Art Laboe, Legendary Radio DJ Who Created Oldies but Goodies Format, Dies at 97

Art Laboe, the pioneering Los Angeles DJ who championed the Oldies but Goodies format and was revered for sharing on-air dedications with listeners, died Oct. 7 in Palm Springs, Calif.

Laboe was the founder of the Original Sound record label and the host of the long-running “Art Laboe Connection” syndicated radio program. He was one of the first DJs to play rock ‘n’ roll and R&B on West Coast radio stations.

Just last month, Laboe, who was born Aug. 7, 1925, celebrated his 79-year anniversary as an active radio personality. His “Art Laboe Connection” aired in Los Angeles on KDAY-FM on Sunday nights, as well as many other stations throughout the Southwest. What turned out to be his final broadcast aired Sunday night, after being recorded last week.

“My favorite place to be is behind that microphone,” Laboe said at the time of the 79-year anniversary in September. “I have one of the best jobs in the world, playing the music, interacting with our listeners, doing their dedications and connecting them with their loved ones! Thank you to our dedicated fans that have listened through the decades and made ‘The Art Laboe Connection’ a family tradition,” he said.

Laboe was an inductee into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He has a collection on permanent exhibit at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He was famous for taking calls from listeners who sought to send out dedications to loved ones, and in later decades forged a sentimental connection not just with nostalgia enthusiasts but a Latino fan base in particular.

Born Arthur Egnoian in Salt Lake City, he started tinkering with radios as a youth, and is said to have built his own station by the age of 12. Laboe attended high school in Los Angeles, then broke into the airwaves in San Francisco on radio station KSAN in September 1943. After serving in the Navy during World War II and working in the Bay area, he moved to Los Angeles’ KXLA-AM in 1950 (the station later became KRLA), according to a Laboe history written by author Harvey Kubernik.

Laboe “was the very first DJ to spin West Coast rock ’n’ roll, to merge race music under one broadcast,” Kubernik wrote in the book “Turn Up The Radio! Pop, Rock and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972.” “When Elvis Presley came to town in 1956 with manager Colonel Parker, their only interview granted was to Laboe. Art had been the first person to play the Sun Records of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. He introduced Ricky Nelson to the radio airwaves. Laboe hosted dances at the El Monte Legion Stadium; in 1960, he teamed with Dick Clark to stage an unprecedented rock ’n’ roll show at the Hollywood Bowl that sold 18,000 tickets.”

By 1958, “The Art Laboe Show” was a feature of radio station KPOP (now KTNQ) and his show originating from the popular Scrivner’s Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood was televised live on KTLA-TV. Around that time, as a new generation of acts began to overshadow the 1940s and ’50s musical pioneers, Laboe saw an opportunity to tap into nostalgia with compilation albums of early hits from the rock, R&B and doo-wop eras. Through his Original Sound Entertainment, he released Oldies But Goodies and Dedicated to You collections that helped preserve a host of West Coast one-hit wonders such as “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals and the original “Earth Angel” by the Penguins.

Laboe was often tapped by Hollywood as a consultant and music producer. George Lucas worked with Laboe on licensing tunes for the soundtrack of his 1973 smash “American Graffiti,” and Laboe was proud of ensuring that the artists got their due and their cut of licensing revenue. Laboe also was involved with music licensing for such films as “Dirty Dancing,” “La Bamba,” “Lethal Weapon,” Good Morning Vietnam” (all released in 1987) and 1989’s “Born on the Fourth of July.” Original Sound Entertainment also represented songs for film and TV licensing by such notables as the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens, the Stylistics, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and the Isley Brothers.

In his later years, Laboe was dedicated to philanthropic work through his Art Laboe Foundation, which focuses on helping the underprivileged, animal charities and providing scholarship funds for high school students.

Laboe was married and divorced twice. He was predeceased by two sons, three sisters and one brother.

(Pictured: Art Laboe at the 2008 Hollywood Christmas Parade)