The New York Times
October 24, 2000

Frankie Crocker, a Champion of Black-Format Radio, Dies


Frankie 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 ratings.

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.