The New York Times
October 24, 2000
Frankie Crocker, a Champion of
Black-Format Radio, Dies
By MONTE WILLIAMS
rankie Crocker, a veteran radio
broadcaster and program director who helped catapult WBLS-FM, the black-music
format radio station, to the No. 1 spot among listeners ages 18 to 34 in New
York City twice in the last three decades, died Saturday of pancreatic cancer.
His age was uncertain.
For the past four weeks, Mr. Crocker had been
hospitalized in a Miami area hospital, where he died. He had kept his illness
a secret from his friends and even from his mother, a former colleague of Mr.
Crocker's told The Associated Press.
On the air, he sometimes called
himself the Chief Rocker, and he was as well known for his self-aggrandizing
on-air patter as for his off-air flamboyance. He wore his hair long and drove
flashy cars. When Studio 54 was at the height of its popularity, Mr. Crocker
rode in through the front entrance on a white stallion.
"He knew how
to attract attention," said Hal Jackson, a venerable
broadcaster and group chairman of Inner City Broadcasting, the owner of WBLS.
"We called him Hollywood."
In the studio, before he left for the day,
Mr. Crocker would light a candle and invite female listeners to enjoy a
candlelight bath with him.
He actually did light a candle. Sound
effects simulated running water.
Mr. Crocker, a native of Buffalo,
coined the phrase "urban contemporary" in the 1970's, a label for the
eclectic mix of songs that he played (everybody "from James Brown to Dinah Shore,"
as Mr. Jackson said).
Mr. Crocker, who last worked for WBLS about four
years ago before moving to California, played a recurring role in a pitched
battle for audiences among New York's black-oriented radio stations.
After first joining WBLS in the 1970's, he left the station twice and
was rehired in 1995 as both D.J. and program director to regain listeners
who had defected to rival WRKS, better known as KISS-FM. "We'll be planning
our work, then working our plan," he said
in an interview that year.
He was rehired by WBLS as part of efforts
to bring the station back to the top spot in the metropolitan region, most
recently in the mid-1990's, when it fell from No. 5 to No. 13 in the Arbitron
In the mid-1970's, Mr. Crocker was indicted in Newark on
charges of making false statements before a federal grand jury investigating
allegations of criminal conduct in the recording industry. Mr. Crocker was
accused of lying to the grand jury when he denied receiving money from record
company representatives to promote their records. He was convicted, but the
conviction was later overturned.
Mr. Crocker worked most recently in
California on a gospel radio show and in New York on a Saturday night countdown
show on the rhythm and blues station KISS-FM.
Mr. Crocker was also
employed by stations in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago.
He was the
master of ceremonies of shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and was one of
the first V.J.'s on VH-1, the video cable channel. He also played host of the
TV show "Solid Gold."
As an actor, Mr. Crocker appeared in five films,
including "Cleopatra Jones" and "Darktown Strutters."
He is survived
by his 82-year-old mother, Frances Crocker. Funeral arrangements in Florida
were incomplete. A memorial service in New York is planned later.