The only way to explain the legendary radio DJ “Weasel” is by the music.

Not some shock jock, he’s guided Baltimore through the history of song: hillbilly string bands from the 1920s, zydeco from New Orleans, Motown and Go-go, punk and new wave, you name it. He’s played Spanish Conjunto bands, even those awful dogs barking “Jingle Bells.” “That’s a masterpiece!”

Nothing’s out of bounds. Not even ABBA.

Welcome to “Weasel’s Wild Weekend,” the sprawling, three-hour weekly radio show as eccentric as its host, Jonathan Gilbert, an improbable disc jockey who’s been told he sounds like Donald Duck.

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His cult following expressed alarm online last month when his longtime radio show didn’t air on WTMD 89.7 FM in Towson.

Bring back Weasel! … We wa­nt Weasel! … What’s going on? Can someone please explain?

“People want to know what the heck happened,” said Rusty Gardner, of Mount Washington.

The answer’s a familiar refrain to this survivor of 53 years in the shaky business of radio.

“I was basically told, ‘We don’t want you here anymore,’” Weasel, 73, said. “‘We’re going in a different direction,’ which is corporate gobbledygook … ‘We’re going younger and more urban.’”

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The program director broke the news to him last month on Zoom, Weasel said. He recounted this at his Bethesda apartment building and home of 44 years. Weasel lives alone. No Facebook, no Twitter. He doesn’t drive and volunteers shuttled him to and from the Towson radio station since his weekly show began in 2010.

“Part of me says, this is what the radio business is all about. This happens all the time,” Weasel said. “The other part is, I don’t quite understand. I kind of figure the show was eminently successful on many levels. The show generated revenue from around the world … What did I do wrong?”

Program Director Carrie Evans declined to say. She noted, however, the station continues to employ other on-air hosts of the Baby Boomer generation, such as “Bob the Paper Guy” and Clint “The DubMaster” Thomas.

“We’re so grateful to have had him [Weasel] on WTMD for as long as we did,” she said. “Ten-plus years he was on the station, and if you listen to him, you know he had a very unique presentation.”

Few area radio DJs were better known or more loved than Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert, formerly of WHFS and more recently of WTMD. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Times change, not Weasel — that’s precisely the appeal for boomers of his audience. Weasel started his brand of genre-defying radio in the 1970s. When local stations played Frank Sinatra by day, he introduced Maryland and D.C. to acid-dropping San Francisco bands by night.

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While a senior at American University, Weasel helped little WHFS 102.3 FM in Bethesda become the voice of the counterculture. With the war in Vietnam, he played Country Joe and The Fish — and it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? — then he drove home to New York for his draft physical. ”I was too skinny.”

More than a hippie station, WHFS was the only place around to hear Alligator Records blues from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. The youth called it “free-form” radio. No boundaries, even then.

“Weasel is sort of the original survivor and continuer of the tradition,” said Richard Harrington, the former pop music critic for The Washington Post. “Anybody can mix ingredients, that doesn’t make it a tasty dish. What Weasel had a tendency to do, what he was really good at, was putting together thematic sets, making connections with different genres, and doing it in a thoroughly engaging and illuminating way.”

Weasel elevated the mixtape to an art form. His sets connected the King of Skiffle to the Matriarch of the Blues. Where else could one hear three hours of civil rights anthems on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.?

“If I was feeling good and everything worked out, you couldn’t tell where one song started and one stopped,” Weasel said. “They couldn’t turn off the station because it was so compelling.”

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The rise of WHFS has become music lore. A documentary film, “Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM,” is to be released this year and feature DJs Damian Einstein, Cerphe Colwell and, of course, Weasel. His on-air name came from the outrageous Frank Zappa album cover of a man shaving his bloody cheek with a weasel.

WHFS moved to Annapolis in October 1983. Its new 50,000-watt signal reached West Virginia and York, Pennsylvania. The freeform shows continued, for a time.

New corporate owners bought the station in 1988 and later changed the format to modern rock.

“They started bringing in consultants and doing music tests,” Weasel said. “It gradually went from being totally free-form to a few tested songs. Then more tested songs.”

Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert kept written logs of all his radio shows in notebooks. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Years passed; Weasel’s sets were scripted. Saturday nights in the mid-1990s, he hosted new wave dance parties at the old Hammerjacks in Baltimore. He moved to jobs at corporate classic-rock stations in the D.C. suburbs. Weasel still made playlists, just for friends.

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The new station manager at Towson University’s WTMD called him in 2010 with an off-the-wall idea.

“‘I’m going to give you three hours of radio time and you can do whatever you want with it.’ That was his pitch. I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Weasel said.

“Weasel’s Wild Weekend” was born. He sprinkled his show with local trivia, reminding listeners that Mama Cass attended Forest Park High School in Baltimore, John Doe of the punk band X went to Woodlawn, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was written not about West Virginia, but Montgomery County, Maryland.

In its 12 years, Weasel’s show won awards from the Washington Area Music Association, Baltimore City Paper and The Baltimore Sun. His name appears in an exhibit of influential DJs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“People for decades have been complaining about the homogenization of radio,” said David Zurawik, a media analyst for CNN and former Baltimore Sun media critic. “There is so little, if any, that I can think of off the top of my head, of the kind of radio experience that he provided to listeners. You could literally escape to his world, and his head. It was not just an eclectic mix of music, but he had this passion and this love for the music. It was his life.”

Upstairs in his apartment, CD towers rise in neat stacks from the floor. Framed photos show Weasel hanging with Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. Memorabilia fills his apartment: artist biographies, newspaper clippings, framed concert posters. Here’s a guy who grabbed coffee with Jerry Garcia, played tambourine with Cyndi Lauper, and phoned John Lennon at The Dakota.

Last year, the Baltimore news station WYPR 88.1 FM bought Towson University’s music station. Officials announced the sale price at $3 million. (WYPR has since also partnered with The Banner.)

“Change can be really unnerving, but like anything, in order to stay vibrant and serve as many listeners as possible, evolution is necessary,” said Evans, WTMD program director. “There is not a drastic overhaul happening at the station, but we do have a lot of exciting new additions coming, and there are some other voices that deserve a chance to be heard.”

Weasel’s listeners took to the WTMD Facebook page and, to put it mildly, expressed displeasure.

“I’m certainly not young or urban, but that’s pretty much all [the music] that’s out there,” said Nancy Kurtz, 70, of Columbia. “There are younger people who enjoy him, too. I don’t understand why they would cut out a large segment of their audience.”

Annapolis couple Bob Marcum and Rainbow Willard tuned in Friday nights while cooking dinner for dance parties in the kitchen.

“Rainbow made a donation in my name as a Christmas gift to WTMD. That’s not happening again,” Marcum said. “There are a lot of people out there who are really not happy about this.”

Listeners complained about his abrupt departure. Weasel wasn’t given a final show. One imagines all the “goodbye” songs he would have played.

“When you have a regular Friday night date and it suddenly ends and there’s no ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ you’re left with, what happened?” said Mary Pratt of Crownsville. “You were my steady Eddie.”

Weasel may finally get around to writing his rock ‘n’ roll memoir. He may return to radio on Takoma Park’s WOWD-LP FM, a low-power station that reaches 5 miles. He will still fill his notebooks with songs.

His last playlist never aired. He would have opened with “Orange Crush” by R.E.M. and, just for fun, a set about flying: “Fly like an Eagle,” “Flying High, “Fly Like a Bird.”

Unfinished, it stops with “Running Hard” by English rockers Renaissance, and with Weasel searching the history of recorded music for the perfect next song.

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