Tag Archives: Frankie Crocker

Hank Spann On The Big 16

I keep asking my friends who book talk shows to connect me with Reverend Al Sharpton.

I don’t want to ask  about what he’s currently working on or stuff about Tawana Brawley.

Reverend Sharpton used to hang out and even preach on WWRL.  That’s what interests me.

He was there back in the day when WWRL was New York’s Soul Powerhouse.

I want to hear what it was like to be part of such a legend.

It had incredible jocks.  Better than many of those great Top 40 stations we remember.

I was a not so funky, rather clunky kid living in the New Jersey suburbs.  The kind whose best friend was a worn out Motorola transistor radio.

WWRL was located in Woodside Queens and during the day it put a good signal into my neighborhood.  It was gone with the pattern change at sundown.

So unless you grew up around New York City, WWRL probably never made it into your radio listening.

Great Top 40 jocks came out of RL.  Frankie Crocker, Al Gee and Chuck Leonard come to mind.

But the rest of the staff was special too.  Each a personality within a tight format.  This was Bill Drake meeting  Soul Radio, at least to an extent.

The line-up included Gregory, known as The Dixie Drifter, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Gary Byrd with The GBE, and Hank Spann.

Spann was my all time favorite.

The ‘Soul Server’ as he was known could work the intro of a record like nobody’s business.  He was amazing.

Hank passed this week after battling a variety of health issues during the past year.

Sadly others like Gregory and Frankie Crocker are gone too.  Al Gee is said to have his own health troubles.

WWRL will always stand out to me as the best of the best.

Hank Spann was right on top.

I can still hear him ending a show….“Two steps to the rear and I’m outta here….”

The streets will be a little quieter now.

And somewhere a big station just added a great jock to the line-up.


Posted by on October 15, 2009 in Radio programming


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“Back In Time You Scratchy Old Record”

All of us that love radio have one station that stands out in our memory.

The station that caught our ear and will forever mean something whenever we hear the call letters mentioned.

For me, that station is WWRL.

In the 1960s and 70s WWRL was as great a station as WABC, CKLW, KHJ, WFIL, and WLS.   Unless you grew up around New York it’s a station you might not know.

WWRL broadcast from Woodside Queens on 1600 with 5,000 watts.  Not exactly prime real estate on the radio band.

I grew up in the suburbs of North Jersey.   Not exactly in the prime coverage area of the station.

It was the first Soul Station I ever heard.  I’m sure it’s the reason The Dells, The Originals and Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band are still some of my favorites.

In those days, I always had a Motorola AM transistor radio with me.  I do mean always.

It was good enough to pick up the signal until the pattern change at dark.

WWRL had an amazing talent line up in that era.

The morning show was hosted by “The Dixie Drifter”, Enoch Hawthorne Gregory.

Jeff Troy who later worked at WRKS did midday, Jerry B afternoons.

Al G later on WPIX worked there, as did Chuck Leonard of WABC.

One of the most outstanding talents was Gary Byrd.  His ‘Gary Byrd Experience’ or GBE was the first time I  heard someone rap.

Gary did his own rap bits and later recorded an album for RCA.

Then there was “The Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker.

Fast Frankie was one of my early heroes on WMCA, but he had left WWRL by the time I discovered the station.

These guys all had personality.  Frankie needs no introduction.  He was one of a kind.

“If Frankie Crocker’s not on your radio, your radio’s not really on”.

I still have the letter written on WMCA letterhead when he wrote back to me about how to get into radio.

Go to college was his suggestion.

Perhaps my all time favorite on WWRL was Hank Spann, “The Soul Server”.

Hank had a huge voice, I loved how he’d work the records with rhyme.  He was tight too. I never heard him miss a post.

I was thinking about Hank and all of the greats at WWRL today because his son Tone sent an email saying his Dad’s health isn’t so good.

Hank suffered a stroke and congestive heart failure earlier this year.  He struggles with Alzheimer’s now.

Keep him in your prayers.

And as Fast Frankie would say,


“May you live to be a hundred, and me a hundred minus day.  So I’ll never know that good people like you have passed away.”

“Peace, Love, Truth and Soul.

How I’d love to hear him introduce an oldie right now.

