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Don Larkin
Born:  October 13, 1913
Died:  November 12, 2003
WAAT Jersey City, NJ

About the Disc Jockey / Emcee

In an old Country Song Roundup magazine, they write that New Jersey country music fans were piling up the mail for their favorite disc jockey - Don Larkin who was at WAAT. We can tell you that he still gets attention and remembered by his fans as we've received several requests to get something on the site about Don. Don served in World War II as a liaison pilot for field artillery in the Fifth Division in Europe and earned five air medals as the result of 175 combat missions. He was forced down by enemy fire twice, but they said he escaped from harm's way both times.

Upon his discharge from the military service, he went to school and obtained his law degree in 1948. But it seems that the entertainment field had a stronger calling for Don as time went on. While in New Jersey, he became a part of radio station WAAT as well as working on television over WATV. We found mention that his television show on WATV was five hours a week.

A couple of other notable acts were also at WAAT at the same time with done, Shorty and Smokey Warren who had moved their show to the area from Phoenix, Arizona back about 1941 or so. They had a band called the Western Rangers that included the likes of Coy McDaniels, Cy Swed on fiddle, Dick Richards on accordion. In a 1951 article, it mentions that Don and the others traveled in a 1951 Buick with a trailer. In addition to the regular slate of personal appearances, they also did many benefit shows for shut-ins, hospitalized vets.

His popularity seemed to span beyond the New Jersey area. For a time he contributed to Country Song Roundup in some of their regional roundup columns. In a 1956 poll by Country & Western Jamboree magazine, he finished number two as the "Favorite Local Radio Disc Jockey" behind T. Tommy (Cutrer). In that same year, he finished number seven as "Favorite Regional or National Disc Jockey".

He first started writing as the East Coast Representative for Country Song Roundup in May of 1952, and would usually start his portion off by saying, "...This is Larkin barkin'..." In that column, we'd learn about what was going on country music-wise back in the Newark, New Jersey and east coast area. For instance, we read about the WSM Grand Ole Opry stars being a big hit at the Astor Hotel in May of 1952 in the broadway area. Another venue in New York that was hosting country music back then was the Arcadia Ballroom Don noted.

When he was with WAAT, he hosted a show called "Home Town Frolics" that would feature the hits of the day as well as interviews with the stars who were appearing in the area. He as on twice a day at one time, from 7:45am to 9:00am and again from 1:00pm to 3:00pm with the Frolics show. His 'mellow tones' as Bob Felton described him in a Country & Western Jamboree article was heard not only in New Jersey, but in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Some of the artists that visited him back then included the names of the day such as Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Johnny and Jack, Hank Thompson, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Marvin Rainwater. In 1952, Pee Wee King wrote in his column in Country Song Roundup of being on Don's show in Patterson, New Jersey.

Just how popular was the "Home Town Frolics"? One indication might be in the number of sponsors at a point in time. The Billboard 1944 Music Year Book listed nearly a dozen sponsors, such as Canadian Furs, Mack Drug Co., Columbian Insurance, Ranger Joe (a cereal brand), Kel-i-dine, Washington Furniture, Sul Ray, Dr. Morton (a dentist), Prentis Clothes, Schwarz Drug Co., Ward Baking Co., American Express Co., National Union Radio Corporation. While it doesn't list the dj that was hosting that show, we do know Don was in New Jersey at the time, but other articles imply that he didn't really start on WAAT til after World War II. But we also note that other radio stations listed in this "Folk Artists' Radio Commercials" section usually only listed one or two sponsors. So you can see the popularity country music had at WAAT during that era.

He became a successful country music promoter, putting on country jamboree shows back east, which Mr. Felton mentioned had never been done successfully back east. He teamed up with Lyle Reed to put on these shows which succeeded where other attempts failed. Lyle was also heard over WAAT, hosting the "Night Time Frolic" and "Sunday Frolic" shows. In one issue, we find that some of those shows were put on at the Terrace Room of the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey. Some of the artists they booked in 1955 included Eddy Arnold, Bob Wills, Jerry Byrd, Hank Snow, Marvin Rainwater, Little Jimmie Dickens, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price, Hank Thompson, Webb Pierce, Roy Acuff, Johnny and Jack, Kitty Wells, Ferlin Husky, Martha Carson and Slim Whitman.

Don Larkin did more than just spin the records and play the part of promoter. He also dabbled a bit in songwriting. He wrote such tunes as:

  • Stolen Waltz
  • Sidetracked
  • Game of Broken Hearts
  • Don't Keep It A Secret
  • Goodbye Maria (I'm Off To Korea) (with Joe Simpson and Ken O'Rourke)
  • She Said (with Ted Johnson)

Ironically, in that 1955 Country & Western Jamboree article, it mentions at one time Mr. Larkin didn't like 'hillbilly music'. It stemmed from his time in the military service where he kept hearing the music everywhere he was in the barracks as he was evidently surrounded by folks from the southern part of the country who played and sang their music any chance they got. He thought that once he got back to the New Jersey area, he wouldn't ever have to listen to hillbilly music again.

But fate stepped in when he returned home. He noted in an 1954 article that the first song he heard on the radio was Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again" which later became Don's these song. On top of that, when he got back to a radio studio - what was he assigned but none other than a hillbilly music show. Needless to say, one might infer the music eventually took a hold of him. In fact he wrote, "It didn't take me long to find out why country music is so desirable and universal in its appeal."

Credits & Sources

  • The Billboard 1944 Music Year Book; 1944; Billboard Publishing Coompany, Inc., New York, New York
  • Country Song Roundup No. 20; October 1952; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country & Western Jamboree; September 1955; "City Boy Turns Country DJ" by Bob Felton; Maher Publications; Chicago, IL
  • Country Song Roundup No. 48; February 1957; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup No. 53; December 1957; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country & Western Jamboree; February 1956; Maher Publications; Chicago, IL
  • Country & Western Jamboree; December 1956; Maher Publications; Chicago, IL
  • Cowboy Songs No. 20; May 1952; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT

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