Dialed IN Radio: Frank Ski knows and cares about his urban Baltimore audience. His listeners return the favor, following the life of the party to 92-Q.

March 11, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Of all mornings for Frank Ski to be running late ...

Three days ago, he was the darling of 92-Q, the most listened-to station in Baltimore. But over the weekend, V-103, Ski's former station, began broadcasting spots proclaiming "Frank's back" and implying that Ski was returning.

Everybody at 92-Q is pretty sure Ski isn't going anywhere. Still, it's 10 after six and he hasn't shown up.

Could something have happened? It was a surprise the V let Ski go; would it be any more of a surprise if he were lured back?

But at 6: 13, a security camera catches Ski opening the front door. Producer Tara Thomas breathes an audible sigh. "He had me scared for a minute," she says with a laugh.

Four minutes later, Ski's on the air. "This is Frank Ski, and I'm glad to be here," he says. "I am happy to be here."

Frank Ski is all the proof you need that the surest road to radio success in Baltimore is not through its collec- tive ears, but through its heart and its conscience.

Lots of disc jockeys play good music; all that takes is a savvy program director. Lots of deejays are funny. Heck, Brian Wilson was so funny during his stint on WOCT-FM a while back that the folks in Dundalk practically ran him out of town. But Frank Ski comes across to his listeners as a friend, a guy you'd like to hang out with. A guy who cares.

People like the fact that he's been a fixture on local radio for more than a decade, that he's toned down the wild, carefree act that marked his younger days -- much as they have over the same period. They like the camaraderie that exists between Ski and his drag-queen sidekick, Miss Tony, his willingness to talk about city issues.

Perhaps best of all, "he's a positive role model," says faithful listener Shirl Scott, 32. "My son listens to him."

His show is No. 3 in the mornings, right behind WQSR's Rouse & Co. and WBAL's news programming. His name has become part of the station's ID ("92-Q, the home of Frank Ski"), the crowds pour into his nightclub gig at Louie Louie's in South Baltimore every Friday night, little kids stop him on the street and ask for autographs.

"There are many deejays who come from out of town who remain out-of-towners, even when they relocate," says Mike Lubin, Ski's lawyer and agent for much of the past 15 years. "Frank took on the task of immersing himself in Baltimore. He makes a specific, concerted effort to know his listeners."

He's also continued earning accolades in the world of recorded music, a side-career that began in 1991 as singer and producer of the regional hit "Doo Doo Brown," and has continued through production work with the rap group 2 Live Crew and, most recently, as producer of the song "99 1/2 " for gospel singer Hezekiah Walker.

But the radio remains the place where Ski's personality is best displayed.

One minute, he's playing the songs, maybe Backstreet's "Stay," or Kirk Franklin's "Melodies From Heaven," or his special wake-up mixes. The next, he's puzzling his audience with a brain teaser. The next, he's pitting guy callers against gal callers in a battle of the sexes.

And always, he's bantering with Miss Tony, baiting him, playing the straight man.

"I don't understand how you can snap those fingers, what with those big acrylic nails," Ski exclaims into the microphone, his eyes riveted on the painted nails being waved in his face.

"It's an art," Tony says by way of retort, and both men shake with laughter -- laughter that says to their audience, "Baby, if you could only see what's going on behind this microphone."

Outside the studio, Ski's something of a whirling dervish, showing up at nightclubs, mayoral commissions, recording studios, restaurants. His short hair, neatly trimmed mustache and ever-present baseball cap are rarely out of the public eye.

Even competitors admit Ski's act works. "You never really know what's going to happen when you work with him," says Jean Ross, Ski's former partner at V-103. "He's very spontaneous, a lot of fun to work with."

"I had heard a lot of people listen to 92-Q, and I can see why," says Adam Goodman, who signed on as program director at WWMX-FM just a month ago. "He's really appealing to his audience quite well. That's what we're trying to do with our show."

Not that everyone has been so complimentary. Last July, Ski was dumped rather unceremoniously from V-103 (WXYV-FM), the station he'd called home for nearly a decade. But by Labor Day, he was back on the air, landing the coveted 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot at 92-Q (WERQ-FM). By the end of 1996, his new station was No. 1 in Baltimore, much to the V's regret.

"The previous program director and general manager made a decision not to renew his contract," says V-103 program director Dave Ferguson, part of a new management team brought in since that decision was made. "I certainly wouldn't have let that happen."

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