Hunter Hancock, widely regarded as one of the first radio disc jockeys in the western United States to broadcast rhythm and blues records and later rock ’n’ roll, has died. He was 88.
Hancock died Aug. 4 of natural causes in a retirement home in Claremont, said his daughter, Rosemary Davis.
He was known on the air as “Ol’ H.H.” and was heard from 1943 to 1968 on a number of stations. He hosted popular radio shows, including “Harlem Holiday,” “Harlematinee,” “Huntin’ With Hunter” and the gospel show “Songs of Soul and Spirit.”
He also appeared briefly on KCBS-TV 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 Hancock’s shows No. 1 among black listeners in Southern California. In 1950, the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper rated Hancock the most popular DJ in Los Angeles among blacks.
As a result, black and white people alike who attended concerts where Hancock was the master of ceremonies were often surprised to discover he was white.
Born in Uvalde, Texas, Hancock tried nearly two dozen careers, including salesman, bank clerk, chauffeur, drummer and singer, before landing in radio when KMAC-AM in San Antonio hired him to read commercials and news copy.
He was playing jazz on a Los Angeles radio show that had been created to attract black listeners when a record salesman told him he could attract even more if he added what were then called “race records.” He played a couple of R&B records the salesman offered him and they were so popular, he recalled years later, that within a week that was all he was playing. In 1956, he became one of the first disc jockeys to play rock ’n’ roll.
His career had its lows as well as highs. He was convicted in 1962 and sentenced to probation for failing to report $18,000 income on tax forms for 1956-58.
Prosecutors said the money was payola from record companies bribing him to plug and play their records. Hancock testified that he considered the occasional cash to be gifts.