Crocker, Frankie c. 1937–2000
Frankie Crocker c. 1937–2000
Radio disc jockey
Cocker’s famous tagline, “If Frankie Crocker isn’t on your radio, then your radio isn’t really on,” quoted in Jet magazine, epitomized the impact one man had on radio during a career that spanned more than three decades. Credited for coining the phrase “urban contemporary” and known for his radio show, “The Quiet Storm,” Crocker was one of the first deejays to integrate music by black and white artists. With a confidence that bordered on arrogance, this ladies man of the airwaves rocked audiences and captured them with his trademark on-air identifiers. The man who, according to Jet, often claimed to “put a glide in your slide and a dip in your hip” set standards for deejays and radio stations across the nation and forever changed the voice of radio.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Crocker began his career in radio at WUFO while studying law at the University of Buffalo. Crocker worked for radio stations in cities like Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but it was in his home state of New York that his career took flight.
In the late 1960s, WMCA, a New York radio station with a white air staff and audience decided to expand its market. Crocker was the man for the job. The move allowed the station and Crocker to cross listenership lines and reduce formatting restrictions. After proving his credibility at WMCA, Crocker was hired as the programming director and a deejay at WLIB-AM in 1971. WLIB-AM, a black-formatted radio station, later became WBLS, and Crocker hosted the afternoon drive-time slot from 4-8 p.m.—a time slot he kept throughout his tenure with WBLS.
No stranger to New York’s nightlife, Crocker was known to promote music at clubs like Leviticus, The Paradise Garage, and Studio 54. As a fan of underground music, he developed his diverse radio format. Through a mix of genres including R&B, rock, pop, and disco, Crocker featured artists like Donna Summer, the O’Jays, DEVO, and Queen, which laid the groundwork for his creation of the phrase “urban contemporary.” Crocker used this term to describe his unique format.
Crocker was known for introducing and promoting unusual hits like Donna Summers’ provocative and controversial “Love to Love You Baby” during his show. Crocker’s willingness to break such hits “reflected a commitment of quality that refused to be limited by the prevailing racial, socioeconomic, or cultural stereotypes of the day,” Carol Cooper wrote in The Village Voice. Unfortunately, his commitment to providing exposure for unknown artists once landed him in court.
In the mid 1970s, Crocker was indicted in Newark, New Jersey after allegations of criminal conduct. He was accused of accepting money from record company representatives to promote their records. Though he denied the charges, Crocker was accused of lying to the
At a Glance…
Born c. 1937, in Buffalo, New York; died October 21, 2000, in Miami, FL; Education: University of Buffalo, attended; University of Southern California, attended.
Career: Radio deejay. WUFO, Buffalo; WZUM, Pittsburgh; WGCI, Chicago; KGFG, California; KUTE, California; WWRL, New York; WMCA, New York; WBLS-FM; VH-1 video jockey; Solid Cold host; Apollo Theater emcee.
Selected Awards: DJ of the Year; Program Director of the Year; Billboard magazine, Celo award.
grand jury. He was convicted, but the decision was later overturned.
Crocker pushed the envelope on radio as a “shock jock,” but to his fans, he was an icon. “I grew up in Gravesend, Brooklyn, an area not known for racial tolerance, but you heard WBLS on every shop you went into. They loved WBLS, and Frankie Crocker was the king,” New York radio personality Ray Rossi told the Los Angeles Times.
Crocker’s listeners were as diverse as the music he played, but he represented more than music to the black community. Without many blacks in media positions, early deejays for black radio stations became the reporters, activists, and leaders of the community. Public airwaves were used as a channel for the civil rights movement. Crocker became the community’s link to many issues of the time.
Crocker was also known for his ability to reach his listeners’ imagination. One fan recalled a recurring performance, which he wrote about on www.soul-patrol.com: “Frankie had this thing he did (with a female guest) where he would ’take a bath’ with a lady—complete with the sounds of running, dripping, and splashing water, wringing washcloths—the works!” Randy Muller, producer and former leader of Brass Construction, remembered women rushing home to take candlelight baths with Crocker by radio. Crocker would actually light a candle in the studio for to enhance his act.
Crocker, had taken WBLS to No. 1 in ratings among 18-34 year olds within five years of being hired, but he left the station after the grand jury investigation. The man known to radio land as Chief Rocker, Hollywood, and Love Man, went to rival station WKRS, or KISS-FM, but after WBLS’s ratings dropped, the station brought Crocker back. The deejay whose off-air flamboyance often included full-length furs and expensive cars, would not return to WBLS discreetly. Adorned in a tuxedo, Crocker announced his return by riding into the Studio 54 nightclub on a white horse. Crocker left WBLS again, but in 1995, after plummeting to No. 13 from No. 5 in the Arbitron ratings, WBLS turned to the man who had twice put them on top. Crocker took over his old drive-time spot and served as programming director, once again.
About four years later, he left New York for Los Angeles to pursue a different venue. He became a born-again Christian and signed on as the host of a gospel radio show. He also hosted a Saturday night countdown show for New York’s KISS-FM.
While radio dominated Crocker’s career, he also pursued other avenues of media. Crocker emceed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, hosted the 1980s hit television show Solid Gold, and was one of VH-l’s first video jockeys. He also hit the big screen, appearing in five films that included Cleopatra Jones and Darktown Strutters. Crocker’s professional accomplishments were rewarded when he was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Billboard magazine.
In 2000 the voice that so many Americans had grown up with was silenced. The living legend died after being hospitalized for four weeks in a Miami hospital. Crocker had been battling pancreatic cancer—a secret he held from his family and friends. A true pioneer of his trade, Crocker may have predicted the impact of his accomplishments when on the album, The Best of Frankie Crocker, he proclaimed: “…before me there were none; after me there shall be no more.”
Broadcasting & Cable, November 6, 2000, p.74. Jet, November 6, 2000, p. 57.
Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2000, p. B-6.
New York Times, October 24, 2000, p. C-23.
The Village Voice, November 1-7, 2000.
—Shellie M. Saunders
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