Re­joice, fans; Art Laboe is back on the air.

Dee­jay Art Laboe re­turns to the L.A. air­waves on KDAY-FM, 4 months af­ter Hot 92.3 dropped his show.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Meg James meg.james@la­times.com

Los An­ge­les’ vin­tage bari­tone is back.

Art Laboe, the sooth­ing grand­mas­ter of sen­ti­men­tal on-air ded­i­ca­tions, re­turns to the L.A. air­waves Sun­day af­ter a four-month ex­ile. KDAY-FM (93.5) has picked up Laboe’s syn­di­cated show and plans to broad­cast it from6 p.m. to mid­night Sun­days.

For a while, it ap­peared as if Laboe’s 60-plus year ca­reer in Los An­ge­les had reached an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end. His home for more than a decade, iHeart Me­dia’s KHHT-FM (92.3), had abruptly switched to a hip-hop for­mat in Fe­bru­ary, and Laboe’s oldies but good­ies no longer fit with the com­pany’s new for­mat.

“They just swept ev­ery­body out with a pretty wide broom,” Laboe said by phone.

But fans were not ready to let go of Laboe.

Their affin­ity for the 89-year-old broad­caster is note­wor­thy in an era of com­puter-gen­er­ated playlists and bel­li­cose talk-show hosts. Much of Laboe’s charm comes from his warmth, old-school sin­cer­ity and his ten­der touch with lis­ten­ers who call into his show. Laboe, of Ar­me­nian de­scent, also has de­vel­oped a spe­cial bond with Lati­nos, who have long made up a large por­tion of his au­di­ence — a thread that spans sev­eral gen­er­a­tions.

“I’ve lis­tened ever since Iwas lit­tle,” said Cindy Gar­cia, a 22-yearold com­mu­ni­ca­tions stu­dent at Cal State Long Beach, who launched an on­line pe­ti­tion that de­manded Laboe’s re­turn to L.A. ra­dio af­ter 92.3 FM dropped his show. Her change.org pe­ti­tion gar­nered about17,000 sig­na­tures.

“My dad was part of low-rider cul­ture, and when we went to car shows he would have Hot 92.3 on the ra­dio,” Gar­cia said. “When they took [Laboe] off the air, I was so mad. I felt like they took some­thing away from my dad— and froma lot of peo­ple. There are not many peo­ple who rep­re­sent L.A. on the ra­dio, but when it comes to oldies, there’s re­ally just Art Laboe.”

Laboe has fos­tered a rare re­la­tion­ship with his au­di­ence, said Josh Kun, a pro­fes­sor at the USC An­nen­berg School for Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Jour­nal­ism.

“He has al­ways treated peo­ple with re­spect and taken them very se­ri­ously — not as a mar­ket­ing de­mo­graphic, not a source of po­ten­tial ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue, but he has taken them se­ri­ously as a com­mu­nity, and as in­di­vid­u­als,” Kun said. “When folks call in to his ra­dio show, he lis­tens to them. He doesn’t rush them off the air.”

Call­ers to Laboe’s show typ­i­cally want to “talk about in­ti­mate parts of their lives — find­ing love, break­ing up, send­ing a song ded­i­ca­tion out to some­one who has passed away who you miss,” Kun said. “It’s a vul­ner­a­ble ex­pe­ri­ence; there is a lot of risk in­volved. Over the years, peo­ple have come to trust Art, and he’s earned their trust, and that’s why he’s so cen­tral to so many peo­ple’s lives.”

“The Art Laboe Con­nec­tion” orig­i­nates fromhis stu­dios in Palm Springs and airs on 12 other ra­dio sta­tions, in­clud­ing in Barstow, Bak­ers­field, Las Ve­gas, Phoenix and an out­let Laboe owns in Fresno. Keep­ing up with the times, the show also is streamed on­line.

Laboe, whose given name is Arthur Eg­noian, is a throw-back to a sim­pler time— long be­fore smart­phones, so­cial me­dia, self­ies or even MTV.

Tran­sis­tor ra­dios were all the rage when Laboe, then with KPOP-AM (1020), gained promi­nence by haul­ing his bulky ra­dio equip­ment for live af­ter­noon broad­casts from Scrivner’s drivein restau­rant at Sun­set and Cahuenga boule­vards in Hol­ly­wood. Throngs of teenagers, multi-eth­nic crowds, would mob the park­ing lot for a chance to see such heart­throbs as Ricky Nel­son or ac­tor Robert Wag­ner. Another pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion was a drive-in restau­rant at Im­pe­rial High­way and Western Av­enue.

