News & Politics

Washingtonians of the Year 2007: Donnie Simpson

For 36 years, The Washingtonian has honored men and women who give their time and talents to make this a better place for all of us. They find ways to enrich the lives of everyone they touch.

Photograph by Matthew Worden
Photograph by Matthew Worden.

When Donnie Simpson came to Washington more than 30 years ago to be on the radio, he wondered whether DC would accept him.

He had been on the air back home in Detroit since age 15, and his hometown had watched him grow up. Would a new town welcome a strange voice?

He need not have worried. Washingtonians have embraced Simpson: His popularity is so strong that after Bob Johnson started Black Entertainment Television, a national network, he asked Simpson to do a show.

“BET in its infancy was not a pretty baby,” Simpson recalls. But he agreed to do a TV show called Video Soul to help the historic African-American undertaking.

“This guy carried us on his shoulders,” Johnson has said of Simpson. “You cannot write the history of BET without putting him in the forefront as the major contributor to the creative and economic success of the company.”

Simpson’s contributions to the Washington community have been equally outstanding. First there are Donnie’s “morning wishes.” Simpson and his sponsors have helped listeners in dire straits with funds for Christmas gifts, mortgage payments, or medical care.

After the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, Simpson offered to play a requested song for any listener who would donate at least $100. The Katrina response was so great that Simpson stayed on the air for 16 hours and raised $220,000 for hurricane victims.

Nine years ago, Simpson and his wife, Pam, marked their 25th wedding anniversary by establishing a scholarship fund for DC-area students attending a United Negro College Fund institution, Howard University, Hampton University, Norfolk State University, or the University of Maryland at College Park. The program is for college sophomores and juniors with at least a 2.5 GPA.

“Everybody is not a B student. We wanted to make it more open,” Simpson says.

Last summer’s gala celebrating Simpson’s 30th anniversary on Washington radio was a benefit for the scholarship fund.

Simpson has been offered syndication deals, but he refuses—his show is firmly grounded in the DC area. “This community is one of my great blessings,” he says. “I can’t wait for 6 am every day.”