Radio Waves: 6/14/19

Remembering “Humble” Harve Miller

As reported here last week, longtime Los Angeles radio personality “Humble” Harve Miller passed away on June 4th at the age of 84. Miller had been suffering from declining health for a while, most likely related to complications from diabetes and cellulitis. He had been in hospice care for a time.

Miller arrived in Los Angeles in 1965 after some time at stations in Trenton, New Jersey and his birth city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. LARadio.Com‘s Don Barrett says Miller began his career at the age of 17 — which I assume is correct — but I cannot find any stations in his biography prior to 1958, when he was 23. 

Regardless, his first Los Angeles-area station was at “Super 15” KBLA/Burbank (1500 AM) a station that was arguably hipper than the typical LA station of the time but that had trouble competing due to limited signal coverage and tight promotional budgets. A few years later, KBLA became top-40 KROQ — yes, KROQ was AM before it was FM, and eventually left the air.

Miller was able to break through the static, however, and attract the attention of then-KHJ programmer Ron Jacobs, who hired him in 1967 to eventually take over the evening 6-9 p.m. shift formerly held by Johnny Mitchell. 

At one point while at KHJ he earned an incredible 21 share of the audience in his time slot — an amazing feat at a station known for amazing feats. Miller’s delivery and voice were perfect for the station and the time slot, and he was especially popular with teenagers looking for something different — someone hip — to listen to in the evening hours. Even if he himself wasn’t necessarily all that hip.

Explains Ken Levine, aka “Beaver Cleaver” on Ten-Q (KTNQ, 1020 AM) as well as a screenwriter, television writer and more: “The whole ‘hip’ persona that he created on the air at KBLA was far from who he was. He even emceed a high school dance for me in 1966 … in a three-piece suit and pompadour! 

“It was only when he came to KHJ that Jacobs did a complete make over. Changed his hair, had him grow a short beard, changed his wardrobe, and insisted that he wear sunglasses at all personal appearances, inside and out.” It worked.

By all accounts, he was a gentle soul … as one person told me, “a nice, Jewish boy.” So what happened next took everyone by surprise.

In 1971 he pled guilty to second-degree murder of his wife at the time, Mary Gladys Miller, who I am told was “mentally abusive to the extreme.” There are numerous stories of her calling him while he was on the air at KHJ, using the studio hotline and bragging about her infidelities, daring him to do something about it. 

No one besides Miller knows what really happened on May 7 of that year, but the judge believed that Mary had a gun, there was a struggle, and Miller accidentally shot her. He was sentenced to five years to life but served much less due to good behavior and the fact that it was considered a crime a passion.

Newspaper reports from the time told of Miller going into hiding for a short time; some say that his friend Phil Spector convinced him to turn himself in to police. I am one who believes that had he not gone into hiding and instead called police immediately — his wife’s body was found by a maid — the verdict would have been different. Regardless, while at the Chino prison where he served his time he helped develop a meaningful radio broadcasting school curriculum — the prison station was KCIM (Chino Institute for Men) — and he became deeply religious. 

After his release he was hired by Rick Carroll for the all-new KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7) one of two top-40 FM stations competing against the then-dominant AM band led by KHJ. I’ve read reports that Miller also worked at KKDJ’s FM competitor KIQQ (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM), but I believe this to be false and can find no proof. The timing just doesn’t work.

Other stations on his resume include KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM, KUTE (now KSCA, 101.9 FM), KRTH (101.1 FM) and KCBS-FM (93.1). He even played some country tunes on KZLA (now KBUE, 94.3 FM) back in the late 1990s.

He also appeared in some movies and was the voice of the syndicated version of KHJ’s History of Rock and Roll, heard on radio stations throughout the country. 

More recently he could be heard in syndication on stations across the country as well as on-line, with special programs and shows focussing primarily on oldies.

Mike Wagner is among those who worked with Miller over the years; his memories are especially touching.

“I first listened to Harve back in the late 1960s when he arrived at KHJ and I was about 13 or 14 years old. He was so funky and different sounding that I loved him! I could not relate to KRLA’s nighttime DJ, Dick Biondi, with his squeaky high-pitched voice, and I found Harve’s funkiness and psychedelic ways most attractive.

“While working at my first radio job in Palm Springs, I remember coming to L.A. to listen to Harve’s return to the SoCal airwaves in 1974. I was sitting on Santa Monica Beach with my AM/FM Transistor Radio and heard Harve’s triumphant return on KKDJ (102.7). His sign on was over the intro of Dawn’s ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’ and Harve simply said: “Hello Los Angeles….here’s a song that I can relate to!” (as Tony Orlando sang: ‘I’m coming home, I’ve done my time….’).”

In the late 1980s, then-programmer Wagner hired Miller to work at KRLA. “Harve was the perfect addition to our nighttime line-up and was still the ultimate professional. I bonded with Harve at KRLA and he paid me the ultimate compliment by telling me that I was the best program Director he had ever worked with. Of course, I found that hard to believe seeing that he was a former Boss Jock and worked with the best of the best, but when Harve spoke, you listened, and usually agreed.

“One of my favorite things about listening to Harve was his use of those funky drop-ins with that big voiced guy on KHJ. Harve explained to me that the man voicing them was a black security guard at KHJ. You remember ‘STONES!’ ‘MOTOWN!’ ‘PSYCHEDELLLLIC!’ and all the rest of them. Harve met the guy in the parking lot at KHJ, they talked, and Harve got him into the recording studio to record some tracks that Harve had written down.

“Here’s one example of how Harve used them: During the song: Band of Gold by Freda Payne. Harve was ready with his Drop-In. Freda sang:  ‘That Night, on our Honeymoon, we slept in separate rooms’ – Harve dropped in a big ‘HAVE MEEEEERRRCY !!!’  To this day, I still hear it whenever that song is played on the radio.

“Thanks for all the great times, Humble Harve. You were one of a kind!”

Indeed. Rest in peace, Harve.