William Mercer - "Rosko"

Evenings 6 pm - 10 pm

William "Rosko" Mercer was born on May 25, 1927, in New York City and attended a Catholic boarding school in Pennsylvania as a charity student. His first jobs were as a government clerk and then a men's-room attendant at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, N.J. He began his radio career as a jazz disc jockey at WHAT in Chester, Pa., moved to WDAS in Philadelphia, and then to WBLS in New York, playing jazz in live broadcasts from Palm Cafe in Manhattan. He played rhythm-and-blues on WNJR in Secaucus, N.J., in the late 1950's, but after refusing to cross a picket line at the station during an effort to create a union for disc jockeys, he was blacklisted for six months.

He became the first black announcer for WINS, and was then hired as a disc jockey by KDIA in Oakland, Calif. Radio station KGFJ in Los Angeles sought to hire him away, leading to a precedent-setting lawsuit that changed the way disc-jockey contracts were written. For a time in the early 1960's, Rosko was heard live on KGFJ and on tape in Oakland six nights a week; he spent the seventh in Oakland, live on KDIA. Then he was hired by KBLA, playing rock and rhythm-and-blues at a formerly all-white station.

Rosko was the first black news announcer on WINS in New York and, as Rosko, the first black disc jockey on KBLA in Los Angeles. He went on to become a pioneer of free-form FM radio in New York City. On WOR-FM in 1966 and on WNEW-FM from 1967 to 1970, his calm, husky voice with its hint of Southern drawl and his wide-ranging programming made him an authoritative companion amid the musical ferment of the late 1960's.

He delved into rock, soul, folk and jazz; he read poetry and conversed with his unseen listeners in almost fatherly monologues. In one set during the late 1960's, he recited antiwar poetry by Yevgeny Yevtushenko to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Lord's Prayer, then played Richie Havens's antiwar song ''Handsome Johnny'' as a lead-in to a news report about bombing in Vietnam.

William Mercer (May 25, 1927 - August 1, 2000)