September 26, 2017

Reggie Lavong, Radio DJ, Music Exec, Format Pioneer, and Owner of 1340 AM WHAT, Has Died

Reginald N. Lavong Sr., a radio pioneer, entrepreneur and civil rights advocate, died on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. He was 84.

He was born on April 5, 1933 in Gainesville, FL. His mother passed away when he was 2 years old. He was adopted at age 4 by his cousin, Mae Lavong, and her husband Walter, who resided in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the New York borough of Brooklyn.

Lavong was an only child. He was educated in the Archdiocese of New York and graduated in 1950 from Boys’ High School in Brooklyn. After graduation, he attended Temple University as a journalism major. At Temple he worked as a radio announcer for the college radio station WRTI. He was hired to work at a small commercial radio station in Vineland, N.J., during his junior year.

Lavong’s talent for broadcasting and his growing fan base made it possible for him to work at WRAP in Norfolk, Va., at WAMS in Wilmington, Del., and as the nighttime broadcaster for WHAT in Philadelphia. In 1960 he landed back on the east coast in New York City as the legendary “Dr. Jive” on WWRL after having worked in Chicago on WHFC.

Lavong joined NBC in New York as a personality on WNBC in the mid-1960s. He changed his on-air name to “Just John” and developed an even larger fan base as part of the national network.

In 1964, he and Georgie Woods became the first Black men in the United States to be part owners of a television station. He and Woods, in partnership with Aaron Katz and Leonard Stevens, purchased WPHL Channel 17 in Philadelphia.

In 1986, he and Miller Parker, owners of Maine Line Communications, purchased Philadelphia’s local radio station WHAT from Independence Broadcasting. The station changed to an African-American-orientated talk and nostalgia format. -sources Philadelphia Tribune and David Hinckley HuffPost
See Philadelphia Tribune for detailed obituary

WHAT became the first 24 hour All African American talk radio station in the country in 1986. The hosts on the station at the time included Reggie Lavong, along with local powerhouse Philadelphia radio personalities Mary Mason, E. Steven Collins, Georgie Woods, Karen Warrington, and Reggie Bryant. The station continued with the black talk radio format after Lavong and Parker sold it in 1989 to former WDAS General Manager Cody Anderson.

In 2007, 1340 AM WHAT, known as the "Voice of the African American Community," was sold to Marconi Broadcasting and thus ending the station's longtime African American-focus and it's talk radio format started by Reggie Lavong. The talk radio format continues in Philadelphia on WURD radio at 900 AM and 96.1 FM.

In 1968 Reggie Lavong recorded “Skin Deep,” a recitation about equality backed by the Shiloh Pentecostal Choir: “Yes, I’m black / God made me this way / And beneath this skin I’m as good as any man / no matter what they say.”

In light of the times we are living, it sheds some perspective on the climate and atmosphere in this country today and why protest is still necessary.

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