Friday, May 11, 2012

Hot Rod Hulbert

Anyone who has read much of this blog probably know about my long-standing hip-hop thesis. No matter what the origin of the rap may be, and no matter who commercialized it into a musical genre, the dissemination of rapping as a vocal style was done via radio by disc jockeys. Even a cursory familiarity with "jives" will bear this out.

One of those jive-talking pioneers was Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert. In 1949 he began his radio career at the age of 33, a late-starter who got ahead quickly. He started out at WDIA-AM, the famously all-black radio station in Memphis. It was there he began calling himself "Commander Hot Rod" and talking jive on the mic including the exclamation "Good googamooga!" which inexplicably has entered the cannon of common usage. his afternoon show was called the Sepia Swing Club. He did so well he added two morning shows as well. He outgrew WDIA in just over a year. More here.

In 1951 he became the only black announcer on WITH-AM in  Baltimore. WITH was Baltimore's first independent station, and had been founded only 10 years earlier. The move was somewhat contrived. Station owner Thomas Garland Tinsley was savvy enough to make a play for the large black demographic in Baltimore. He wasn't discriminating, he also owned a Muzak franchise in the same market. The WITH  morning man Buddy Deane gave Hulbert a recommendation and he was in.More here.

At the time, WITH, was Top-40 station that mixed in some rhythm and blues. His program ran from 8:00 PM to Midnight. The playlist there wasn't as progressive as  WDIA, but it wasn't Lilly-white like either. Hulbert stayed at WITH until 1959 and even began to get syndicated. But he also started publishing a private tip-sheet. ((I'd love to see one) but apparently it was a  very pay-to-play situation that got him in a bit of hot water. if you recall 1959 was the year of the great senate payola crack down. His own station manager, Jake Embry ushered him out the door and up a metro to WHAT-AM in Philadelphia. It was about then that Jocko Henderson started aping his routine. Henderson didn't plan to stay at WHAT, he also started doing a show at WOV-AM New York.  But the big apple wasn't biting, after the heat was off he returned to WITH in 1963, for a year but in 1964 he crossed the street to 1400 WWIN-AM. He stayed there well into the 1970s and became an institution instead of a star.

Hulbert retired in 1974 at the age of 59 but continued on in sales at a few Baltimore area stations. He later managed gospel-formatted WBGR-AM from 1984 until his real retirement in 1991. He was inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame in 1991. He died oin1996 at the age of 80.