The RFFocus Top 10 Programmers of All Time Winners are here. In the urban industry, we are often not COLLECTIVELY appreciated enough now that the conferences are no longer around (which by the way I am being asked more and more to do one). This poll was not a political move or money making idea as much as it was a way for YOU, members of our industry, to take part in honoring ALL OF THOSE who have made a difference in urban radio.. at one time. Thanks for your participation and at the end of the year, we will do another poll that centers on The 2011 Top 10 Urban PDs… this was the one to get the ball rolling and IT DID!
You are free to add comments for the various winner’s posting with Facebook comments at the bottom.
LET ME STATE THIS ONE TIME ONLY… RFFocus , kevRoss nor any staff member choose the nominees or voted in this process. We allowed the industry to create the nominees as well as vote for these candidates and these are the winners. If you don’t like the winners, ask yourself one question before you post a negative comment… did YOU vote? Now lets move on to the qualifications and the winners.Be Well. Kev Ross
(For Vets not currently working as programmers use points in past tense)
- Is the Programmer a PROGRAMMER?
- How well does the PD get along with others?
- Does he or she have an open door policy?
- Is he or she receptive to new ideas
- Is he or she respectful to others?
- Is he or she aggressive or passive when it comes to the corporation and the needs for his or her particular station?
- Is he or she a man or woman of their word?
- Does he or she inspire and motivate staff?
- Does he or she go the extra mile?
- Does he or she have great ideas and implementation of those ideas?
- Does he or she treat radio staff fairly
- If this PD lost his or her job would you want to see them get another job?
- How do you perceive this programmer?
- Does this programmer have a respectful reputation?
- Would you recommend this programmer for an opportunity?
Below are the results of the voting. Many other programmers, record reps, DJs, jocks, various people at industry corporations, celebrities, industry vets and more voted over the last two months. The honorable mentions below got significant votes as well. The RFFocus Top 10 Urban Programmers of All Time are….
#10 James Alexander
James has a 40+ year broadcasting career. He began (afternoon drive) as a senior in high school in hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio (WCIN Radio) Later moved to the night (6p-10p) shift to appeal to the younger demo Air name at the time – Jimmy Wonder, the teenage ball of thunder Les Brown (same one, who was on the radio in Columbus, Ohio at the time) recorded an intro for me… Jimmy Wonder, the ball of thunder, men’s threat, ladies pet, lover’s supreme, every girl’s dream… After 4 1/2 years, I took my act 50 miles up the road and to FM at WDAO in Dayton, Ohio Then to New Orleans (WBOK), then WBMX – Chicago where after 2 years became the PD when Earnest L James left & went across the street to Gannett (WVON / WGCI) as GM From there I traveled back to New Orleans (WYLD – working for Brute Bailey); to Houston (KRLY – working for Steve Harris) And then in 1982… the “Big Time” — WJLB in Detroit for 8 years where we took the station to #1 overall and left it there From there…WGCI (Chicago) where Tom Joyner & Doug Banks both worked for me KKDA-Fm (K104) in Dallas — Joyner was my morning man then Augusta, GA — Regional Operations position for Greg Davis (Davis Broadcasting); back to Detroit (WCHB) for Terry Arnold at Bell Broadcasting later sold to Radio One Back south to Citadel’s Baton Rouge & Lafayette, LA properties as the Urban Operations Manager to URBan Radio Broadcasting (Kevin Wagner)as Regional Operations Manager to my present position w/ Cumulus as the OM for the Mobile properties and most recently the PD of our urban ac in Pensacola Programming philosophy (in a few words) — preparation, execution & consistency
#9 Ron Atkins
Ron Atkins (Atkinson) began his broadcasting career in his hometown of Buffalo, NY in 1978. Unbeknownst to many his first experience was when he was a part time maintenance kid cleaning floors at night at radio station WEBR AM in Buffalo. Ron Begged and pleaded for an internship at the nationally famous pitstop for some of the nation’s greatest jock talent WUFO in Buffalo. He got it and Ron quickly moved up the ladder to management and he was then offered the PD position at Buffalo’s WBLK. Ron’s good friend Jim Snowden persuaded him to try the major markets. Atkins then continued to excell in the business moving and winning from market to market in many cases setting rating’s records. Atkins has programmed WBLK/BUFALO, KMJM/ST.LOUIS, KMJQ/HOUSTON,WOWI/NORFOLK, WVAZ’CHICAGO,WAMO/PITTSBURGH
“I only expected to stay there a few years and then move on to something bigger as far as markets go” SAYS ATKINS! IN 1995. While programming at nationally acclaimed WAMO AM/FM, Ron worked closely with station president/GM Alan Lincoln. There the stations prospered consistently over a seven year period. Then abruptly in 2002, Ron accepted a PD gig with Sheridan Broadcasting parent company American Urban Radio Networks. Ron enjoyed a 3 year run as head of programming for AURN . In 2006 the programming bug bit again and Ron was lured back to Sheridan and WAMO overseeing the entire programming operation which included WUFO/BUFFALO. WAMO AM & FM/PITTSBURGH, WIGO/ATLANTA AND WATV/BIRMINGHAM, WPGR/PITTSBURGH.
RONS AWARDS INCLUDE:
*INDUCTED INTO THE BUFALO NY RADIO HALL OF FAME
*NATIONAL PROGRAM DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR MAJOR MARKET STATION (4 TIMES)
* INSIDE RADIO NATIONAL PUBLICATION, THE TOP 10 PDS IN AMERICA
*NATIONALLY SYNDICATED BILLBOARD MAGAZINE -BROADCASTER OF THE WEEK (SEVERAL TIMES
#8 Tony Gray
Tony Gray has been a Chicago resident for the past fourteen years. His love of music helped to inspire his career in radio, beginning at KWK in St. Louis.
His professional career began as a Personality at WGOK in Mobile and WEZB New Orleans. He then advanced to Program Director at WTKL Baton Rouge, KMJM St. Louis, WDRQ Detroit, WUSL Philadelphia, and New York’s WRKS.
In 1990, Tony formed Gray Communications; an independent consulting firm that has helped create dozens of radio success stories, produced and directed videos and spring boarded the careers of numerous R&B and hip hop artists.
#7 Skip Dillard
Skip Dillard is the Operations Manager of WBLS/WLIB New York. Born in Queens and raised in Greensboro North Carolina. Dillard got his start in high school through a friend of his mother who trained students in radio at North Carolina A&T State University’s WNAA-FM. While a student at Hampton University, Skip found part-time on air work at WOWI-FM in nearby Norfolk VA. After graduation Skip began his radio career at WQMG/WJMH Greensboro and WYLD-FM New Orleans as a DJ, eventually moving up to Program Director of WYLD in 1993. Over the years Dillard has programmed stations in Detroit, Buffalo, San Francisco and Washington DC. Skip spent one year away from radio in 2003 to write for Billboard Magazine as Top 40/Urban Editor for Airplay Monitor. In his spare time Dillard loves photography, travel, reading and playing the piano. Skip’s wife of 10 years (Esther) is a former TV reporter/anchor. They have a 2 year old son. See Skip Dillard’s interview in RFFocus for the contest here.
#6 Vinny Brown
Vinny Brown has programmed outside of New York, but no one can deny he has had an impressive impact on the Big Apple more than any place else. Brown programmed at WRKS-FM (Kiss-FM 98.7) in the late ’80s, early ’90s. He went from there and brought WBLS back to the top of the ratings. Currently he’s Executive Vice President of KJLH in Los Angeles. Thanks to the Living Legends Foundation for the bio on Vinny.
#5 Barry Mayo
Barry A. Mayo has been the President of Radio Division at Radio One Inc. since August 7, 2007. Mr. Mayo served as a Consultant to Radio One Inc. since July 2006. He served as a Program Director and his reputation as an Innovative Radio Programmer spread quickly throughout the Industry. In the 1980s, he helped create one of the largest urban stations in the Country, WRKS-FM, in New York. Mr. Mayo served as a Vice President and General Manager of Programming Staff at WRKS-FM. … In 1988, he Co-founded Broadcast Partners. Originally a five-station network, Broadcast Partners grew under his guidance into an eleven-station, publicly traded Company with stations in Dallas, New York, Chicago and Charlotte. He also founded Mayomedia, a Media Consulting Firm specializing in Urban Markets. He served as a Senior Vice President and Market Manager of Emmis Radio, New York from 2003 to 2006. Mr. Mayo has over 30 years of Operating experience including almost eight as the President of a successful, publicly-traded pure play Radio Group, Broadcast Partners. Mayo’s bio courtesy of (link) Some of the comments we got on Mayo…
“Barry Mayo has been very influential in my career and countless others.”
“Barry Mayo is one of the most strategic programmers that I’ve been around. He has the ability to analyze the market, competition, and chart a plan of attack, and never without staff input.”
“Barry Mayo is a great programmer, he is innovative, he listen to the streets, he trusted retail reports. Back in the day in Chicago at WGCI, radio was great.”
“Barry Mayo-won & created two legendary stations WRKS/NY & WVAZ/Chicago”
#4 Doc Wynter
Doc Wynter is currently the VP of Urban Programming for iHeartmedia (formerly Clear Channel). Doc Wynter was hired after his graduation from college as a programmer – computer, that is. It didn’t take long, though, for his deep love of music and interest in communicating on the radio to take his career in a totally different direction. Today Wynter is one of radio’s most respected PDs. As VP/Urban Programming for iHeartmedia (formerly Clear Channel) Radio, he oversees a plethora of Urban and Gospel stations.
Getting into the business: “I was a computer major with a minor in economics in college. A buddy of mine worked at our college radio station, and I worked with him there a couple of times. I grew up with radio, and I loved music. One spring break my friend couldn’t come back in time to do his show, so the person who did the show after his moved up and did his show, and I filled in for that person. The moment I turned on the microphone, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
While researching bio information on Doc I came across this great article from 2005 here.
#3 Elroy Smith
Say what you will, but through all the ups and downs and good and bad and ugly and beautiful in urban radio, Elroy Smith continues to stay on top of American radio programming without batting an eye, at the same time developing as an entrepreneur with his own radio station in his native Bermuda.
Smith was born and raised on the island of Bermuda, the youngest of six children born to Ismay and Littenfield Smith. He wasn’t excited about school as a child, and in fact, preferred doing just about anything over studying and behaving in class. As a teenager, he began to develop a keen interest in music. He joined a singing group, the Universal Five, which soon became the Universal Four when Smith was fired! He decided to look at other ways to get involved in the music business.
Smith’s fascination with radio led him to ZFB in Bermuda, where he was told by the PD that he would never make it because of his inability to read. Determined, Smith went to New York to attend Announcer’s Training School, and when he returned home, PD Sergio Dean offered him a part-time job at ZFB as an on-air personality.
Smith wanted to go to college, even though he didn’t have a high school diploma. After getting a letter from a politician and a minister in Bermuda, he was admitted to Graham Junior College in Boston. No one knew his secret, that he was a college student who could not read. So Smith took it upon himself to learn to read, and he did this by reading the encyclopedia every night, teaching himself to read. After finishing the two-year program at Graham, he enrolled at Emerson College seeking a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. At Emerson, he did an air shift on the college station, WERS, and then started an internship at WILD in Boston. Steve Crumbley, who was the PD at the time, offered Smith a slot doing a Caribbean show on the weekends, which eventually led to a full-time air shift. In 1983, Crumbley left the station and Smith was offered the PD position, but there was a major problem now, as his school visa had run out. Ken and Bernadine Nash, who owned and managed WILD at the time, didn’t want to lose the blossoming Smith, so they not only sponsored Smith, they even paid his legal fees, making it possible for him to stay in the United States.
In 1988, Summit Communications hired Smith to program its new station, 100.3 Jamz in Dallas. He ended up back in Boston. Once again an opportunity in another city called, and this time it would be permanent. Smith replaced James Alexander at WGCI in Chicago in 1992 and the station has consistently been a ratings leader in a number of demographics ever since. Smith, in fact, made history in 1993 by carrying WGCI to the No. 1 slot in the metropolitan area for three consecutive ratings periods. He has maintained WGCI as the No. 1 music station in Chicago for the last 13 years.
In November 2000, he also became PD of Urban AC station WVAZ-FM (V103) and maintained it as one of the top adult stations in Chicago. In 2003, WVAZ-FM received the prestigious Marconi Award for Urban Station of the Year from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Smith has received numerous awards and accolades over the years, but he will readily tell you that one of his proudest moments was at the 2005 Grammys, when Alicia Keys thanked him for making sure her award-winning song got played.
In 2007 Smith found himself at the top of the urban hill, AGAIN, as Elroy was named OM of Radio One-Philadelphia, where he also took on programming responsibilities at Gospel WPPZ and Urban AC WRNB as well as overseeing Urban mainstream WPHI. Thanks to The Living Legends Foundation for the bio on Elroy
#2 Frankie Crocker
It is no wonder Frankie Crocker is such a legend in the industry. There has never been nor will there ever be anyone like him. He took chances and refused to live in the usual “black box” SO many urban radio people live in. He took chances and made an indelible impression which is what legends are TRULY made of. He has such an interesting story that I felt we didn’t do him justice when he also won a position in the Top 10 Urban Radio DJs of All Time, To my knowledge he only programmed WBLS and KUTE in LA. We are from the same hometown and I remember him being a star in Buffalo when I was very young so it was an extreme honor to meet him as an adult a couple of times when he was in LA in the 90s after he retired.
