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Fan misses Art Laboe’s ‘civic engagement’ on LA radio

Art Laboe, right, with Jerry Lee Lewis. Laboe is known for creating “Oldies But Goodies” compilations, the first albums to feature hits by a variety of artists.
Art Laboe, right, with Jerry Lee Lewis. Laboe is known for creating “Oldies But Goodies” compilations, the first albums to feature hits by a variety of artists.
Courtesy of Original Sound

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Fans of L.A. radio legend Art Laboe have been up in arms since last month when his oldies show was suddenly taken off the air in Los Angeles. The iHeartMedia company changed formats on 92.3 FM and decided Laboe no longer fit in.

Laboe, who is 89 years old, has been on the air in L.A. since 1949. He was an early promoter of R&B music —  not only on the air, but also in concerts he promoted. Laboe became famous and beloved for taking dedications from listeners, and it was the veteran disc jockey who shrewdly trademarked the term "Oldies but Goodies." 

Twelve radio stations in the Southwest still run Laboe's show, including one in the Inland Empire. But you can't hear him in L.A. proper, which is what motivated fan Adam Vine to write an essay for the Zocalo Public Square website. It's titled: "Without Art Laboe, I'm So Lonely I Could Cry."  

Vine spoke with The Frame's Senior Producer, Oscar Garza:     

You're involved with two civic engagement non-profit groups. What compelled you to write this story about Art Laboe being taken off the air in Los Angeles? 

I'm just a huge fan of his and his show. But, in a way, I feel like he does civic engagement as well, and always has. That's what requests and dedications are all about. 

On Laboe's music selections:

This is not a kind of music that's played on the radio anywhere else... 

These are deep cuts of R&B and doo-wop and old soul. Things that modern DJs might look for. By that I mean DJs in clubs. Not DJs on the radio. 

On Laboe's dedications: 

That, to me, is the essence of Art Laboe's show and what makes it so special. It's this intimacy you get from the people who call in to make these requests and dedications. This woman I heard, she called in to reassure her lover, her husband, that he didn't need to worry about her, about her straying. She didn't give any details. You know, he might be locked up, he might be serving in the military abroad. Who knows? But it was this little window into a relationship and the kind of enduring love that goes into it to make it last.

A lot of his listenership are incarcerated or family members of incarcerated people?  

If you do any research about it or listen to his show, you'll come to understand that, yes, a large portion of the audience is either incarcerated or is requesting and dedicating something to an incarcerated family member.

What does it mean right now in Los Angeles that you can't hear Art Laboe driving around in your car? 

On a practical level, families that were connecting through this show, can't connect that way anymore. People are cut off from their loved ones. And that's a real matter of significance to this city and this state.

There may be some good news on the horizon for Laboe fans: His distributor says there are talks with stations in L.A. to bring his show, “The Art Laboe Connection” back to local airwaves. 

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