Art Laboe, radio DJ who helped end segregation, dies aged 97

He coined the term “oldies but goodies” and was the first to read out callers’ dedications live on air

Art Laboe on the radio

Art Laboe, a pioneering radio DJ, record producer and songwriter, has died aged 97.

He passed away on Friday after catching pneumonia a short time before, according to CNN. Art Laboe’s final radio show was produced on 6 October and aired on 9 October.

An Armenian immigrant, Laboe, real name Arthur Egnoian, was one of the first DJs to play rock ’n’ roll on the west coast of the USA and helped to end segregation in Southern California by organising racially diverse DJ dance shows. He was also one of the first to take in radio dedications from listeners, the first to produce compilation albums from various bands, and he also coined the term “oldies but goodies”.

Laboe started DJing on the radio when he was a teenager and, after finishing a stint with the US Navy during World War II, began his professional career working as a host on KSAN in San Francisco in 1943. It was here that Laboe pioneered radio dedications, repeating callers’ phone calls into the microphone.

Later, he moved back to Southern California where he briefly worked at KCMJ in Palm Springs. Here, he famously completed a 120-hour hackathon event for charity, gaining the nickname ‘As Long As He Lasts’.

Then, Laboe joined KPOP in Los Angeles where he took his show on the road in 1955, hosting shows at the local Scrivner’s Drive-In and introducing rock ‘n’ roll to teenagers while noting down the most requested songs.

During this time, he went on to organise the El Monte dance hall at the El Monte Legion Stadium to the east of LA. This regular Saturday night event helped end segregation in the area, thanks to it attracting teenagers of all races. Laboe was also among the first to let listeners of any race call into a radio show.

After this, he went on to work throughout his life at various stations including KXLA, KGGI and KDES-FM.

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