“We used to get 200 cars on a Satur­daynight,” said Laboe. “That was in late 1955 and1956. It­was the birth of rock ’n’ roll, and other sta­tions played Doris Day, Frank Si­na­tra and big band sounds. And here comes Art Laboe with this pro­gram that fea­tured Elvis Pres­ley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Crick­ets— mu­sic that no one had heard on the ra­dio be­fore. And it spread like a prairie fire.”

All those decades ago, Laboe de­vised his win­ning for­mula. At his live broad­casts, he would ask young cou­ples to pick a song and make a ded­i­ca­tion.

“I usu­ally would talk to the girls. This was back in the ’50s, and I knew they wouldn’t spout off with any four-let­ter words,” he said. “To­day, I don’t know what would hap­pen.”

He traces his con­nec­tion to Lati­nos to the same era, the late 1950s, when hewas build­ing a busi­ness as a con­cert pro­moter.

A Los An­ge­les city or­di­nance had banned any­one younger than 18 from at­tend­ing pub­lic dances and con­certs. So Laboe picked a venue in El Monte, which had dif­fer­ent rules. The bands he brought in drew teenagers from all around Los An­ge­les, in­clud­ing the East­side and its grow­ing Mex­i­can Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

“They would come to the El Monte Le­gion Sta­dium,” Laboe said. “It­was in their backyard, and they felt com­fort­able.”

Putting au­di­ences at ease has long been a key to Laboe’s ap­peal.

“I ac­tu­ally talk to peo­ple about their prob­lems. They will tell me about their lives,” he said. “It’s my na­ture to be sym­pa­thetic to the call­ers, and keep the neg­a­tive stuff off the air. Most times, they want to talk about the peo­ple they love. It’s usu­ally about love.”

Laboe agrees that his style is un­com­mon in to­day’s me­dia land­scape.

“Most ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties are not given the chance to ex­press their per­son­al­i­ties,” he said. “Ev­ery 24 hours, the pro­gram­ming de­part­ment comes up with a dif­fer­ent list of songs, and dee­jays are told how many sec­onds they can talk. Nowa­days, the pro­gram­ming de­part­ment has con­trol over ev­ery­thing that goes on the air. But I like to pro­gram by sound.”

This won’t be the first time KDAY has trans­mit­ted the sounds of Laboe. He worked at the sta­tion in the early 1960s, when rock ’n’ roll was shak­ing up the dial and KDAY had a pow­er­ful AM sig­nal. But ra­dio has its ebbs and flows, and KDAY even­tu­ally flipped to rhythm and blues.

Laboe left the sta­tion in late1961 to fo­cus on his record busi­ness. They re­leased “Oldies but Good­ies,” al­bums that fea­tured hits from­var­i­ous artists.

KDAY later achieved promi­nence as the first sta­tion to em­brace L.A.’s hip-hop scene in the 1980s.

Since the Latino-owned Meru­elo Me­dia group ac­quired KDAY a lit­tle more than a year ago, the out­let has been tweak­ing its for­mat. It now plays clas­sic hip-hop and R&B with the mar­ket­ing slo­gan of “Back in the Day.”

Otto Padron, pres­i­dent of Meru­elo Me­dia, grew up in South Florida but re­mem­bers hear­ing Laboe on the ra­dio when he would visit his un­cle in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the 1980s. Padron was cap­ti­vated by Laboe’s lis­ten­ers, who called in to make ded­i­ca­tions.

“He was my first Face­book,” Padron said. “Art has been so con­nected to this re­gion and com­mu­nity. He is not pre­tend­ing to be some­thing that he is not. His style and the mu­sic he plays is very com­fort­ing. It is sen­ti­men­tal and emo­tional. He is em­blem­atic of the KDAY brand, and he is an in­sti­tu­tion in Los An­ge­les.”

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

ART LABOE GETS READY for his new call-in ded­i­ca­tion ra­dio show in the KDAY-FM stu­dios. Laboe started broadcasting on Los An­ge­les ra­dio in the 1950s.

Art Laboe Archives

LABOE AND RICKY NEL­SON in 1957 at the Scrivner’s drive-in in Hol­ly­wood. Laboe first gained promi­nence by haul­ing his ra­dio equip­ment for live af­ter­noon broad­casts from Scrivner’s.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Im­ages

LABOE AND ROCK ’N’ ROLL mu­si­cian Chuck Berry pho­tographed circa 1975.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Im­ages

LABOE IN A STU­DIO around 1970. “Art has been so con­nected to this re­gion,” says a fan.

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