Speed Reads

rest in peace

Pioneering DJ Art Laboe dies at 97

Art Laboe, a disc jockey for more than 70 years and one of the first to play rock 'n' roll on the West Coast, died Friday of pneumonia. He was 97.

His popular "The Art Laboe Connection Show" had a legion of devoted listeners, and was especially beloved by Latinos, who would call in to dedicate love songs in both celebration and remembrance. "He was the voice of the real L.A.," record producer Lou Adler told the Los Angeles Times. "He reached out and touched people growing up in this melting pot. He cut right through it and understood us."

As a child, Laboe loved the radio, and listened to everything from the news to soap operas, he told the Times in 2009. "I was enthralled with this box that talked," he said. In 1938, Laboe started an amateur radio station in his South Los Angeles bedroom, and after attending Stanford University and a stint in the Navy during World War II, Laboe took on his first job at a radio station in San Francisco. He also adopted a new last name, changing his birth name "Egnoian" to "Laboe" when the general manager told him it sounded catchy.

Laboe returned to Los Angeles and began broadcasting shows live from drive-ins, becoming popular with young people from across the city. "Concertgoers formed a rainbow of colors: white fans from the Westside, Black listeners from South L.A., and Latino fans from the Eastside," the Times writes. He also hosted dance shows, bringing Ritchie Valens and Sam Cooke to perform. Around this time, he found that listeners really enjoyed songs that were about five years old. He subsequently coined the term "Oldies But Goodies," and made hit compilation albums of the same name.

Laboe never retired, and continued to host "The Art Laboe Connection" up until a week before his death. He was also still presenting concerts, and had been set to broadcast one on Saturday from San Bernardino. "You don't replace people like Art," author-historian Harvey Kubernik told the Times. "His reach was monumental."