(Sept. 3, 2006) -- Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg, who began playing nearly-forbidden "rhythm and blues" on L.A.-LB area radio in the early 1950s -- music that later became known as rock n' roll -- is now in rock n' roll heaven. He passed away August 30 at age 78...and in recent years lived quietly in Long Beach.
"Huggy Boy" was at the epicenter of a musical and cultural earthquake that he grasped when others didn't, although he didn't share in the fortunes that others amassed. For years, he worked at night, mainly post-midnight, drawing listeners on weak signal local stations or outlets from Mexico, tuned-in despite AM radio static by a generation using six transistor radios (with earpieces so parents wouldn't know).
In the 1950s and part of the 1960s, he aired on KRKD in L.A. (a thin 1,000 watts at night) with sponsors that included an all-night record store calling itself "Dolphin's of Hollywood."
Except (typical radio style) it wasn't in Hollywood. It was at the less than glamorous corner of Central and Vernon ("just twenty magic steps west of Central on Vernon")...and Huggy Boy drew crowds at all hours by broadasting from the store's window.
If sponsors grew thin, he'd disappear from the airwaves for a while, then resurface. For a while he was on KALI and KWKW (tough to hear outside East L.A.) and KGFJ (only 250 watts most nights, 100 watts on Wednesdays and Sundays).
As with DJ's of that era, Huggy Boy had a "sign on" theme song. His was a high-energy party-rocker, "All Night Long," by Joe Houston. While others played Pat Boone and Doris Day, "Huggy Boy" played songs like "Work With Me Annie" and "Sixty Minute Man" that were effectively "banned" elsewhere.
In the stylized AM radio patter of the day, he'd tell listeners, "The Huggy Boy Show must be the best; it's outlasted all the rest. Many have imitated but none have duplicated the sound found here with me." He hosted endless concerts in the area and is credited with putting an energetic then-unknown singer, Jackie Wilson, on stage at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium, giving him his first big break.
Dick Hugg was a white man who won audiences of all colors. They loved him because the music he embraced broke down artificial barriers. While others played Pat Boone's "cover" version of "Tutti Fruiti," Huggy Boy played the real thing by Little Richard.
Huggy Boy also gave a local broadcaster his start: one of his assistants in his radio days was Tony Valdez, today an award winning reporter with KTTV/Fox 11 news. (Mr. Valdez related this story some years ago on LB Charter Cable channel 3 in an interview with LB writer/rock n' roll historian Steve Propes).
By the late 50s, rock n' roll was becoming profitable and KFWB and KRLA adopted full time "Top 40" formats...but they didn't hire Huggy Boy. He remained relegated to fringe outlets for years. In the late 60s or early 70s, he bought air time on a station in Mexico, taped his shows here and shipped the reels to Baja where they'd air a day or so later. He did the shows from a trailer parked across from the now-vanished Hollywood Ranch Market (Vine St. at Fountain Ave.), juggling dedications from boyfriends to girlfriends and vice versa. In the 70s, he also did a shoe-string budget TV dance show (the kind that mainly disappeared in the 60s) on KWHY, Channel 22.
When the music he popularized became lucrative as "oldies," mainstream stations adopted the format and KRLA (finally) hired him. He did a regularly scheduled show on 1110 AM from the early 80s through the late 90s.
About ten years ago, my wife and I were at the L.A. County Fair on a summer night and there was Huggy Boy, sitting in another trailer, doing another remote broadcast. We watched for over half an hour as he kept people who gathered 'round spellbound, a slender, smiling grandfatherly figure playing rock n' roll with live dedications, all aired live without the benefit of protective delay.
When KRLA signed off as L.A.'s last major AM rocker, KRTH/101-FM hired him. He remained there until 2002.
Familymembers, and the music he helped popularize, survive him. The beat goes on.