Why L.A. listeners just can’t quit radio dedication shows
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Feb. 13. I’m Julia Carmel, a feature writer for The Times’ Lifestyle section who covers travel, local culture and things to do along the West Coast.
Now that the Rihanna concert (and the sports surrounding it) are behind us, I’m focusing on our next big national event: Valentine’s Day.
For the record:
6:22 p.m. Feb. 15, 2023An earlier version of this newsletter included a graphic that misspelled “pacific.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about love since I moved to Los Angeles last August. On paper, I uprooted my life to take this job, but I also moved here from 2,500 miles away to be with my love, who has lived here since we started dating more than two years ago.
It was a bit challenging to fall in love with L.A. — as a native New Yorker, I didn’t even have a driver’s license when I applied for this job. I started by finding rituals that made this place feel like home.
The most comforting one became turning on my car’s radio each Sunday night to tune into KDAY 93.5 FM. As I learned the streets of my new neighborhood, I found something familiar in Art Laboe’s conversations with listeners.
“Why have you never dedicated a song to me?” I asked my partner one night as we drove home from a movie.
“Because it’s corny,” they replied. “But I’ll do it if you really want.”
The streets were quiet when we turned onto my block a few minutes later. We lingered in the car for a minute to hear a stranger pour her heart out to Laboe — and thousands of listeners.
Laboe died last October, but his impact on the radio industry can be heard in the dozens of dedication shows that cropped up after he first went on air in the 1940s. As I read about his life’s work, I became fascinated with the call-in dedication format, eventually tracing it back through 80 years of California radio.
These days, Delilah, the mononymous “queen of sappy love songs,” broadcasts a five-hour-long request show each night from her home near Seattle that has made her the most listened-to woman on the radio. She is nationally syndicated on about 150 stations, reaching about 8.3 million listeners each week.
On L.A.’s KOST 103.5 FM, Karen Sharp reaches nearly half a million listeners weekly. Even Laboe’s shows still broadcast Sunday nights on 93.5 KDAY, and Monday through Thursday night on Old School 104.7 KQIE.
Calling into a radio station might seem like a relic from another era — a cinematic-yet-clichéd gesture, like holding up a boombox beneath a bedroom window or racing through an airport to stop the love of your life from getting on a flight (or a radio DJ relaying an apology from Ross to Rachel in “Friends”).
But the shows have a hold on listeners. Even in the age of cellphones and Spotify, legions of fans still tune in nightly.
The host might be wishing a couple a happy anniversary or issuing a diplomatic apology on behalf of someone in the dog house. They’ll play songs like Selena’s “Dreaming of You” for long-distance couples, “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer for hopeful crushes and Dolly Parton’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” for those wallowing in heartbreak.
Nina Morales, from Sylmar spent seven years dedicating songs to her husband, Scrappy, while he was incarcerated in Delano, Calif. Though she’d been listening to Laboe’s show since she was 9, Nina didn’t call in until years later, when she dedicated Bertha Tillman’s “Oh My Angel” to her spouse.
“The love that we had for each other,” she said, “he would hear it in my voice every time I called.”
She continued calling Laboe’s show to dedicate songs to Scrappy five nights a week until his death in late 2021.
“My husband was my best friend, my soulmate, the love of my life,” Morales said. “And Mr. Art Laboe would bring us closer, no matter the distance or time.”
If you’re curious to read more about the history of these shows and the many people who have called into them over the years, you can find the rest of my story here. Send it to someone you love, if you feel so inclined.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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Inside Echo Park’s weekly queer line dancing party. Lina Abascal takes us to the Wild West inside Club Bahia, where queer couples and friends throw on their cowboy boots and learn how to line dance. You know where to find me tonight! Los Angeles Times
LAUSD workers voted to allow their union leaders to call a strike if negotiations don’t lead to an agreement. The 30,000-person union, which represents nonteaching employees in Los Angeles schools like cafeteria workers, teaching assistants, custodians and bus drivers, is asking for a 30% wage increase plus a $2-per-hour “equity wage adjustment” for all. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass ordered city officials to compile a list of surplus and unused properties that could be transformed into homeless housing. The Times’ David Zahniser writes that “she wants city officials to vet each of those sites by March 31 to determine which would work best for temporary or permanent housing — an aggressive timetable for a city that has been struggling for years to respond to the crisis.” The executive directive is one step toward her promise to house 17,000 people in her first year in office. Los Angeles Times
Sacramento’s government-sanctioned camping site for homeless people may not reopen. Though it’s the only site of its kind in Sacramento — providing tents, bathrooms and showers for around 80 people — the city has closed the Miller Park Safe Ground. Theresa Clift writes that it initially closed due to flooding along the Sacramento River, but City Manager Howard Chan announced that he does not plan to reopen the site. Sacramento Bee
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
An Oxnard man was arrested and charged in connection with two 1981 homicides. The Times’ Noah Goldberg reports that Tony Garcia, 68, was arrested in relation to a decades-long investigation into the deaths of Rachel Zendejas and Lisa Gondek. Los Angeles Times
The six-person massacre in Goshen came after years of bad blood between families. After six family members died in a matter of minutes on Jan. 16, authorities began to question the crime’s motive. “When the authorities arrested a pair of suspects 18 days later, they were not cartel assassins, but local gang members,” writes Matthew Ormseth. “Their work was not a professional hit, it now appears, but the culmination of years of beefs and simmering bad blood between two families who lived and hated one another on the same desolate patch of land.” Los Angeles Times
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Lake Oroville, a reservoir in northern California that plays a key role in the state’s water supply, has been on the rise. The Times’ Hayley Smith wrote that recent rainstorms have brought the reservoir to “68% of its capacity on Friday — up from 28% just two months prior, according to state data.” Photos by staff photojournalist Brian van der Brug also illustrate the stark difference between how the lake looked in June 2021 and February 2023. Los Angeles Times
Our rainy winter is also giving Californians hope that fire season will be milder, but the newly flourishing grass could also become wildfire fuel. Jack Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that “precipitation has contrasting effects on different ecosystems. High-elevation forests, which dominate Northern California, don’t behave the same way as lower-elevation grasslands, found throughout Southern California and much of Central California.” This may lead to fewer fires in California’s mountains and more in the foothills. San Francisco Chronicle
The beloved San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant will close its Ports O’ Call Village location next month. After more than 60 years at this location, the owners of one of the highest grossing fish markets in the region said they’re moving to make way for a new waterfront development, Grace Toohey reports. They plan to reopen in a new, larger space nearby and run a pop-up market at West Harbor. Los Angeles Times
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