Tune in to Art Laboe
By Naughty Mickie
Usually I speak with people on the other end of things,
musicians, many of whom are always working on ways to
reinvent themselves and stay in the spotlight. Art Laboe
is a refreshing change. He is a humble man who specializes
in the past, while looking toward the future and always
keeping a connection with his audience.
For those who find his name unfamiliar, Laboe is an
announcer who spins oldies hits every Sunday night across
the airwaves and has a 24/7 Internet music program, plus a
number of other ventures. He also has firm hold in the
shaping of music history.
Laboe was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and moved to Los
Angeles during his high school years. He currently lives
in the Hollywood Hills.
Laboe graduated from Washington High School at age 16 (he
was promoted from first to the third grade during
elementary school). Being smart isn't the same as being
motivated, as Laboe admits that the only A he got in high
school was in shop class. But he went on to attend Los
Angeles City College, San Mateo Junior College and Stanford
University, studying radio engineering.
"I was a radio engineer before I got into the show
business end," Laboe says, adding that he had own radio
station at age 12. "I had friends that were older than me
that were interested in (radio engineering) and I just
hung around and talked to them and we used to draw
Despite his interest in radio, music was not his main
"I just liked music and liked hits of that age, but I was
primarily interested in radio engineering rather than the
other," Laboe says.
During his school years, Laboe worked at a radio repair
shop after classes.
"I finished high school in California and then World War
II came along and I went in the service and I was working
in San Francisco at Treasure Island in the Navy," Laboe
relates. "I went over to this radio station because I had
nights free and I went to this station in San Francisco,
KSAN, and went in and tried to get a job as an announcer.
The guy says, 'Well, you're too young, you don't have the
right voice for radio.' Which I didn't. In those days,
they wanted those deep voices. And he says, 'Besides, we
hire combination men here, you have to have a FCC license
too. I don't think we're interested.' So I said, 'Do you
mean one of these?' And I pulled out three licenses.
"I had a first class radio telephone and a radio telegraph
and a ham license. His eyes got real big and he looked up
at me and said, 'You're hired.' And I said, 'But I thought
you said--' He walked around his desk, put his arm around
me and he says, 'No, that license you've got, that first
class radio telephone, I need that on my wall. All my
engineers have been drafted and they're in the service.
I'm operating illegally and when I put that on my wall,
I'll be legal.' He hired me on the spot and I did a
nighttime program there."
Laboe worked the 11 p.m.-midnight shift, playing music
until the station signed off for the day.
"Partying," Laboe laughs when I ask him about his hobbies.
"I like to
swim and I play some tennis and I read. I also like to
Laboe rents films in preference to going to the theater
actions, westerns and classics.
He has three cats- Mokoko (who has papers), La Reina
(alley cat who acts like a queen) and Pussette (a Siamese
with papers who is almost 18). Laboe also has a new cat
that's hanging around outside his home. The cat looks like
La Reina, so he named it Relative. He feeds the cat, but
it won't let him pet it yet, but Relative is brave enought
to sleep on the front porch. LaBoe is a big animal lover
and his foundation supports animal and education
"Cats have karma, they send out vibes," Laboe states.
Laboe made his biggest mark in music history by developing
the compilation album.
"I was on the radio here in Los Angeles at the time and I
was the only guy playing rock and roll, that was in the
'50s, about 1957, '58 maybe," recalls Laboe. "We had one
of those old RCA record players,
the little ones with the big hole, records would drop,
like an automatic record changer. They didn't always work
too well, the records would jam and not fall or after you
put a few records on, they would run out and
you'd have to put more on.
"I'm with a girlfriend of mine and I was sitting on the
couch with her and we're doing the '50s thing, necking. In
those days, you had to work up to a kiss. I was trying to
work up to a little more and just about the time things
would get going a little bit, she was wearing one of those
angora sweaters, and things got going a little bit and all
of a sudden the music would run out. She would poke me in
the ribs and say, 'Go put the music on.' I'd have to get
up and go across the room and put some other records on
and come back and by then everything's cooled off," Laboe
laughs. "I'd have to start over again.
"That happened a couple of times and, they were all songs
artists, I thought to myself, dammit, I wish they'd put
those on a LP." Laboe continues, "A light flashed in
my head-- why not do that? I went
back to the radio station that night, took a bunch of
these singles and put them together on a tape and made
'Oldies But Goodies, Volume One' the way I'd like to have
"Then I talked to the record companies and tried to lease
the cuts to put on an album." Laboe goes on, "Since that
had never been done, the companies were not too much
against it because, they said we're not going to let you
sell them as singles. Singles were the big thing then. I
says, no, no, this is going to be on an album. So I was
able to get permission for the first one."
The release became a big hit, going across the nation and
charting well. Laboe ended up with five albums in the Top
100, with the first one staying on the charts for more
than three years.
Laboe has a strong and creative staff who help him
brainstorm ideas for new project. His latest venture will
be testing a new format at his radio station, KOKO 94.3,
in Fresno. It is called Viva Hip Hop, which is Latin hip
hop mixed with killer oldies. (Killer oldies are more
recent oldies artists as compared to golden oldies.) It's
all in English with
artists performing Latin rap and it's all clean. The
format will also be tested on the Internet, but only in
Fresno. If it works, Laboe will offer it in other cities.
So what is the appeal of oldies?
"It means something different to whoever is listening to a
specific song," Laboe says. "It takes you right back to
some kind of time or
memory that is emotionally stimulating to the person
hearing that song."
This leads me to ask what Laboe thinks of today's music
"There's all kinds of today's music, not to be judgmental
about it's good or it's bad because music is only good or
bad in the ears of the beholder," Laboe replies. "If
people like it, then it's good whether I like it or not."
From here, I am curious to learn to what Laboe attributes
his staying power.
"I don't know. I get asked that a lot, even by other radio
people, 'What are you doing?' because they listen to it
and can't hear anything," Laboe laughs. "I think the best
answer is a connection to the audience, a connection
through the music and what I'm doing. I just try to sound
like a nice guy on the air and connect with the audience.
"Music radio is extremely difficult right now because
there's a lot of ways to get music." Laboe explains, "In
the old days of radio, and I was
there, kids would go home and turn on the radio. They go
home now and they can turn on the computer, they can turn
on their CDs, they can put on DVDs, see concerts and go on
and on. But radio doesn't have to be the primary source.
You can buy a bunch of CDs and program your own so you
don't have to listen to anything you don't like.
"That's what we're up against today." Laboe continues, "So
if you think
you're just going to play the music same as everybody else
does or play different songs than they play or play 10 in
a row or whatever you're going to do, it doesn't work. And
most of them are scratching their heads wondering why it
doesn't work. Because things have changed. It isn't
because they don't know what they're doing, the whole
situation has changed. And if you are not able to connect,
some are and some aren't, you're not always connecting
with the same people."
Talk radio with a good staff works because they connect
well with people, Laboe points out. Still, on Sunday
nights, Art Laboe is the king of the airwaves.
"I just do what I do," Laboe says humbly.
Laboe has had his Internet station,
for about six years. It's 24-hour music radio that is
geared primarily for background, with a softer sound than
his weekly program.
The future is not a worry for Laboe, who is too busy to do
everything he wants and is constantly getting offers for
more. Yet, he is never too busy for his fans nor to offer
advice to aspiring announcers.
"Perseverance, never give up," Laboe imparts. "That's the
most important thing. Passionate perseverance. If you do
give up, then it's finished. That's what you have to do
first, then you have to have some smarts and talent if you
want to move beyond mediocre."
And Laboe is far beyond mediocre. He is not only a part of
music history, he holds a special spot in many of his