Early soul radio
According to popeducation.org, Crocker began his career in Buffalo at the AM Soul powerhouse WUFO (also the home to future greats Gerry Bledsoe, Eddie O'Jay, Herb Hamlett, Gary Byrd and Chucky T) before moving to Manhattan, where he first worked for Soul station WWRL and later top-40 WMCA in 1969. He then worked for WBLS-FM as program director, taking that station to the top of the ratings during the late 1970s and pioneering the radio format now known as urban contemporary. He sometimes called himself the "Chief Rocker", and he was as well known for his boastful on-air patter as for his off-air flamboyance.
"Moody's Mood for Love"
When Studio 54 was at the height of its popularity, Crocker rode in through the front entrance on a white stallion. In the studio, before he left for the day, Crocker would light a candle and invite female listeners to enjoy a candlelight bath with him. He signed off the air each night to the tune "Moody's Mood For Love" by vocalese crooner King Pleasure. Crocker, a native of Buffalo, coined the phrase "urban contemporary" in the 1970s, a label for the eclectic mix of songs that he played.
He’d been the program director at WWRL-AM and felt held back by what he considered to be the narrow perspective of the station. Back then New York political and media don, Percy Sutton, had control of two soul stations on the dial, WLIB-AM, and WLIB-FM. The latter eventually became WBLS-FM 107.5, the call letters where Frankie changed the way people listened to the music played by black artists forever. He was not just breaking records but educating and breaking movements. WBLS was first to play all the soul music coming out of England. First station to play Soul II Soul, Loose Ends, Five Star, Level 42, Junior, Heaven 17, and Mica Paris to name a few.
The station broke Blondie, Madonna, Shannon, D Train, all Arthur Baker records, The System, Colonel Abrams, Alicia Myers and supermodel Grace Jones. He made, “Love is the Message” by MSFB NYC’s unofficial anthem on the radio. WBLS airplay made “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead a favorite cookout, church, wedding and graduation song. The Frankie Crocker show made “Set It Off” by Strafe a club classic that people still play to this day. "The Magnificent Seven" by the Clash became a hot song in the Black Community. He gave America exposure to an obscure genre called "Reggae" and a little known Jamaican rocker named Bob Marley. Fatback Band frontman Bill Curtis credited Crocker with breaking the group in New York.
There were Friday afternoons in the city when the weather was warm and you could hear Frankie coming from every car, cab, UPS truck, or any boom-box that urbanites had set up while they worked getting pumped up for the weekend activities. If it was a cookout or in just the park, ‘BLS and Frankie Crocker would set you straight. It was Urban Contemporary and it was the vibe of the city.
TV and film career
Crocker was the master of ceremonies of shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and was one of the first VJs on VH-1, the cable music video channel, in addition to hosting the TV series Solid Gold and NBC's Friday Night Videos. As an actor, Crocker appeared in five films, including Cleopatra Jones (1973), Five on the Black Hand Side (1973), and Darktown Strutters (Get Down and Boogie) (1975).
He is credited with introducing as many as 30 new artists to the mainstream, including Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" to American audiences. While both Gary Byrd and Herb Hamlett were influenced by Crocker, it is only Hamlett who always attributes his success to his mentor in Buffalo, Frankie Crocker.
Crocker was indicted in a 1976 payola investigation; he was convicted of lying about taking cash and drugs. The station dropped him, and he moved to L.A., returning to school. The conviction was later overturned, but his notoriety and high life at his mansion had its downturns. He was charged in 1983 with hitting a girlfriend, Penthouse Pet Carmela Pope, but the charges were later dropped. He also was mentioned as a paramour of, and suspect in the murder of, young Hollywood starlet Christa Helm. He suggested in the mid-'90s that his profile often made him a target. But, he said, he never lost confidence in himself, even when others called it arrogance. "If you mean do I know how good I am," he said in 1995, "I do. I know my value." After the payola charges were overturned he returned to New York radio in 1979, at the end of the disco era.
In October 2000, Crocker went into a Miami area hospital for several weeks. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and kept the illness a secret from his friends and even from his mother. He died on Saturday, October 21, 2000. His friend and former boss Bob Law, a onetime program director of WWRL, said Crocker understood how radio could go beyond music to reflect listeners' lives and culture. "He encompassed all of the urban sophistication," Law said in a NY Daily News article: "He appreciated the culture, the whole urban experience, and he wove it together. That's missing now, even in black radio."
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