If you grew up in Boston in the 1960s and 1970s, you undoubtedly remember hearing Larry Justice on the radio. He was a popular deejay who brought his many listeners into “the Halls of Justice,” first on WMEX and then on WBZ. In the early 1980s, after doing voice-over work for a while, he spent two years with WROR, before becoming a radio station owner in 1983, when he bought WCIB-FM on Cape Cod. Larry’s story is familiar to anyone who loves radio: he knew from the time he was a kid that he wanted to be on the air, and for more than three decades, that is exactly what he did.
Lawrence Kirk Justice was born on September 20, 1939 in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of Felix and Jeanette Justice. His dad and mom ran a local grocery store, and sometimes, Larry worked there after school. But he didn’t want to join the family business: he wanted to be a deejay. His took his first radio job while he was still in his teens and a student at Central High School: he worked early mornings at KBBA in Benton, about a half-hour from Little Rock, in 1955; he was allowed to organize his class schedule so that he could sign the station on and do a couple of hours before returning to school to finish his classes. As radio grew in importance in his life, Larry left high school before graduating (he later completed a GED), and went to work in Little Rock at KGHI, where he did an afternoon shift. During his time on the air in Benton and Little Rock, he used the name “Kirk Justice” (Kirk was also his father’s middle name).
In April 1957, Little Rock got a new station, KNLR (the call letters stood for “North Little Rock”). Larry was hired to do an afternoon shift and then became program director. Meanwhile, in late December of that year, he and his high school sweetheart Beverly got married. They would go on to have two children (a son and a daughter), and in an industry where relationships come and go, Larry and Beverly were still happily married more than six decades later.
Larry returned to KGHI in late 1958 and was there when the station changed its call letters to KAJI in June 1959. To this day, he has positive memories of being on the air in Little Rock, during rock and roll radio’s formative years. Although it was not a big market, Little Rock’s top-40 stations developed a reputation for taking chances on new artists. And Little Rock could not have been in a better location to do that: the city was about two hours away from Memphis, where a burgeoning country-rock scene was emerging, featuring exciting young performers like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others. Getting airplay was crucial for these up-and-coming artists, and the record promoters would often bring them by to visit radio stations in Little Rock. That is how Larry first met them. And the friendships he developed with them stood him in good stead later in his career: for example, he and Elvis kept in touch over the years, and Larry went backstage to see him when he was performing in Boston. Larry was also asked to be the M.C. for one of Johnny Cash’s Boston concerts in the early 70s.
But in late 1959, just when he was developing a name as an influential deejay, Larry was drafted into the army; he served in the Public Information Office of Fort Leonard Wood, Rolla MO, where he created a radio division. He and several other announcers had their own deejay shows, and Larry also helped to publicize what was going on at the base. And when his military service was completed, he decided it was time to try to work in a bigger radio market.
He found out from a broadcasting industry trade publication that there was an opening at WPGC in Washington DC. He applied, and in early 1962, General Manager Bob Howard hired him. At the age of 22, Larry was on the air in a top-10 market. Howard wanted him to change his name from Kirk to Larry and gave him the on-air identity of “Barefoot Larry Justice, friend of the Barefoot Housewives.” (This harkened back to a common expression from that era before the women’s movement, when some men said, perhaps jokingly, that a wife should be kept barefoot and pregnant. There is no evidence that Larry agreed with this sentiment, and he later said he was never fond of the on-air name; but being on the air in what was then called “housewife time,” it is not surprising that his name reflected the beliefs of the culture.)
In that era of personality top-40 deejays, Larry began to build a following in his new city. He also got national attention for a clever stunt he masterminded: on August 6, 1962, he locked himself in the studio and demanded the raise he said he had been promised. He refused to come out and he played the same record, a novelty called “Presidential Press Conference,” over and over for several hours. Some of his fans gathered in front of the station to express support, and finally, management agreed to his demands. At the time, newspaper reporters who covered the studio takeover thought it was totally spontaneous, but it had actually been worked out with the station’s program director. It got considerable publicity for WPGC, and elevated Larry’s profile. (And yes, he did get his raise.)
