Imagine succeeding someone who'd been at his job for 79 years.
Known for its oldies music, dedications and that legendary voice, the long-running “The Art Laboe Connection” continues to bring people together despite Laboe’s death in October at age 97.
Endless archives of his booming musical and programming introductions allow listeners to still hear Laboe on the radio, but it's Rebecca Luna — known on air as Old School Becky Lu — who now curates their requests.
Luna, 43, began working with Laboe in 2016, when she was hired as a call screener for “The Art Laboe Connection” at the recording studio on Desert Park Avenue in Palm Springs. When COVID hit in 2020, she became Laboe's co-host to lessen some of the challenges of remote production.
On a late morning in January, she sits at the center of the studio, surrounded by memorabilia: pictures of Laboe with different artists, recognition plaques and even a Laboe bobblehead. “Congratulations” banners still hang on the walls, from when the show celebrated one of Laboe's many anniversaries of being on the radio.
Later, she'll sit behind the mic in the chair where Laboe once sat, and read song dedications from people of all walks of life. Some listeners simply treasure memories with music. Others seek connection despite distance or circumstance — Luna estimates that just under half of the requests the show gets are from people in prison who want to communicate with their loved ones “on the outside.”
When she started at the show, Luna recalls feeling a bit intimidated but mostly eager to learn.
“There were two other girls, so (they) were training me on how to take the calls, how to write out the dedications and how to set them up for Art, because Art had a certain way,” she said.
Luna had some knowledge of the work since she'd taken broadcasting classes at College of the Desert. She also became a radio co-host for the college's "Wired Live at 5" and "Rock-a-Holics."
Though she once aspired to be a sideline sports reporter on TV, after her time on the COD shows, Luna was convinced her calling was radio.
"From there, my love for music really grew, because it's always been a part of me. My dad was a party DJ and he was an aspiring on-air DJ," she said.
Laboe and Luna shared an eclectic taste in music, overlapping on some favorite genres including doo-wop and rock. They also both loved oldies, but for Laboe, that was the ’50s and ’60s eras while for Luna, it's the sounds of the ’70s and ’80s.
Laboe is credited with coining the phrase “oldies, but goodies.”
Lessons from Art
Silence falls over the studio when Luna is asked about Laboe's death. It happened late last year after a bout of pneumonia.
Joanna Morones, who produces “The Art Laboe Connection” and worked with Laboe for over 20 years, said seeing him less due to the pandemic somehow helped her cope with the loss.
“(COVID) created a little bit of a distance, because we didn't see him every day. I think that, for me, that helped. (It) helped me grieve and accept it a little more easily,” Morones said.
She added that “all the love and condolences coming in from the listeners and the artists and the people that knew him” was also comforting. “I mean, the phones just went crazy with people calling in, saying they were sorry and they too felt like they lost somebody, because Art's voice was part of their lives.”
“It felt like a void, really,” Luna said. “It's still hard.”
From Laboe, Luna said she learned a strong work ethic, business savvy and ongoing passion for the job. “One of the sayings he had for himself was 'Don't walk through it.' ... He wrote it on a little Post-It,” she said. “In Art Laboe terms, it means give it your all.”
As they grew familiar with each other, Luna said she and Laboe became close colleagues, and eventually friends. From making sure they hugged goodbye after work to driving him to get groceries at the local Albertsons, Luna said they found their “regular things.”
“Everybody knew him at the grocery store. ... Art was very personable, so he would talk with people and just get to know them for a little bit, before we went on our way,” she remembered.
Initially, in 2006, the show was broadcasted out of Los Angeles, but according to Morones, Laboe grew tired of LA and began working more out of the Coachella Valley studio in 2013.
Meanwhile, Luna is a lifetime valley native. “I was born in Indio JFK (Memorial Hospital). So was my mom! Oh my gosh,” Luna gushed. “We can say this is a local show,” she added.
While the show records in the valley and is a recognized SoCal staple, it airs on 14 radio stations across California and Arizona. It also streams online at oldschool1047.com.
Morones said the show "didn't put up a flagpole" to announce Luna's transition to sole host to make it smoother. Regular listeners were already familiar with her as a co-host, and Morones said she trusted Laboe's expertise at “spotting talent.”
After decades on air, Laboe’s legacy now includes a passing of the torch to Old School Becky Lu.
A new connection
In doing “The Art Laboe Connection” on her own, Luna said she is not trying to reinvent or change it. But by nature of her being Latina, there are new “elements” that have been introduced, she said.
These elements include Luna's ability to pronounce names, read dedications and talk to callers in Spanish, because she is bilingual.
“People appreciate it,” Luna said. “The fact that the show is being continued with the voice of a Latina feels huge because that's a lot of our audience.”
Though Laboe was Armenian American, his work was appreciated by people of a variety of backgrounds. He's been credited with helping end segregation in Southern California by organizing live DJ shows at drive-in eateries, which invited white, Black and Latino people to dance to rock-n-roll during the '50s, when the older generation was mostly listening to Frank Sinatra and Big Band music.