“Back in time you scratchy old record….”

The Soul Server is one of a kind.


Posted by on September 23, 2008 in Radio programming


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HD You Ain’t No XM, Or FM

The first FM radio that I remember listening to was a Heathkit my Dad built in the mid 60s.

FM was still a novelty then and factory made stereo receivers were very expensive.

The Heathkit was a way to get a good stereo at reasonable cost.

The New York FM stations at that time were an after though to their big AM sisters.

But the programming was interesting.  This was new territory and everyone was experimenting.

The FCC had limits as to how much programming could be simulcast. So FM stations had to offer something different at least part of the day.

While my parents liked the easy listening on WTFM, WRFM and WVNJ, the rock stations caught my ear.

WABC the big top 40 station had a different version of the AM format on FM for a while.  There was even “The Other Dan Ingram Show” which I believe featured jazz.

Ingram was the afternoon drive personality on WABC AM.

WABC FM  later changed to a progressive rock format called “Love’ with Bob Lewis and Brother John.  Lewis   doubled as a weekend jock on WABC AM.  This was the first real attempt at formatting album rock.

WNEW  FM experimented with an ‘all female  talent line-up in the mid 60s with comedian Peggy Cass, Allison Steele and Sally Jesse Raphael  part of it.   WNEW later shifted to a AOR format and certainly was the most popular station in our high school.

Murray the K, Rosko and others did an early progressive rock presentation  on WOR-FM  until it became  the “Big Town Sound” as a Drake formatted Top 40.

WCBS FM tried a few formats including progressive rock with jocks like Bob Lewis, Tom Clay, Bobby “Your Wizard’s Here” Wayne and Gus Gossert until changing to oldies in the early 70s.

Our local FM station WDHA experimented with a mix of jazz, classical and pop.  By the mid 70s they were deep into the quad sound playing several hours of Quadraphonic music each night.

The entire dial was open to experimentation.

There was a time in the early 70s that WLIB FM (now WBLS) signed on at noon and played jazz all day.

WBAI owned by Pacifica was as radical as any station you’ve ever heard.

All of this was so different from the AM band then and today’s FM that it’s hard to even describe now.

FM was the exciting frontier.  AM was establishment.

Many AM operators simply handed their FMs to the kids to program.  The owners didn’t know what to do or didn’t really care.

Looking back, FM had a huge advantage.  It was run by outsiders who didn’t know there were any rules.

This weekend I decided to give HD a fair shot and thorough listening.

I mentioned in this blog Radio Shack is clearing out HD radios for $82 that once sold for $299.  Worst case I’ll finally have a radio for my office at work.  A low risk investment at that price.

There are several $300 radios in my collection, by Sony, Eton and others.  The Boston Acoustics Radio HD Radio is simply not in their league.  No wonder it’s on clearance.

Every radio I own picks up dozens more stations off their whip antennas than this one does with the supplied dipole.  Now I see why they tried to sell me a $30 external antenna.

The AM section is very poor.

WOAI is 50KW and exactly 100 miles from my home.  It fades in and out on this radio.

WOAI puts a  solid signal on the $30 Sony pocket radio I found at Walmart, but not on this $300 marvel.

Please note, the term ‘marvel’ is used with a little sarcasm at this point in the blog.

The poor dear is what DX’ers call, deaf.

Why would someone from the general public buy one especially at full price?

I don’t know.

To make matters worse, there’s nothing for them to listen to here in Austin.

KUT has two HD channels but either they don’t reach my home,  nineteen miles from Austin or the HD is off.

There are a handful of HD-2 music formats on the air.  All sound like little effort has gone into them.

I didn’t need a whole weekend of listening to figure that out.

HD seems to be run by people who know too much about radio or worse, the accounting department.

They are applying a business model and ‘metrics’ before the art has taken hold.

Sadly, the HD channels sound more stale than the main channels.

The HD oldies channel uses the liner “Good Times and Great Oldies” .

Talk about fifteen years behind the curve.

HD needs the same kind of free thinking FM had it the early days.  Give it over to people who aren’t  locked into traditional business models, and outdated research methods.

Here are my suggestions for programming HD.

Ban sweepers, station image voices and all liners that were ever used on FM.

Think talent.

