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Many oldies fans mourn the death of Joe Donovan, an iconic all-night radio DJ

Famous oldies music DJ Joe Donovan died Jan. 19 in Louisville at the age of 70.
Famous oldies music DJ Joe Donovan died Jan. 19 in Louisville at the age of 70.

One of the all-time great ambassadors and promoters of oldies pop music -- Joe Donovan, a longtime all-night DJ on radio station WHAS in Louisville, Ky. -- died in a Louisville hospital at age 70 on Saturday, Jan. 19.

Donovan, unquestionably one of the most-listened-to oldies music disc jockeys in American radio history, died while being treated for serious problems with his colon.

His playlist included nearly 30,000 songs -- most of them in the '50s, '60s and '70s rock 'n' roll category -- and he was at the "head of the class" as an oldies music air personality.

On his live "Rock 'n' Roll Revival" broadcasts, in the midnight to 5 a.m. time slot on 50,000-watt, clear-channel WHAS, he chose his own music, played requests, answered his own phones and conducted on-air contests. And he devoted a full hour of each show to what he called the Odd and Obscure Hour, in which he played rare and uncommon oldies that rarely, if ever, were heard on traditional oldies music shows.

Donovan, who was born Joe Deuth in Forreston, Ill., on May 6, 1943, and he relocated to Colorado at a young age. After stints at several Colorado stations -- including KLOV (Loveland), KCOL (Fort Collins) and KOA and KIMN (Denver) -- he took a job at WHAS, where he worked for 20 years. And it was a sad day for many of his loyal listeners when he broadcast his final WHAS show on Aug. 27, 1997, as the station was in the process of changing to a news-talk format.

Donovan's on-air delivery -- with a smooth, professional voice and easygoing, relaxed style -- was tailor-made for an all-night oldies show, and not only was he popular in the Louisville area, but he had regular fans and listeners in more than 30 states because of the station's wide-ranging signal.

In a post-retirement interview, Donovan was quoted as saying: "I play everything ... the chart-busters and the oddities, old favorites and records no one has heard in 30 years."

To view a full obituary-type report on Donovan's death, click here. And to view a short clip on WHAS-TV in Louisville, announcing his death, click here.

To listen to a full hour of his show -- broadcast from 1 to 2 a.m. on Dec. 17, 1993, click here. And to listen for a 30-minute segment of his Dec. 28, 1993 show, click here.

To watch several 30-second television commercials, featuring Donovan, from the WHAS archives, click here. And although there is some static in an aircheck from the Odd and Obscure Hour on Oct. 24, 1996, click here.

Joe Donovan's style, personality and programming content will have enduring appeal to many of the fans who were drawn to listen to an all-night radio show, even by those who heard the show from far-distant locations.

[You may subscribe to Bill Herald's oldies music columns -- free of charge -- by clicking on "subscribe" near the top of the column, after which you will receive e-mail notification each time a new item is published].

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