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Legendary Radio DJ Art Laboe Dies at 97 — Fans and Radio Stations Remember the Icon Pouring Love on Social Media

Celebrated radio DJ Art Laboe died in his Palm Springs home at the age of 97 last Friday after a weeks-long battle against pneumonia. Laboe produced his final radio show last week, which was broadcast on Sunday, October 9, two days after his death, reports TMZ.

Laboe was a celebrated disc jockey who coined the phrase “oldies but goodies” and has been widely credited with helping end segregation in Southern California as a result of the live shows he would host at local drive-in theaters. The events would attract young white, Black, and Latino rock’n’roll fans from all over the SoCal area.

During World War II, Laboe became one of the first DJs to accept requests and dedications from his listeners. Later in his career, Laboe attracted a massive following with the Mexican-American community thanks to his program, “The Art Laboe Connection.”

The show provided a platform for the families of incarcerated people, who would often call to dedicate a song or offer an update on their loved one who was behind bars. In California and Arizona, specifically, inmates would write into Laboe’s show and ask him to get updates from their families.

According to Fox News, Laboe was happy to be a messenger between prisoners and their families. “I don’t judge. I like people,” Laboe said in a 2018 interview with AP. 

He would often cite one particularly memorable example where a young girl would come into the station to tell her father, who was serving time, that she loved him. “It was the first time he had heard his baby’s voice,” he said. “And this tough, hard-nosed guy burst into tears.”

Laboe, whose real name was Arthur Egnoian, was born in Salt Lake City in a Mormon, Armenian-American family. He was raised by a single mother during the Great Depression and got his first radio at eight years old as a gift from his sister. He was immediately entranced by the seemingly endless possibilities of the airwaves, and the rest is history.

The President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Alex Nogales, remembered how popular Laboe was with Mexican-Americans who loved oldies and would regularly attend shows he sponsored. “I see these really tough-looking guys in the crowd. I mean, they look scary,” said Nogales. “Then Art comes out and they just melt. They love him.”

Radio stations and fans from around the world are mourning Laboe, a pioneer of his medium and one of the most beloved personalities in the history of entertainment.

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