Start fresh.

Hand a channel over to a group of teens or twenty somethings.   Let them figure it out.

No rules.

Just tell them to make something happen.

Wait five years and see what develops.

Give HD the chance to be the creative playground that allowed FM to develop.

What happened to those stations?

  • WCBS FM became a great oldies station partly because of the success Gus Gossert had with his weekend show.
  • WABC FM became a solid progressive rock station, later known as WPLJ.
  • WNEW FM became a legend.   Then a big company killed the golden goose.
  • WOR FM, went from Top 40 format under Drake, to WXLO, 99X, and eventually KISS adult urban contemporary.
  • WLIB became WBLS  with Frankie Crocker’s “Black Experience In Sound” format and a market leader for years.
  • WDHA became more AC then rock in the late 70s and continues today.
  • WBAI.  Radical as ever.

Not bad for a little experimentation.

Remember FM was the 25 year overnight success.

You’ll never get people to want it by giving them a watered down version of the same old stuff.

Think fresh.

And get out of the way.

Oh, and one more thing.

Build some radios that work, at a good price.


Posted by on September 7, 2008 in Radio programming


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Big Ron O’Brien and Great Talent

Ron O’Brien’s passing last week caused a flurry of activity on the web from people looking for information about him.

Ron was a brilliant talent. My favorite memories of him were from his shows on WCFL.

Radio is missing that kind of exciting talent today.

Granted we’re in a completely different era of radio programming than the great top 40 years of the sixties and seventies. There are few truely original talents on today’s radio.

In the ‘old days’, radio was full of characters and innovators.

Frankie Crocker was an early radio hero of mine. I first noticed him on WMCA and never heard his work on WWRL. But after hearing him on WMCA, I decided to see what RL was all about.

WWRL had an incredible talent line-up that included morning man Gregory, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Al G, Hank Spann and the amazing Gary Byrd. In fact that might be one of the top five best talent line-ups of the era.

Gary Byrd was extremely innovative. He did rap, before anyone knew what it was.

There were so many others in that period.

Jackson Armstrong was a powerhouse jock on WKBW in a line-up that included Danny Nevrith and Sandy Beach to name just two greats heard there.

Armstrong’s fast pace was unlike any other fast talking jock at the time and he was very funny.

Dr. Don Rose combined funny and corny on WFIL. He was an excellent morning man for the time. WFIL had all-stars in every day part. It was the tightest top 40 station with amazing song to song production.

Bill Bailey at WAKY was another who could not be copied. His grumpy rants were hysterical. WAKY’s afternoon guy Gary Burbank was pretty incredible too. ‘Hall Of Fame’ talent on one station in little ol’ Louisville.

There were great jocks in lots of smaller and medium markets.

WARM Scranton was an outstanding station. Harry West did mornings and their whole line-up was solid.

WDRC Hartford, WNHC New Haven, WAEB Allentown and WEEX Easton all had excellent talent.

Almost every town had at least one outstanding station.

Top 40 didn’t have all the talent.

WNEW had an outstanding MOR line-up including the very funny Gene Klavin in mornings.

Jean Shepherd’s late night talk show on WOR got more buzz around Roxbury High School than Cousin Bruce did on WABC. Shep was different. He talked to you like the conversation was just between you and him.

Think about it.

These were high school kids listening to a talk show on WOR. It was your grandmother’s station, except between 10:15 and 11 each night.

KDKA had Jack Bogut in mornings who had a knack for keeping you sitting in the car until his ‘home movie’ was finished. Bogut was as warm and relatable a talent as you’ve ever heard.

Radio encouraged innovation in those days, because it had to.

The era of great radio personalities began as television was stealing the big stars from radio. That’s when Alan Freed, Mad Daddy and Jack Sterling became important. It was a new style, and total departure from radio of the 1940s.

We need that again.

I don’t mean we must find the next Alan Freed. We need the next era of innovation that will capture the imagination of the audience.

Maverick owners like Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon encouraged innovation. They loved big promotions, big talent, lots of excitement and loved taking chances.

I’m not sure either Storz or McLendon could tell you much about accounting.

They sure understood the audience.

No one sitting in the ‘big chair’ at any major radio group can make that claim today.


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