Noticing deaths

I’ve meant to write about Bill Buckley and Hal Riney, both of whom I held in fond regard. Now I just learned about Darian O’Toole, who was a standout disk jockey in San Francisco and elsewhere. Bill and Hal had full and long lives. Darian didn’t. Sad news.

Here’s her now-ghostly blog, last updated two years ago. Here’s Big Rick on the subject. Been too long since I’ve visited Rick’s blog, or Brad Kava‘s. Reading around Brad’s blog I also learned that Sean Costello, a fine young blues talent, died in an Atlanta hotel room.

Holy shit, I wandered around the Radio-Info message board for San Francisco, where there is this notice about another death: Jack Armstrong, late of KFRC. A detail… Extremely saddening news… I hoped I never had to write… Our extremely amazing Dad and your friend Jack Armstrong aka John C. Larsh passed away yesterday March 22, 2008 at his home in North Carolina.

John Larsh? Could this be the same John Larsh I knew back at Guilford College? Sure enough: Larsh used to work at 1320 WCOG radio here in Greensboro and his dad was a professor at the Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. John Larsh briefly attended Guilford College.

Jeez. He was a kid, a couple years older than me, who still hung out at Guilford even though he wasn’t going there any more at the time.

The big kahuna at ‘COG then was John Coffman, or “Johnny C”. On Saturday nights, all the local teenagers went cruising up and down Walker and West Market Streets, threading through the parking lot of the Boar and Castle, a legendary run-down car hop place with a famous sauce. Johnny and WCOG played from every radio in every car. I can still hear “A Lovers Concerto” by the Toys and “One Two Three” by Len Barry over the low thrum of “glass pack” mufflers on souped up cars creeping along at two miles an hour. I knew Johnny too, though not from radio. Johnny had a side business selling cookware, and for awhile I made a bit of money working for him. John died of cancer not too many years after that.

But my reeling mind is still flashed back to 1965, when Johnny wasn’t budging from his night slot at ‘COG, and John Larsh was a way-better jock than Johnny anyway. So John headed off to Cleveland, where he worked for what was then WKYC/1100, one of the original (literal) clear channel stations. It boomed into Greensboro every night. I remember how John stirred up some controversy by saying that the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” wasn’t music. Guess he changed that tune, because here’s this story, at that same link, about how John, now Jack Armstrong, prevented 35,000 Beatles fans from rushing the stage in Cleveland when the Fab Four played there. John/Jack went on to work everywhere, it seems. Funny, I always wondered what happened to him. Now I know.

John was 62. Now, as then, two years older than me.

At the end of every show back then, John used to say “Remember, when you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on and swing”.

Still swinging, John.


  1. John A Arkansawyer’s avatar

    Well, crap. When I was in Atlanta, I lived and worked near Fuzzy’s Place, where Sean Costello (and others, notably Francine Reed) played gigs and dropped by. He was a good player.

  2. Dave’s avatar

    Big Jack Armstrong – “Your Leeedaaa!” – was, (and still is), a major celebrity to every teenager in Cleveland during the 1960’s. Unmistakable voice, energy and “cool.” I was very fortunate to interview him about his experiences as the MC of the 1966 Beatles concert at Municipal Stadium for my book, “The Beatles In Cleveland.” It’s true – he saved the concert from being cancelled and will forever be remembered by the fans who were there and can still say, “I saw The Beatles.” We can thank Big Jack for that memory – and many more.
    Jack It Up!!!
    Dave Schwensen
    Author of “The Beatles In Cleveland”

  3. John Quimby’s avatar

    Thanks for the notice Doc.

    Hal Riney was a legend who still gets a sendup each time Prairie Home
    Companion does the Ketchup Advisory Board. And I remember Jack Armstrong and the Gorilla from LA radio in the 70’s.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, John.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if Hal Riney’s voice-over practice … of putting. periods. in the middle. of sentences. or even. just. of phrases… owed to his being a chain-smoker of Marlboros. The Ketchup Advisory Board pieces are among the best on PHC. Who is that guy, anyway?

    I’m also still wondering why I didn’t catch, for more than three decades, that Jack Armstrong was actually John Larsh. Right now I’m guessing it was because my listening was mostly on FM, starting in the late ’60s, while John/Jack stayed mostly on AM. That, and not remembering that he’d changed his name. I mean, I knew that was John Larsh on WKYC. I just don’t remember, all these years later, that he used a different name. So I just guessed that, like so many other jocks, he had gone on to other work. Good to know he stayed with it. The guy was a pure Top 40 talent. So many are gone now. Among the best remaining is Norm N. Nite, who plays deep cuts from the ’50s and ’60s archives, live from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, on Sirius’ Solid Gold channel.

  5. Keith Dick’s avatar

    Minor correction: WKYC was on 1100, not 1110.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Keith. I knew better. Typo. 1110 on the East Coast at night belongs to WBT.

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