Inside of Radio One’s Silver Spring, Md., office, there’s a jam session taking place within the WMMJ Majic 102.3 studio.
Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is playing on-air and the luminary behind the boards, Donnie Simpson, is enthralled. His black loafers are off of his feet, laying beneath his desk. He’s clapping to the rhythm, humming on-key, and strumming the chords of his air-guitar to the riffs in the song. He is at home.
Just two-and-a-half months ago, Simpson, 61, returned to the airwaves in Washington D.C. after a five-year hiatus. His retirement was cut short due to an incessant demand from locals pleading he come back to reinvigorate radio in the city he has served and soothed for over three decades. Donnie was missed.
Majic, the station that prides itself as “the real sound of the DMV,” went through extravagant measures to welcome him back. Advertisements bearing Simpson’s charismatic smile and signature green eyes peppered the streets of D.C., local newspapers lined-up to speak to him and ABC 7’s Good Morning Washington dubbed the date of his return (August 17) ‘Donnie Simpson Day.’
“The way that people have welcomed me back has just been astonishing,” he told EBONY.com in between breaks of his new show. “It was everywhere. It was overwhelming to tell you the truth…I couldn’t deal with the attention they were giving this thing. People showed me mad love and I really appreciate that. I’m not sure I totally understand it. But again, I appreciate it.”
During day one – Simpson received congratulatory phone calls from celebrities like Frankie Beverly, Toni Braxton, former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard, D.C.’s current mayor Muriel Bowser, and producer Terry Lewis, among others.
After manning the morning drive for 17 years at WPGC, Simpson says he’s had to transition to the afternoon (3p.m – 7 p.m.) time slot he now hosts – alongside producer Ric Chill and comedic side kick, Timothy Hall.
So far, Simpson says, “it’s been great.”
“I’m getting my stride back now,” he admits. “When I first cracked that mic, I was like ‘wow’ It’s just like riding a bike. Three weeks later, I’m like ‘wow,’ it wasn’t like riding a bike. I thought it was, but it really wasn’t. The first day, I thought I’d get right back in it, but it takes time. Just like any athlete when you’ve been out. It takes time to find your legs and to get back to it and [now] I feel like I’m getting back to it.”
Chill, an on-air host for Majic himself, presses play on most of the soulful songs Simpson requests throughout the show.
“Sometimes, I close my eyes when the headphones are on and to hear his voice I’m crushed,” he said. “He’s a legend. I’ve been following his career for a long time. This is a radio miracle to be a part of.”
Hall jokes about envying Simpson’s illustrious 41-year career in radio and television, but has found his own niche, providing comedic relief within the back-and-forth banter during breaks from the music.
Simpson, a Detroit native who started his career there at WJLB, professes that he “never felt like he fit” the last station he worked and Majic’s adult-driven audience is “perfect” for his latest comeback. Local listeners have practically grown up with the green-eyed bandit and are comfortable listening to songs by Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, and Tupac, sprinkled in between.
However, Simpson’s comeback is not yet complete. He is set to host a new music-influenced television show on Radio One’s broadcast affiliate TV One. The multi-year deal that assisted in luring Simpson out of his retirement, includes the new series, tentatively titled Donnie After Dark.
“I’m very excited to do TV again,” says Simpson. “As a matter of fact, that’s how this whole comeback started was with thoughts of TV, not radio… I was really done with radio. I really was. I didn’t particularly like where radio was these days. I believe that all of the excitement with me coming back to radio, will be that times 100 when I come back to TV. To be in front of that camera again, it’s what I do.
“With television, it took me a long time to decide to come back and do that,” he continues. “I’ll be very honest with you, it just kind of felt like because BET’s Video Soul run was so perfect for me, it took me so long to decide to come back. BET was our first black television network. It was so significant for us. It meant so much to artists to come on and sit on that couch. I was always afraid that if I came back, all I could do was mess that up. It’s kind of cool to be frozen in time… That you represent this era in that way and that if you come back, you’ll only mess it up. So, I feared that for a long time.”
It’s been 15 years since he conducted his last interview on Video Soul’s leather furniture. With a smirk, Simpson recalls becoming the face of the BET network during its infancy stages in the 80s. His smooth, laid-back demeanor was captivating and at the height of its run, Video Soul was being shown in over 40 million homes – certifying Simpson as an instant star within the Black American household.
TV One will offer Simpson the platform to reach nearly 60 million viewers across the country and return to national prominence.
“The network is excited to be the entertainment platform providing Donnie Simpson’s return to television,” said TV One president Brad Siegel in a statement. “The breadth of his knowledge and depth of musical tastes make him an excellent asset for the network as we expand our programming slate and grow our brand. Knowing how much his fans have missed him, we are eager to get him on the air and look forward to announcing his first special soon.”
“We want for it to [again] mean something to sit with Donnie After Dark,” Simpson says about his upcoming show, whose debut day has not been announced yet. “For me it’s very important that it’s multi-generational. I don’t see it being just the Isley Bros. and Frankie Beverly, I want 2 Chainz and the Weeknd too. I like everybody and I want to be a part of what saves black music.”
The Donnie Simpson Show airs weekdays from 3p.m. – 7p.m. on Majic 102.3 FM.