His next move was a job in Philadelphia, at top-40 powerhouse WIBG, where he worked as a deejay and music director, along with such big names as Hy Lit and Joe Niagara. He remained in Philly from March 1963 to February 1965. Meanwhile, Maxwell “Mac” Richmond, whom he had met in Washington DC, where he was the owner of WPGC, wanted to hire him in Boston at his other property, WMEX. That is how Larry came to Boston on Valentine’s Day 1965, to be one of the “WMEX Good Guys.” He ultimately became the station’s morning show deejay. While some people over the years have said Mac Richmond was tough to work for, Larry’s memories of him are kind: “Mac gave my talent a direction. He took what was there and molded it. I will forever be grateful. He could be difficult to get along with, but he also could bring out the best in an announcer.”
As it was in the other cities where Larry had worked, Boston’s top-40 radio stations often broke new music or introduced the audience to up-and-coming artists. “You never knew who would show up the station,” Larry recalled. “Record promoters were always bringing artists to the WMEX studios, especially if they were playing locally.” And while the format didn’t permit long interviews, Larry and the other deejays could still say hello, make some small talk, and help to promote the performer and the upcoming concert. Sometimes, Larry was asked to M.C., like when Little Anthony and the Imperials played the Strand Theater in September 1965.
Meanwhile, although Larry and Mac Richmond got along well, that didn’t mean the pay at WMEX was very good. Larry and several of the other announcers hosted record hops to supplement their income: as Larry recalls, he always used a local band named Jimmy and the Jesters at all his dances. They never had any top-40 hits but were very popular with the audiences. But while he enjoyed doing local record hops, he needed a bigger salary to support his family– in the four years he worked at WMEX, he had only gotten one small raise. Ultimately, he realized that no additional money was forthcoming from his boss, so Larry decided to quit in late 1968. Unfortunately, he had a non-compete clause in his contract, which meant he couldn’t be on the air in Boston for six months. He got hired by WDRC in Hartford and made the long commute from his home in Wellesley to handle the mid-day shift.
When he could work in Boston again, he was hired by WBZ radio, on May 1, 1969; when he arrived, he was first on the air in the evening, and did some vacation fill-ins, but by August, he had been moved to the afternoon shift that he would occupy throughout his five years with the station. WBZ’s format was mainly adult contemporary, and the performers who came by the studio tended to be what back then were called “middle of the road” artists—Wayne Newton, Sonny & Cher, the Carpenters, Tom Jones, and others; and he recalls being the M.C. at one of the Carpenters’ Boston concerts.
But in late 1974, new management decided to make a number of changes at WBZ, and suddenly, Larry was moved to weekends. Frustrated with the situation, he ultimately left WBZ in April 1975 and spent a few months working weekend shifts at WHDH, before deciding to become a full-time voice-over announcer. For the next several years, he worked for a talent agency in New York, voicing local and national commercials. But while he was well-paid, he missed Boston radio, and in January 1980, he joined WROR-FM, doing afternoon drive. He remained there for more than two years. But in November 1982, he suddenly found himself out of a job. Fortunately, he was still making money voicing commercials (he was heard on ads for Jordan Marsh department store and Valle’s Steak House), but he decided what he really wanted to do next was own a radio station.
In June 1983, he purchased WCIB-FM on Cape Cod for $2 million. He implemented a full-service adult contemporary format, with lots of sports in addition to music; for four years, he was the station’s morning show host, part of a team that included weather from Harvey Leonard and sports from Fred Cusack. Ultimately, Larry purchased several other stations, in markets like Jacksonville, Florida; Stowe, Vermont; Portsmouth/Exeter, New Hampshire; and Fort Myers, Florida.
Larry sold off his radio properties by the early 1990s, and he and his wife retired to Naples, Florida, where he opened his own real estate business. Still blessed with a deejay’s voice, he at times thinks about getting back on the air, just for fun.
(by Donna L. Halper)
Published on August 27, 2019