Death of an Earth Angel, Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, 1928–2006
It’s a cliché to say eras end with the passing away of an icon, but the death of longtime Los Angeles radio personality Huggy Boy last week at age 78 is the real deal. Along with friendly rival Art Laboe, the man born Dick Hugg kept the flame of Southern California R&B oldies roaring decades after other radio stations dropped the genre. But while Laboe was the shrewd businessman who made a fortune through coining the term “oldies but goodies” and hosting the syndicated Killer Oldies radio show, it was the lanky, honey-voiced Huggy Boy who attracted a fanatical following through his hometown boosterism (check out his voiced cameo on Born in East L.A.). It was he who never met a remote broadcast he didn’t like, who showcased local bands on radio and the television program The Huggy Boy Show, who once crowned the respective homecoming queens of Garfield and Roosevelt Highs during their annual football battle.
Huggy Boy’s call-in shows on various stations — but most memorably on KRLA, where he started a 14-year run in 1983 — became a communal salon for Southern California Chicanos, a living museum where Huggy Boy shot the shit with three generations of listeners and everyone eventually dedicated “Angel Baby” to La Sad Eyes in Tustin. It wasn’t by accident that Huggy Boy’s most devoted fans were Mexican-Americans. In 1998’s Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ’n’ Roll From Southern California, Huggy Boy recounted that a radio station manager advised him to “stick with Mexicans,” to which Huggy Boy replied, “There will be more Mexicans than whites [in Southern California] in 20 years.”
But Huggy Boy wasn’t an opportunist — he knew that Mexican-Americans were the last ethnic group in Southern California to share his zeal for the doo-wop sounds of local African-American R&B acts such as the Penguins, Brenton Wood, Don Julian and the Meadowlarks, and the vibrant Eastside sound of Cannibal and the Headhunters and Thee Midniters. “Personalities like me, Rodney [Bingenheimer], Laboe — we get an audience, we keep it,” Huggy Boy told the L.A. Weekly in 2000. “We know what they want, and they know where to find us. As long as that’s the case, I’ll be here.”
It was this Mexican-American audience that kept Huggy Boy’s ratings strong through the decades, and mourned after KRLA unceremoniously fired Huggy Boy in 1998 and switched to a conservative-talk format. We followed Huggy Boy that year to oldies behemoth KRTH-FM 101.1, but it wasn’t the same. While K-Earth knew better than to saddle Huggy Boy with Beach Boys and “My Girl,” its limited playlist meant Huggy Boy could no longer spin obscure gems. He left K-Earth in 2002, spending his last years with Chicano authors eager to sit at the feet of their radio god. And the jams Huggy Boy sent out to thousands of lovelorn, grateful listeners for so many years haven’t aired on radio since.