Art Laboe, a revered Los Angeles radio personality for over fifty years who pleased local listeners and a syndicated audience by playing “oldies but goodies,” has passed away. He was 97. According to a tweet on his official Twitter account, Laboe died of pneumonia on October 7 at his residence in Palm Springs.
Laboe, who was born Art Egnoian in Salt Lake City on August 7, 1925, served in the Navy during World War II and appeared on the Los Angeles airwaves in 1955 when rock ‘n' roll was gaining popularity. His first L.A. station homes were KXLA-AM (later KRLA) and KPOP, and the baritone Laboe did live remote shows from midnight to 4 a.m.
at a local drive-in diner, accepting requests and becoming famous with the night-owl population. Later, he shifted the KPOP event to after-school hours, and the intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga was jammed with teens.
Laboe is credited with helping to eliminate segregation in Southern California by staging live DJ concerts at drive-in restaurants that drew white, black, and Latino listeners who danced to rock-and-roll — and stunned an older generation that was still listening to Frank Sinatra and Big Band music.
Also credited with coining the term “oldies but goodies” is the DJ. In 1957, he founded Original Sound Record Inc., and in 1958, he issued “Oldies But Goodies: Vol. 1,” which spent 183 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
His hosting of the syndicated “The Art Laboe Connection Show” garnered him a large following among Mexican Americans. His baritone voice enticed listeners to call in dedications and requests for a 1950s rock-and-roll love ballad or an Alicia Keys rhythm-and-blues song.
His radio presentations provided a forum for the families of detained loved ones to send poignant comments and dedicate music to their incarcerated relatives. Inmates from California and Arizona would write in their own dedications and inquire about family updates from Laboe.
He quickly became one of the first DJs in California to play R&B and rock and roll. Teenage listeners quickly associated Laboe's voice with the nascent rock-and-roll scene. By 1956, Laboe's afternoon radio program was the most popular in the city. On Sunset Boulevard, where Laboe broadcast his show, traffic was congested, and marketers rush to get a piece of the action.
Laboe was one of the few to interview the new rockabilly star when Elvis Presley arrived in Hollywood.
Laboe helped build one of the most diversified scenes in the nation in California. El Monte's American Legion Stadium played a great deal of the music Laboe played on his radio show, spawning a new youth subculture.
Lalo Alcaraz, a prominent cartoonist and television writer who grew up in San Diego listening to Laboe, remarked that the DJ maintained a strong following among Mexican Americans for generations because he constantly combined Latino, white, and black musicians on his shows. Alcaraz added that Laboe did not appear to judge listeners who requested dedications for loved ones in prison.
Alcaraz stated, “Here is a musician who gives a voice to the most modest among us.” “He gathered us together. We, therefore, sought him out.”
Alex Nogales, president, and chief executive officer of the National Hispanic Media Coalition in Los Angeles, stated that generations of Latino fans attended Laboe-sponsored concerts to hear Smokey Robinson, The Spinners, and Sunny & The Sunliners.