Tune in to Art Laboe
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net

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 diagrams."

Despite his interest in radio, music was not his main passion.

"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 watch movies."

Laboe rents films in preference to going to the theater and likes 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 charities.

"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 by different  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 it.

"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 scene.

"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, www.killeroldies.com, 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 listeners' hearts.

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