In Maps to the Stars, Curbed LA maps the lives of the most notable figures in Los Angeles history through the places that were important to them.
It's been a big week for long-time radio host Art Laboe: this past Wednesday, LA County celebrated Art Laboe Day, and today is his 90th birthday. Laboe has been on the air in Los Angeles since 1949, playing music and delivering on-air dedications with his unmistakable warm voice. (There was a brief period earlier this year where he was off-air in LA proper, but he returned in June.) It's been said that, along with venerated Dodger's announcer Vin Scully and the Lakers' Chick Hearn, Laboe is the voice of Los Angeles.
Art Laboe is a transplant. Born in Salt Lake City in 1925, he moved to LA when he was a boy, after his parents divorced. He was a radio fan since childhood. Laboe said in an interview with Dublab that he got his first job on the air in the Bay Area in 1943 because he happened to have the right FCC license (he studied Radio Engineering at Stanford briefly) and all station's radio engineers had been drafted.
By 1949, he was in Los Angeles, hosting shows for KXLA from a drive-in restaurant on Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards called Scrivner's. After a brief period of doing a celerbity interview show, he returned to Scrivner's again, this time with radio station KPOP, to do live afternoon broadcasts. That's around the time things really got big.
Laboe's show was a huge draw, and teenagers "would mob the parking lot" and cause traffic to back up around the restaurant. "We used to get 200 cars on a Saturday night," he told the LA Times. Other stations, he said, were playing Doris Day and big band music, but Laboe—credited with being the first DJ to play rock 'n' roll on the West Coast— was broadcasting Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. "And it spread like a prairie fire."
Laboe's also famous for the diversity of his following. Since those Hollywood days, his audience was a mixture of black, Latino, and white, from all over the city, and it continues to be. Laboe's said to have created the phrase "oldies but goodies," and that's what his show plays; those jams have noticeably resonated throughout the years with a largely Latino audience, but Laboe's appeal broad, drawing listeners young and old who love the music, who love the reliability and regularity of this voice that's been on the air for decades. Lots of Angelenos have a history with Art Laboe, even if they've never called in to his show.
Laboe's mellow voice and easy, friendly rapport with fans who call in with dedications have helped him develop some serious staying power. At 90 years old, Art is still on the air, his syndicated show broadcasting on KDAY 93.5 here in LA, from 6 p.m. to midnight every Sunday night.
· Maps to the Stars [Curbed LA]