upgrade. "He's whining because his power is off," Parle said of O'Shea. "We'll turn back on the power when we're done. We don't want to electrocute anybody."

Asked by a reporter why the work wasn't carried out at a different time of day, Parle said he did not have time to talk. "You put in whatever you want," Parle said, then hung up.

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