Johnny ‘The Duke’ Allen, radio disc jockey from Baldwin dies at 72
Radio personality Johnny “The Duke” Allen, who helped propel hip-hop into mainstream music and started a disc jockey school during his four decades at top radio stations, has died from complications of diabetes. The Baldwin resident was 72.
From spinning classic R&B to rap, he worked for New York FM stations at a time when their massive reach into the African American community set trends and political opinions. In gigs at 98.7 Kiss, 107.5 WBLS, 92 WKTU, Jammin’ 105 and 103.5 KTU, he interviewed the famous, Donna Summer and Jennifer Lopez among them. He emceed dance parties with thousands of people in major clubs, and for years was the DJ on a program for a radio station in Japan.
“You’re with The Duke,” he would say on air. “We’re riding all night, high in the music saddle.”
Allen died Dec. 6 after 45 years on air, a longevity rare in the industry, family and friends said. He still had a music job, recording introductions from his home studio on the classics he loved for his weekly program on iSoulRadio.com.
“You couldn’t outtalk him when it came to music,” said friend G. Keith Alexander, a DJ who taught Allen how to work the equipment at his first job, on WBLS in the early ’70s.
Allen looked up to old-style DJs, developing a smooth voice and dressing in suits, but in his 40s, he picked up slang as he co-hosted Kiss FM’s Saturday Night Dance Party hip-hop program with legendary hip-hop personality Kool DJ Red Alert and his protege Prince Messiah, said Mike Baril, producer of “Behind the Mic and On the Set,” an upcoming documentary on Black radio.
“Johnny Allen became almost ageless,” Baril said. “He helped launch the disco movement as well as the hip-hop movement, which is no easy feat in terms of convincing the program directors and convincing listeners.”
Born in Savannah, Georgia, Allen and his family moved to Queens Village, Queens, when he was 13, said his wife, Vanessa Allen of Baldwin. He disc jockeyed as a teenager, carrying milk crates of albums to his gigs, his wife said. He earned enough to buy a car out of high school, and had a love of autos that decades later prompted him to join the Queens Classic Car Club and win in car shows with his champagne-colored Chevy Impala, she said.
In 1971, Allen was working as a disc jockey in a Manhattan club when he was noticed by Alexander and Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker, a trailblazing disc jockey at WBLS. Crocker called to hire him because the morning DJ had quit, and with less than a day’s notice, Allen started at 6 a.m. at WBLS just as his first song had to go on air. “I sat back and said, ‘I am here. I have arrived. What am I into?’ ” Allen recounted in the documentary.
Over the decades, Allen took on many side gigs, and one of his proudest creations was a disc jockey school, the Queen Broadcasting Center, which he financed and ran from 1991 to 2001, first in Jamaica and later in Manhattan.
“He saw it as a way to help the other young DJs and broadcasters and radio personalities because he was somebody who had people along the way helping him,” said his son, Jay Allen, of Maywood, New Jersey.
When Allen was home, the music was always on, even as he watched television, family members said. When he was on the radio, he would give shout-outs to his family.
“We’d come home and we’d have to tiptoe because he’s still sleeping,” Vanessa Allen recounted. “He missed out on a lot because he was working those [night] hours. He still was able to provide for the family, and that was the priority for him. He could talk about his love for music and his love for cars but nothing superseded his love for his family.”
Besides his wife and son, Allen is also survived by his daughter, Jonelle Allen, of Baldwin, and brother, Ron Allen, of Roosevelt.
He was buried Dec. 12 at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.