Born c. 1937, in Buffalo, New York; died on October 21, 2000, in Miami, FL.
Education: University of Buffalo, attended; University of Southern California, attended.
Radio deejay. WUFO, Buffalo; WZUM, Pittsburgh; WGCI, Chicago; KGFG, California; KUTE, California; WWRL, New York; WMCA, New York; WBLS-FM; VH-1 video jockey; Solid Gold host; Apollo Theater emcee.
Cocker’s famous tagline, “If Frankie Crocker isn’t on your radio, the your radio isn’t really on,” quoted in Jet magazine, epitomized the impact one man had on radio during a career that spanned more than three decades. Credited for coining the phrase “urban contemporary” and known for his radio show, “The Quiet Storm,” Crocker was one of the first deejays to integrate music by black and white artists. With a confidence that bordered on arrogance, this ladies man of the airwaves rocked audiences and captured them with his trademark on-air identifiers. The man who, according to Jet, often claimed to “put a glide in your slide and a dip in your hip” set standards for deejays and radio stations across the nation and forever changed the voice of radio.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Crocker began his career in radio at WUFO while studying law at the University of Buffalo. Crocker worked for radio stations in cities like Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but it was in his home state of New York that his career took flight.
Set New Standards for Radio
In the late 1960s, WMCA, a New York radio station with a white air staff and audience decided to expand its market. Crocker was the man for the job. The move allowed the station and Crocker to cross listenership lines and reduce formatting restrictions. After proving his credibility at WMCA, Crocker was hired as the programming director and a deejay at WLIB-AM in 1971. WLIB-AM, a black-formatted radio station, later became WBLS, and Crocker hosted the afternoon drive-time slot from 4-8 p.m.–a time slot he kept throughout his tenure with WBLS.
No stranger to New York’s nightlife, Crocker was known to promote music at clubs like Leviticus, The Paradise Garage, and Studio 54. As a fan of underground music, he developed his diverse radio format. Through a mix of genres including R&B, rock, pop, and disco, Crocker featured artists like Donna Summer, the O’Jays, DEVO, and Queen, which laid the groundwork for his creation of the phrase “urban contemporary.” Crocker used this term to describe his unique format.
Crocker was known for introducing and promoting unusual hits like Donna Summers’ provocative and controversial “Love to Love You Baby” during his show. Crocker’s willingness to break such hits “reflected a commitment of quality that refused to be limited by the prevailing racial, socioeconomic, or cultural stereotypes of the day,” Carol Cooper wrote in The Village Voice. Unfortunately, his commitment to providing exposure for unknown artists once landed him in court.
In the mid 1970s, Crocker was indicted in Newark, New Jersey after allegations of criminal conduct. He was accused of accepting money from record company representatives to promote their records. Though he denied the charges, Crocker was accused of lying to the grand jury. He was convicted, but the decision was later overturned.
Gained Fans with Unique Style
Crocker pushed the envelope on radio as a “shock jock,” but to his fans, he was an icon. “I grew up in Gravesend, Brooklyn, an area not known for racial tolerance, but you heard WBLS on every shop you went into. They loved WBLS, and Frankie Crocker was the king,” New York radio personality Ray Rossi told the Los Angeles Times.
Crocker’s listeners were as diverse as the music he played, but he represented more than music to the black community. Without many black in media positions, early deejays for black radio stations became the reporters, activists, and leaders of the community. Public airwaves were used as a channel for the civil rights movement. Crocker became the community’s link to many issues of the time.
Crocker was also known for his ability to reach his listeners’ imagination. One fan recalled a recurring performance, which he wrote about on www.soul-patrol.com: “Frankie had this thing he did (with a female guest) where he would ‘take a bath’ with a lady–complete with the sounds of running, dripping, and splashing water, wringing washcloths–the works!” Randy Muller, producer and former leader of Brass Construction, remembered women rushing home to take candlelight baths with Crocker by radio. Crocker would actually light a candle in the studio for to enhance his act.
