Hunter Hancock, 88, the legendary disc jockey regarded as one of the first in the western United States to spin rhythm and blues records and to broadcast rock and roll, died Aug. 4 at a retirement complex in Claremont, Calif. No cause of death was reported.
Known on air as "Ol' HH," Mr. Hancock and his high-pitched, frantic, exaggerated voice was heard over Los Angeles airwaves from 1943 to 1968, hosting the KFVD (later KPOP) Sunday "Harlem Holiday" and daily "Harlematinee," the KGFJ nightly Top 20 "Huntin' With Hunter" and the KGER Sunday gospel show "Songs of Soul and Spirit."
He also had a brief run on local television, KCBS, in 1955 with the Friday night show "Rhythm and Bluesville," interviewing such musicians as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Little Richard and the Platters. For several years, Pulse survey, a precursor to Arbitron, rated Mr. Hancock's shows No. 1 among black listeners in Southern California. In 1950, the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper rated Mr. Hancock the most popular DJ in Los Angeles among blacks.
To the surprise of both black and white audiences at live concerts, however, Mr. Hancock was white. Born in Uvalde, Tex., he tried 22 jobs in a half-dozen years -- salesman, bank clerk, chauffeur, drummer, singer. He ultimately found work in radio around Texas before landing a weekend announcer's spot on KFVD, a "sundown station" that went off the air at dusk. When someone bought a one-hour program on Sundays specifying that it appeal to blacks, Mr. Hancock became the host.
Known as an "announcer" before the term "disc jockey" entered the vernacular, he played jazz recordings on the new show he dubbed "Harlem Holiday."
By 1947, he was encouraged to add a daily half-hour show he called "Harlematinee," and he soon learned that jazz was not the only music that appealed to his audience. A Modern Records salesman bluntly told him, "Hancock . . . if you want to reach a huge Negro audience, you should be playing race records."
He had no idea what "race records" were, but he played two the salesman offered. That attracted more record promoters, and within a week, Mr. Hancock told the Doo-Wop Society years later, "my show was 100 percent 'race music.' "
His career had its lows. In 1961, he was indicted, and later convicted and given a suspended sentence and probation, for failing to report $18,000 of income in his tax statements for 1956 to 1958. Prosecutors said the money was "payola" from record companies bribing Mr. Hancock to "plug" and play their records. Mr. Hancock testified that he considered the occasional cash "gifts."
In 1959, along with Roger Davenport, Mr. Hancock started a record company, Swingin' Records, with a debut hit, "There Is Something on Your Mind" by saxophonist Big Jay McNeely. They also released songs by Marvin & Johnny, Rochell & the Candles and the Hollywood Saxons, among others.
Mr. Hancock's wife of 41 years, Dorothy, died in 1999.
Survivors include three children; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.