A friend signs off from WERQ Radio: With tears, memories and mementos, Baltimore says goodbye to disc jockey Frank Ski.

September 05, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro and Judith Forman | Stephanie Shapiro and Judith Forman,SUN STAFF

Mama, "how am I supposed to get my groove on now at 7 a.m.?" Ashley Long wants to know. Greeting the dawn will be one sorry proposition now without 92-Q deejay Frank Ski to jam her awake with his eye-popping mix of R&B, rap and spiritual good news more often heard from a preacher.

Mama understands. Ski's show "is the wake- up call," says Baltimore listener Michelle Long. "It just gets you motivated to hear that music."

Long dropped her three children off at school yesterday, then beelined it downtown to St. Paul and Fayette streets, where a departing Frank Ski delivered his final broadcast after being on the air in Baltimore for nearly 15 years.

Monday, Ski, 34, announced he is leaving WERQ-FM -- which he helped make Baltimore's No. 1 station -- for a job in a larger market, taking producer Tara Thomas with him. His wife, Tanya Roberts, a gospel disc jockey at Heaven-600 (WCAO-AM), will also leave her job.

Ski would not reveal where his new job is, saying he doesn't want to break the news before his new station does.

But Chuck Taylor, radio editor of Billboard magazine in New York, said yesterday that Ski is expected to surface at V-103 (WVEE-FM) Atlanta's top-ranked urban station. And, Atlanta was joked about on the 92-Q morning show. WVEE program director Tony Brown said, "as far as management is concerned," Ski is not joining the station.

Yesterday, it didn't matter where Ski's next stop is. From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., he still belonged to Baltimore. A thousand-plus fans and colleagues stopped to say goodbye to one of the city's more popular deejays and to shower him with gifts and tears. He broadcast from the sidewalk.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings was there as well as a deejay who calls himself Boobie. The owner of Ski's car repair shop delivered jar of candy, and an emissary from Morgan State University presented him with a jacket and a cap. Ski's grandmother from New York was there; so was his dad, his 7-year-old son Jarrett and other loved ones, including a weepy Aunt Tia. They kissed, hugged, performed elaborate handshakes and cried. Thomas, as she greeted friends, couldn't stop crying.

Ski stayed cool, bantering with a Pittsburgh radio morning team by phone about Sunday's Ravens-Steelers game, recounting his early days as a hungry deejay who held apartment parties with his best buddy, reminiscing about his persistence in trying to get an interview at a radio station. As on any morning, his chatter contained a large dose of positive thinking: "When you want something, don't ever give up," he said.

As he spoke, bouquets, cakes, photos, a baseball bat signed by Orioles outfielder Eric Davis, and any number of keepsakes were delivered to his side. A long line of well-wishers waited patiently for commercial breaks when they could have a moment with him.

It was a "lovefest" at Heaven-600, too, as fans said goodbye to Roberts, who has not yet been replaced. "The [phone] lines were flooded with calls from people saying goodbye and thanking her for all the things she's done for this community," said Don Mullins, the radio's receptionist.

Ski's first radio job was at WEBB-AM in Baltimore. That led to nine years at the urban station V-103, most of them in the #F morning slot. When that station let him go in 1997 saying he didn't fit its format, Ski immediately landed at 92-Q and &r maintained his status as one of the city's top deejays.

Over the years, Ski has drawn an audience of all generations, a feat accomplished with a versatile play list (from Lauryn Hill to Puff Daddy to John B), a sensitivity to kids' impressionability and a desire to be a positive role model.

Ski and his morning team represented "honesty, integrity and a sense of moral values," he said yesterday. He thanked his audience, reminded them of the big party in his honor at the Hyatt Regency Oct. 2, and that was that.

It was sincerity, not a top deejay's usual glibness and harsh humor that put Ski on top in Baltimore. He and colleagues didn't just talk a good game, they delivered money to Little League teams; to the Arena Players, the country's oldest continuously operating African-American theater; to Bea Gaddy, the city's best-known advocate for the poor; and to other public causes, Ski said.

Ski's saucy repartee, spiritual advice and "If I can do it, so can you" attitude cultivated not just an on-air personality but a state of mind that resonated with his largely black audience. Many of those listeners expressed gratitude yesterday for Ski's encouragement, saying he was available "wherever there is a need."

Renee Plante came by to tell Ski and Thomas that she was the woman who had once called and testified about how the Lord had delivered her from drugs and that she had begun to accomplish things in her life. "I needed to tell somebody," Plante said. When Ski and Thomas realized who she was, they gave her long, strong hugs.

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