Crocker, had taken WBLS to No. 1 in ratings among 18-34 year olds within five years of being hired, but he left the station after the grand jury investigation. The man known to radio land as Chief Rocker, Hollywood, and Love Man, went to rival station WKRS, or KISS-FM, but after WBLS’s ratings dropped, the station brought Crocker back. The deejay whose off-air flamboyance often included full-length furs and expensive cars, would not return to WBLS discreetly. Adorned in a tuxedo, Crocker announced his return by riding into the Studio 54 nightclub on a white horse. Crocker left WBLS again, but in 1995, after plummeting to No. 13 from No. 5 in the Arbitron ratings, WBLS turned to the man who had twice put them on top. Crocker took over his old drive-time spot and served as programming director, once again.
Ended Work With WBLS
About four years later, he left New York for Los Angeles to pursue a different venue. He became a born-again Christian and signed on as the host of a gospel radio show. He also hosted a Saturday night countdown show for New York’s KISS-FM.
While radio dominated Crocker’s career, he also pursued other avenues of media. Crocker emceed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, hosted the 1980s hit television show Solid Gold, and was one of VH-1’s first video jockeys. He also hit the big screen, appearing in five films that included Cleopatra Jones and Darktown Strutters. Crocker’s professional accomplishments were rewarded when he was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Billboard magazine.
In 2000 the voice that so many Americans had grown up with was silenced. The living legend died after being hospitalized for four weeks in a Miami hospital. Crocker had been battling pancreatic cancer–a secret he held from his family and friends. A true pioneer of his trade, Crocker may have predicted the impact of his accomplishments when on the album, The Best of Frankie Crocker, he proclaimed: “…before me there were none; after me there shall be no more.” Crocker died of pancreatic cancer on October 21, 2000, in Miami, Florida.
#1 Lee Michaels
Lee Michaels, according to our voters, is by far one of the MOST respected urban programmers in the history of radio. Many commented that they would still love to work with him today, including other programmers and many expressed how much today’s radio needs him. I could not agree more. Here’s Lee’s bio…
At the young age of 12 Lee Michaels became a big fan of Radio, by the time Lee was 15 he had his own radio station broadcasting live from his bedroom. Shortly after that he got his first shot at real radio in his home town of Norfolk, VA. While still in high school Lee worked at a local station holding down the overnight show. Because of his love and passion for radio Lee Micahels knew that’s all he wanted to do. Lee knew this was his career for the rest of his life. Eight years later Lee got a call to work at a major station in St. Louis MO ““ KATZ-AM where he was the afternoon drive jock and within 6 months he was pulling top ratings and one of the most popular jocks in town.
Three years later Lee moved to Atlanta GA to work in the record business as a Regional Promotion manager for Mercury Records. Lee covered 6 states in the southeast working with artist like the Ohio Players, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Styx and others. It was a great experience for Lee working in the record biz but his heart was still in radio.
After working with the Ohio Players on the road for 3 weeks while they toured in the southeast Lee received a call from the Program Director of a major station (99X- WXLO-FM) offing him a job in the big apple. Yes he accepted the job and again had instant success. Lee Michaels had every teen in town tuned in within 3 months.
Lee was on fire with each new station he worked for as a jock and was in high demand. Lee Michaels worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Charlotte, and Washington DC. Lee Michaels also consulted 16 other stations in cities all over the US.
He was very successful in Chicago as a Jock and Program Director of WBMX (now WVAZ ““V103 and WGCI) Lee programed both stations to the number one music stations during the 80’s. He had the same success in San Francisco with KMEL-FM. After leaving KMEL to return to Chicago he became radio’s two million dollar man. Lee Michaels made history earning more money as a Program Director then any one, and that record still stands today.
While still in radio he found a new passion in computers and software in 1981 he started a computer company CompuOne Network selling and repairing PC’s by 1997 the company moved in to the Internet Business as a web site design and hosting company. Lee Micahels still own this company and it is one of the oldest minority owned Hosting companies in America. Lee Michaels launched an Internet talk network in June 2008 USTalkNetwork.com and in the process of offering syndicated shows to radio stations.
Lee Micahels is into technology and has always been on the cutting edge introducing new ways in getting the job done. He was one of the first programmers to computerize the stations playlist. Lee is now devolping a new web site and web application that will inform the public of new music releases, new movies, new technology and new fashion. Lee Michaels is like hip hop he don’t stop look for him to continue being a visionary and innovator.
UPDATE: See our interview with Lee Michaels here
Jerry Boulding /The Doc