It’s hard to believe, but this October will mark 10 years since the death of legendary announcer, Frankie Crocker. He was one of the pioneers of broadcasting that has influenced our Internet radio station over the years. During the 70’s, Crocker made a name for himself as a disc jockey and became a New York City broadcasting icon.
Crocker sometimes called himself the “Chief Rocker” as well as “Hollywood”. He was well known for his boastful on-air chatter, as well as his off-air flamboyance. He enjoyed driving fast cars and wore his hair long, but he was very passionate about the music he played on the air.
He got his start in Buffalo in the late 60’s before moving on to WWRL-AM in New York. He was then hired at WMCA in 1969, which at the time was a Top-40 radio station and was on it’s last legs before switching to a talk format.
In 1971, Crocker moved on to WLIB-FM, where he became the station’s afternoon disc jockey. In 1974, the station’s call letters changed to WBLS and Crocker became it’s Program Director. Crocker was credited with defining what became the radio station’s signature “Urban Contemporary” sound, a phrase he coined himself.
The format was a mix of R&B, rock, Latin, disco, jazz. It was also common to hear other unconventional artists, such as Fleetwood Mac and Frank Sinatra, as well. Crocker is also credited with introducing as many as 30 new artists to the mainstream including Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” to American audiences.
Before his show ended each day, Crocker would light a candle and invite female listeners to enjoy a candlelight bath with him. He then signed off each night to the tune, “Moody’s Mood For Love” by crooner, King Pleasure.
Crocker served three stints at WBLS during his career, including in 1977, where he celebrated his return by entering the legendary nightclub “Studio 54” on a white horse. In 1978, Crocker’s vision as Program Director was clearly responsible for bringing WBLS to the top of the ratings charts, knocking off long time rating champ, WABC-AM.
In addition to his regular duties, Crocker became one of the first V.J.’s on cable channel, VH-1. He also played host of the TV show, Solid Gold, and NBC’s Friday Night Videos. As an actor, Crocker appeared in five films, including “Cleopatra Jones”, “Five on the Black Hand Side”, and “Darktown Strutters”.
He left WBLS for good in the mid-90’s. Crocker died of pancreatic cancer on October 21st, 2000 in North Miami Beach, Florida at the age of 62. So secretive was Crocker about his fatal illness that even his own mother didn’t know.
If you’ve never experienced Frankie Crocker in the past, now’s your chance to hear him. I’ve enclosed two links to airchecks from back in 1969 during his days at WMCA. The first, a one hour air check of the “Chief Rocker” courtesy of WFMU.org. The other is courtesy of Rockradioscrapbook.ca.
Crocker’s legendary style is something that’s clearly missing in black radio, something I don’t think we’ll ever find again. He was a true radio legend.