Luna emphasized how the Mexican American community in particular embraced Laboe, his work becoming part of lowrider car culture, prevalent in East Los Angeles and other parts of California, also in the '50s and beyond.
"Laboe was the voice that they would listen to — on their rides or their Sunday kickbacks at the park or barbecuing with their family," she said.
Candace Silva-Torres, a producer and DJ for KCRW in Los Angeles known as DJ SiLVA, relates. As a teen, she and her family would often tune into Laboe in the car as they headed home to the Inland Empire after visiting relatives in LA.
“Being Mexican American myself ... we were always at these huge family gatherings and like, big barbeques and different birthdays and celebrations. ... Because a lot of the times the party was over by Sunday night, I remember the hour or so drive back home, listening to Art Laboe on the radio,” Silva-Torres said.
She said she is “eager to see” where Old School Becky Lu takes the show. “It's really cool because she will share in common that same experience, you know, as a lot of the listeners.”
Historic and a natural fit
Luna's takeover of the historic show is not only significant because she is a person of color, but also due to the rarity of women DJs on the radio in the United States.
Data from the job posting website Zippia.com shows most DJs in the country are white (72%), trailed by Hispanic or Latino (14%), Black or African American (8%) and Asian (3%). Only 36% of all radio DJs in the country are women.
Tyler Boudreaux, who goes by Boogie Boudreaux and started her work as a DJ at KCRW in 2021, said that although she is a Black woman, her job “didn't seem like something that was groundbreaking” as she was forging her way.
However, it dawned on her during a DJ meeting at her station that consisted of solely women. “We were all sitting down kind of looking at each other, like, this is really special. It's the first time in KCRW history, actually, where it's majority women and it feels like there's a bubble bursting.”
Boudreaux said the station currently employs over 100 people.
To have Luna at the helm of “The Art Laboe Connection,” Boudreaux said, points to the importance of having women's voices on air. "We want to hear from people that are like us. As a listener, you want to identify with someone and you want to hear them get excited about things that you get excited about."
Morones said Laboe was aware his audience would welcome "a female voice" and someone who spoke Spanish before inviting Luna to co-host.
“Art had talked about (adding) someone young, with a vivacious personality,” she said. “Becky Lu was a natural fit. She is the audience.”
Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElianaPress.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Taking over for Art Laboe was a natural fit for ‘Old School Becky Lu’
— Art Laboe, the pioneering DJ credited with helping end segregation in Southern California, has died. He was 97. Laboe died Friday night after catching pneumonia, said Joanna Morones, a spokesperson for Laboe's production company, Dart Entertainment.When did the Art Laboe show start? ›
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Art Laboe, the pioneering radio DJ credited with helping end segregation in Southern California, has died. He was 97.Who is replacing Art Laboe? ›
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Listen to Art Laboe on Jammin' 99.5. Weekdays, 6PM 12 Mid, Sundays, 6PM to 12 Mid.
The city of Los Angeles declared July 17, 1981 to be “Art Laboe Day” when he received a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. Art Laboe memorabilia can be seen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum's interactive Rock and Radio exhibit in Cleveland, Ohio.What channel is the Art Laboe show on? ›
Tune in to 93.5 KDAY for “The Art Laboe Connection Show”. Art Laboe has made legendary impactful news over the airwaves in L.A. and is a part of history in the radio and entertainment industry.Will the Art Laboe show continue? ›
Pioneering DJ Art Laboe's oldies show will continue after his death. The syndicated radio show led by the late Art Laboe, a pioneering DJ who read song dedications to generations of loyal listeners, will live on.Does Art Laboe have kids? ›
Laboe was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2012. He died at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., after being diagnosed with pneumonia, said Morones, his assistant. He was twice married and divorced, predeceased by two sons, and leaves no immediate survivors, aside from his dedicated audience.Where did Art Laboe live? ›
Art Laboe, a revered Los Angeles radio mainstay for more than half a century who delighted local fans and a syndicated audience by playing those “oldies but goodies,” has died. He was 97. A post on his official Twitter account said Laboe died October 7 of pneumonia at his home in Palm Springs.Is Huggy Boy still alive? ›
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When you hear us shout-out your name, you'll have 20 minutes to call us at (323) 520-5329 to win!Who is the only player to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? ›
Stars. Terry Bradshaw parlayed a career as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history into a second, even longer career as a television commentator and some-time actor. He is the only former NFL player to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.What is the most famous star on the Walk of Fame? ›
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He was 97. Laboe, who hosted a show on Los Angeles radio station KDAY, died Friday of pneumonia, according to a statement on his Facebook page. Meruelo Media, the company that owns KDAY, confirmed his death. The final show from Laboe, who is credited with coining the phrase "oldies but goodies," was broadcast Sunday.What radio station is 93.5 in Los Angeles CA? ›
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New “old school” host takes over Art Laboe's show
Chicana DJ "Old School Becky Lu" grew up listening to Art Laboe's syndicated radio show. Now, she's taking over as host following Laboe's death in October at the age of 97.
- Laboe was 97 and had been in radio for almost 80 years.
- His work was embraced by the Mexican American community.
- Rebecca Luna had worked on his show before becoming his co-host.
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