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Airwaves: February 5, 2010

Art Laboe’s Lifetime of Achievements

Art Laboe accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award at the LARadio.Com awards luncheon held January 30th at Vitello’s in Studio City. It was a very entertaining afternoon that showcased one of Los Angeles radio’s true greats.

Always tinkering and acting as the neighborhood fix-it guy even in his young years in Utah, he showed his interest in early communications by -- with the help of his next-door-neighbor -- building a “telephone” out of two earphones, wire and a switch.

Laboe decided to move to Los Angles when he was about 10 years old to live with his sister. His parents had divorced when he was about 8, and he liked the visits with his sister so much that he bought his own ticket and took the bus from Utah to California in 1935.

He built a ham radio system at his sister’s house ... that was later found by the FCC. Facing a fine of $10,000, Laboe was told by agents that he should get a license. “I was already working on it,” he said, and he got one, at the age of 14. “I still have it - W6TTJ,” he said.

As an aside, there was so much interesting information that came out during the interview with Don Barrett, that space prevents me from giving it justice. I’ll try, though. He graduated from Washington High School in Los Angeles at the age of 16. He joined the Army to be part of a special program that studied radar, but was too young to be sworn in. This worked out because the group that he was part of had a casualty rate of about 85 percent. “I thought that was a little high,” he said, jokingly.

He later joined the Navy and became a radio officer on the Pan American fleet.

His first commercial radio job was at KSAN in San Francisco, which hired him because he had his FCC licenses ... three of them, and the owner needed a licensed engineer to get back in compliance ... all of his other engineers had been drafted.

The idea for his Oldies But Goodies album collections sprung from where many good ideas come from ... his relationship with a young woman. He was with his girlfriend of the time in a “necking” session, when the 45 RPM records he was playing on the automatic spindle (remember those?) kept either jamming or finishing. This kept stopping the “action,” so to speak, because his girl kept telling him to “fix it.”, and both were frustrated. Eventually his girlfriend said “I wish they would put these songs on an album,” and an idea was born.

It took him a while to get the clearances, as such albums had not been done before and artists were afraid to lose their singles sales. But eventually he did, and in doing so launched a record company -- Original Sound.

Laboe continued to stay associated with radio, working at stations in Los Angeles including KFWB (890 AM) and what was then called KXLA (later KRLA and now KDIS (1110 AM). His live broadcasts from El Monte -- done there because of an obscure law that said dances could not be held in Los Angeles without the approval of the school board -- resulted in the idea of requests and dedications, the idea that helped make Laboe a popular DJ among listeners or all ages.

What I got out of the presentation was not only information about Laboe's life, but an appreciation for his amazing intelligence, brilliant marketing, and care for the communities he serves. He truly believes in radio, believes in people, and his interview was one of the most interesting events I have attended since I began writing this column back in 1987.

So with the appreciation that only a longtime fan can give, congratulations, Art. You are a true legend in radio, and you truly deserve this fine award.


Copyright © 2010 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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