Reginald N. Lavong Sr., a radio pioneer, entrepreneur and civil rights advocate, died on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. He was 84.
He was born on April 5, 1933, to the late Honey Nelson in Gainesville, Fla. His mother died when he was 2 years old. He was adopted at age 4 by his cousin, Mae Lavong, and her husband Walter, who resided in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the New York borough of Brooklyn.
Lavong was an only child. He was educated in the Archdiocese of New York and graduated in 1950 from Boys’ High School in Brooklyn.
After graduation, he attended Temple University as a journalism major. At Temple he worked as a radio announcer for the college radio station WRTI. He was hired to work at a small commercial radio station in Vineland, N.J., during his junior year.
He met and fell in love with the late Joyce Hightower of Philadelphia. They were married at Little Flower Church on Sept. 18, 1954, and had four children.
Lavong’s talent for broadcasting and his growing fan base made it possible for him to work at WRAP in Norfolk, Va., at WAMS in Wilmington, Del., and as the nighttime broadcaster for WHAT in Philadelphia.
Lavong’s popularity and skill took him to Chicago’s WHFC. In Chicago he began doing radio commercials and marketing for Al Abrams Pontiac, local department stores and Bell Telephone. He relocated from Chicago to New York’s WWRL in 1960. His New York fan base will remember him best as the legendary “Dr. Jive” on WWRL.
Lavong joined NBC in New York as a personality on KNBC in the mid-1960s. He changed his on-air name to “Just John” and developed an even larger fan base as part of the national network.
In 1964, he and Georgie Woods became the first Black men in the United States to be part owners of a television station. He and Woods, in partnership with Aaron Katz and Leonard Stevens, purchased WPHL Channel 17 in Philadelphia.
Capitol Records hired Lavong in 1969 to become vice president of its International Rhythm & Blues department. He was headquartered at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, where he coordinated R&B production, promotion, distribution and sales for both Capitol Records and smaller up-and-coming independent record labels.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Lavong was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, working alongside and communicating with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. He became known as an advocate for civil rights. Lavong recorded “Skin Deep,”a powerful poetic message for Black people in the United States and across the diaspora.
In 1972, he returned to the East Coast to promote the R&B and jazz departments of Island Records. He was instrumental in introducing the American music scene to reggae music’s unique sound with artist such as Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals. In 1976, Lavong became executive vice president of Rollers Production Co., a subsidiary of MCA Records.
In 1986, he and Miller Parker, owners of Maine Line Communications, purchased Philadelphia’s local radio station WHAT from Independence Broadcasting. The station changed to an African-American-orientated talk and nostalgia format.
Throughout his life, Lavong had diverse interests and was an entrepreneur in his own right. He owned and operated a community candy store with his wife and owned and operated Douglass Taxi and Limousine service with his business partner Richard Horsham. When Lavong retired from the music and broadcasting world, he studied and became a stock broker at Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc.
He is survived by: his children, Reggie, Daryl, April and Jocelyn; daughters-in-laws, Cornelia and Janet; grandchildren, Danielle, Joyce, Wesley, Carlton, Leona, Jahshua and Chelsie; great-grandchildren, E.J., Logan, Eli and Taylor Hightower; nieces, Maria Hightower and Karen Green; nephew, Michael Sims; longtime companion, Lorraine; and other relatives and friends.
Services were held Tuesday at St. Helena Church, 1489 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. Friends called at 10 a.m. Services followed at 11 a.m.