The Rabbitt Passes
If you grew up in Southern California in the late 1960s and ‘70s, you probably listened to Jimmy Rabbitt on at least one of his many stations. Arriving from Dallas, Texas legendary KLIF, he landed at KCBQ/San Diego in 1968. In short order he found himself in Los Angeles at such stations as the original KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM), KLAC (570 AM), KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), KBBQ (later KROQ 1500 AM; no longer on the air); KROQ-AM; KGBS (now KTNQ, 1020 AM), and KROQ (106.7 FM). I am told he also worked at KFI (640 AM), but can’t find confirmation.
If you were paying close … really close … attention, you might even remember his for the three days he worked at KHJ (930 AM) in 1972. Why he took that job I am not sure, the story goes that he originally left KCBQ because the station tightened up the playlist and format too much. KHJ at the time was even tighter, but I digress.
Born in 1941 under his given name of Dale Payne, The Rabbitt was one of the “coolest” sounding DJs to ever grace the local airwaves. The Los Angeles Times named him Rock DJ of the Year in 1969 when he was at KRLA; his style fit perfectly with the station’s laid-back style at the time as it did with the early progressive FM formats. But for whatever reason, he never seemed to stay around a station very long.
Former KROQ personality and programmer Darrell Wayne even told a story of one stint at the alternative station … fired the first night!
Radio historian Alan Oda told a funny Rabbitt story on his blog, ayodaradio.blogspot.com, writing “The thought of The Rabbitt at the strictly formatted KHJ seems odd but it did happen, albeit not for long. He quickly bristled at the rigid playlist, so he decided to play a record of his own liking.
“He told James Brown of the Los Angeles Times he disliked the personalized jingle ‘JIMMY RABBITT – 93 KHJ!!’ so he brought in a mechanical toy bunny, playing the melody ‘Here Comes Peter Cottontail.’ Recalled Rabbitt, ‘management called me in, shouting ‘what have you done to my radio station??’
“PD Bill Watson let Rabbitt know ‘we don’t want another Robert W. Morgan at night,’ but Rabbitt couldn’t be fired until Bill Drake returned from a Hawaii trip. With Drake’s approval secured, Rabbitt was officially shown the door after just three days.”
Ironically, the weekly Boss Thirty featuring his photo on the front cover and available at stores throughout the region, was distributed after he was shown the door.
More recently, he was doing a show on low powered KOCI (101.5 FM) , which broadcasts out of Costa Mesa. Playing what was called an “I don’t Know What’s Coming Next” mix of music, the show was popular enough for the station to occasionally run out of streaming connections for online listeners at KOCIRadio.Com.
In addition to his work on the radio, he worked for industry newspaper Radio Report as its Country editor, and was a writer and frontman for the band Jimmy Rabbitt and Renegade, which performed in venues including Hollywood’s Palomino Club. You can still find his album in used record stores occasionally.
Rabbitt passed away over the Thanksgiving holiday. No details were released but I was told it was possibly related to COPD, though still unexpected.
Douglas Brown remembers Rabbitt fondly. “I worked with Rabbitt on the original KROQ AM/FM,” he told me. “He was the classic non-DJ DJ with excellent music taste.”
Living the Past
Proving it’s not just me … I happened upon Fantasy-Radio.Com, a website dedicated to bringing “legendary top-40 radio stations back to life.” Every hour the site plays a music and recordings from a different city and different station, such as WCFL/Chicago, or Ten-Q, KHJ or even HitRadio 93, KKHR (now KCBS-FM, 93.1 FM).
I have not had a chance to listen much, so there may be much more than I have heard so far. It seems to be an on-line jukebox of music for a certain era and a chosen station’s jingles for that era. The “playlist” promises original recordings, however, including personalities such as Dan Ingram, Rick Dees, “The Real” Don Steele, and Dave Donovan.