When Art Laboe's near-nightly shows were dumped from 92.3 FM during a format shift earlier this month, Los Angeles was left without a voice that is part of the fabric of the city. The 89-year-old DJ has been a radio staple for decades, a champion of new music in the early days of rock & roll who went on to help locals tell their stories through the string of heartfelt dedications that comprise the "Art Laboe Connection."
While those with an Internet connection can tune in via stations like Fresno's KOKO 94.3, the absence "Art Laboe Connection" from the local, terrestrial market is still a loss felt far beyond the soul hits and disco jams that made evening traffic slightly more bearable.
Right now, this veteran of the airwaves is getting support from the web-streaming DJs who were influenced by him. Dublab's "Dedicated to Art Laboe" project is a chance for fans to call, leave messages and send out songs with a kiss. (Dublab even has a tutorial from Laboe on how to mimic his signature radio kisses.)
Like a lot of folks in Southern California, the team at Dublab are big fans of Laboe. Mark "Frosty" McNeill, who co-founded the L.A.-based Internet radio station more than 15 years ago, surmises that Laboe is the common, influential link between both Dublab's roster of DJs and many of the locals who tune into their broadcasts. "He is just embraced and beloved by the creative community," says McNeil.
The station has a connection to Laboe, too. A couple years ago, members of the Dublab crew visited him at his studio, which resulted in a long and fascinating interview conducted by journalist Josh Kun. Laboe also recorded a video dedication for McNeill's wedding. "Art has been very cool and supportive of Dublab over the years," says McNeill.
"Dedicated to Art Laboe" started before 92.3 morphed from old-school-centric "Hot" brand to new-school-heavy "Real." Initially conceived as a token of thanks, the plan was to have Dublab DJs and their artist and musician friends record greetings and then send the compilation to the master of dedications. Now, Dublab has opened up the format to include contributions from Laboe's audience at large. They set up a Google phone number that fans can call to record their messages between now and March 1.
So far, the response has been interesting. McNeill noticed that not all of the callers are current L.A. residents. They're also getting contributions from former locals who have since moved to various parts of the country. Laboe's show focuses on unlocking listeners' memories, but he's helping people create them, too. Those stick even after fans leave town.
While Laboe is something of an L.A. phenomenon — he was hosting events in El Monte before many of his listeners were born — his reach extends beyond the Southland. Laboe's shows broadcast on a handful of stations in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Plus, online streams allow folks from across the globe to tune in to the show.
Gary Garay, who hosts the monthly Dublab show "Mas Exitos con Ganas," grew up in Southern California's high desert and has been listening to Laboe for years. He remembers when dedications came from local listeners, then included callers from other states. "I don't think people understand how significant it is as far as communication goes," says Garay.
Both Garay and McNeill emphasize the dedications that serve as messages to people behind bars. "This was a strong way of communication to reach incarcerated loved ones," says McNeil. "I don't know any other radio program that really offers that." McNeil recalls his visit to Laboe's studio, where he saw family photos of listeners that were clearly taken in prison. "I think he realized the real positive impact he was having on families who were separated through incarceration," says McNeill.
Now it's Laboe's turn to be on the receiving end of the dedications. McNeill and the Dublab crew are interested in sending the finished piece to iHeartRadio, which controls 92.3, to show their support for Laboe as well. "He's been facilitating these dedications for decades," says McNeill, "and we thought it was fitting to now dedicate songs to him."
Leave a dedication to Art Laboe at 323-412-0681. Also, listen to Gary Garay's tribute to Art Laboe's "Original Sound" label on Dublab.
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[Update: Art Laboe is coming back to the Inland Empire. His show was picked up by Old School 104.7.]