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Trailblazing California DJ Art Laboe Dead at 97

Trailblazing California DJ Art Laboe Dead at 97

Art Laboe and Rick Nelson at Scrivner's Drive-In, Hollywood, CA - 1957 (Image: Art Laboe Archives/Website)
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PALM SPRINGS, CA (CelebrityAccess) – Art Laboe, the DJ pioneer credited with helping end segregation in Southern California and is credited with coining the phrase “oldies, but goodies,” has died at the age of 97. His death was confirmed by Joanna Morones, the representative for Laboe’s production company, Dark Entertainment. Laboe passed away Friday (October 7) after a bout with pneumonia.

Laboe, born Arthur Egnoian in Salt Lake City to an American-Armenian family during the Great Depression, started DJing in 1943 as a teenager. In 1949, he moved to California, attended Stanford University, and joined the US Navy during World War II. He landed a job at KSAN as a radio announcer and began what would be a seven-decade career in the city. He started playing rock and R&B due to audience demand; he told the Desert Sun in 2016: He would broadcast live, all night and into the early morning, from drive-in eateries that attracted a diverse crowd of Blacks, whites, and Latinos – taking all of their requests.

“At night, kids would bring their own records in, and I would play them,” he said. “They were crazy about all the Black artists.”

Becasue of that, he is credited with helping end segregation in Southern California – one of the first popular DJs to desegregate what was played on the radio. He didn’t discriminate and played artists like The Shirelles and incorporated Chicano soul bands into his lineup of what he called, and later filed a trademark on, “oldies but goodies.”

The phrase became Laboe’s signature, and, beginning in 1959, he released a series of compilation records called “Oldies But Goodies” under his own record label. Beginning in 1972, he hosted a show dedicated to playing nothing but oldies, the first station of its kind, according to the Radio Hall of Fame, into which Laboe was inducted in 2012.

Laboe was also one of the first DJs to welcome listeners to dedicate songs – creating the request line. They’d visit or call into the show, leave a message for someone and select a song in their honor. He later developed the syndicated – The Art Laboe Connection Show. Up until his death, Laboe hadn’t changed much about his routine – hosting his show, emceeing live concerts, and playing music of all genres, regardless of color or affiliation.

In September, the 79th anniversary of Laboe’s radio debut, the nonprofit station dublab flipped the script on Laboe and sent dedications to him. Over an hour and a half, fans called in to give Laboe songs (and kisses): One requested “18 With a Bullet” because Laboe played it for her when she turned 18. A fellow broadcaster inspired by Laboe dedicated, of course, “Those Oldies but Goodies,” a song that used the same phrase Laboe was credited with popularizing.

Laboe’s show will go on without him. In a statement shared by Morones, Dart Entertainment said it will continue to broadcast his nightly show and accept dedications in his absence – so his “legacy will endure.”

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