Frank Ski will be back on the radio airwaves September 9 but not in Atlanta - yet.
The former long-time V-103 morning host will start a solo afternoon show on Washington D.C.'s urban AC station WHUR-FM 96.3, where he did a tryout in April.
From there, he hopes to expand to other affiliates, including a station in Atlanta.
While most radio personalities have a six-month non-compete clause which prevents them from working in radio in that market, Ski has an even more draconian one-year non compete. So he wouldn't be able to be on air in Atlanta until late December even if he wanted to.
The WHUR gig "wasn't even an idea I came up with," Ski said in an exclusive interview. "It was an idea [WHUR] General Manager Jim Watkins came up with after I spent a week filling in in D.C."
His producer Nina Brown and he went to D.C. without knowledge they were doing a tryout until they got there. He thought at first that it would just be a fun diversion. Ski received the most positive feedback of the jocks who tried out, he said, which led to the job offer.
Ski isn't a stranger to D.C. It's where he started radio in college in the late 1980s and did a lot of club DJing around town. He later became a successful morning host in Baltimore before coming to Atlanta in 1998.
For now, he said he plans to fly up to D.C. during the week and come back to Atlanta on weekends (which includes weekly DJing gigs at his Buckhead restaurant Frank Ski's.)
He is doing the syndication on his own rather than attach himself to a big syndicator. "We had talked to some companies but I wasn't going to get the type of deal I wanted financially," he said. "By being the owner allows me to have better control over the things I want to do on the show."
Ski said it was not easy for him to walk away from a cushy job at V-103, where he and Wanda Smith were the No. 1 morning hosts for virtually their entire 14-year run. But he said he wanted "to do something different. If I was going to make the move, I had to step out on faith. I had a lot of deep conversations with the family. I also had deep conversations with God. It was a very spiritual move. We'd do those daily inspirational vitamins. It just started talking to me. If you want to make a change in your life, you've got to make the sacrifice. It really gave me an opportunity to look at life for the value of what it is, not for the value it was worth."
He said the show will be similar to his V-103 show, a "lifestyle" focus where he'll be able to talk about a big social issue one segment, then "Love & Hip Hop Atlanta" the next.
(Steve Harvey, the syndicated morning host who is based out of Atlanta and a friend of Ski's, announced on WHUR at 7:43 a.m. today that Ski will be part of the urban AC station, calling the two of them the "twin towers.")
In the interim, Ski said he has spent quality time at his restaurant. He said it's doing well and is approaching its second-year anniversary next month. He's been able to keep his name out there by allowing remotes at his station with Majic 107.5/97.5 and Streetz 94.5.
He is starting at WHUR as a solo show without Smith - just producer Brown and an engineer. But he said that didn't preclude him from adding Smith down the road.
Although Ski is starting in afternoons, he wouldn't mind moving to mornings again down the road. For now, he acknowledged mornings are crowded with Harvey, Rickey Smiley and Tom Joyner clogging the pipelines. But that could change down the road, he said. (Joyner is the oldest and likeliest to retire at some point.)
Ski was actually syndicated for a year in Baltimore a decade ago out of V-103 but that only lasted a year because the station changed formats. CBS Radio, which owns V-103, does not have many urban stations and couldn't come up with a mutually satisfactory arrangement with Ski over syndication. So Ski left last December.
Ski's efforts to expand markets will face challengers.
Michael Baisden, last heard locally on Majic 107.5/97.5, left the afternoon space a few months ago after a disagreement with his syndicator. At his peak, he had 70 stations. Stand-up comic D.L. Hughley takes over soon. Doug Banks is Ski's other competitor in the afternoon syndication space. (I'm not sure how many markets Banks is in.)
Majic tried Baisden's immediate sub Skip Murphy for a few months but feedback was poor so for now, they've brought in Silas "SiMan" Alexander.
Ski has been thinking about syndication for several years but the economy wasn't right. Since 2009, he said he had been doing one-year contracts with V-103. He almost bolted in 2011 but the start of his restaurant kept him busy.
Brown, who was Ski's producer for six years, is joining him on this new journey and has stuck with him the past few months, helping him out at the restaurant, his charity foundation and anything else he needed. "She is not only a most dedicated person," Ski said, "but a most loyal person. She has a vision that's in line with mine." And he trusts her. "If I had a meeting with the President and I was in another country, I'd trust Nina to speak for me. She gets what the Frank Ski brand is."
I reported a few months back that Ski had put his home up for sale in the Dunwoody area. He said it had nothing to do with his V-103 departure but more to do with his sons, who go to schools in Buckhead. So he moved to Smyrna in Cobb County.
Ski said he feels D.C. and Atlanta are very similar metro areas with similar issues. And he already has connections with politicians, from Congressmen Elijah Cummings of Maryland to Atlanta Rep. John Lewis.
He said he's excited to get back on the air and missed talking about the Trayvon Martin case, plus the Voting Rights Act and other race-related issues. "I'm a little nervous. It's a little a bit of personal sacrifice that my family has to make but everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows why I'm doing this. We have a piece of ownership to our brand and who we are, then we're able to create the next legacy after me."
Here are some Ski stories I've written the past year: