Running on another trail, Jimmy Rabbitt (1941 - 2020)

He was born Eddy Payne in Washington DC and grew up in Tyler, Texas, raised by his grandparents. He played in a band at an early age, music always being a part of his life. While a teenager, “Fast Eddy Payne” debuted on KGKB-AM, then traveled to Corpus Christi and Port Arthur, Louisiana after serving with the Marine Corps before returning to Tyler where he remained until 1964.

But it was his move to Gordon McLendon’s legendary KLIF-Dallas when Eddy Payne became better known as Jimmy Rabbitt. The British Invasion had landed on American shores, so The Rabbitt honed his radio skills while mixing local bands with both American and British hits. It’s arguable The Rabbitt had “arrived” when he had the privilege of introducing the Beatles at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium.

 


Jimmy Rabbitt was now one of the most popular radio personalities in the state of Texas, programming KLIF’s FM outlet which became KNUS-FM, one of the first successful FM stations. The Rabbitt then landed in San Diego, helping choose the music for KCBQ but soon finding he needed to escape their tightening playlist. He contacted Doug Cox at KRLA, which brought him to the Los Angeles market. He was an immediate success at KRLA, with the Los Angeles Times awarding him as the best rock radio personality of 1969.


When he was in Southern California, it was said The Rabbitt “hopped across the dial,” including stops at KFI, KLAC, KBBQ, KHJ (where he was hired and fired in three days) and KGBS. But it was his stops at KMET and KROQ that made him a legend in L.A. radio.

For one thing, Jimmy Rabbitt relished being the true outlaw. He thrived on the way FM used to be, when disc jockeys chose the music they wanted to play. The Rabbitt created his nightly mix of free-form rock-n-roll with a bit of country mixed in. He introduced Southern California to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He never stayed at a station for more than a couple of years, but he’d also make return visits.


 
The thought of The Rabbitt at the strictly formatted KHJ seems odd but it did happen, albeit not for long. He quickly bristled at the rigid playlist, so he decided to play a record of his own liking. He told James Brown of the Los Angeles Times he disliked the personalized jingle “JIMMY RABBITT – 93 KHJ!!” so he brought in a mechanical toy bunny, playing the melody “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” Recalled Rabbitt, “management called me in, shouting ‘what have you done to my radio station??’” PD Bill Watson let Rabbitt know “we don’t want another Robert W. Morgan at night,” but Rabbitt couldn’t be fired until Bill Drake returned from a Hawaii trip. With Drake’s approval secured, Rabbitt was officially shown the door after just three days.

During his time on the local airwaves, Rabbitt continued to perform his music. After a lawsuit challenged the moniker “Texas,” his band became known as the “Jimmy Rabbitt and the Renegades.” The band personified a newer sound described as progressive country, a contrast with the popular country rock sound (think The Eagles). Rabbitt described his music as being “a harsher sound.”

After leaving his mark on Los Angeles radio, Rabbitt left KROQ in 1978 and relocated to Aspen, Colorado where he ran KNSO as program director and operations manager for a decade before returning to Texas to work for the Satellite Music Network. He also returned to college to finish his degree in Mass Communications at the American University, Washington D.C. 

 


He was most recently promoting his return to the local airwaves, hosting “El Conejo’s Back on the Beach” Saturday afternoons on KOCI-Newport Beach.  It made perfect sense that the show’s format was described as “I don’t know what’s coming next.”

It’s been reported that Jimmy Rabbitt died in his sleep. His passing was unexpected.

An article about the man once known as Eddy Payne was entitled “What Makes Rabbitt Run?” It’s a good guess Jimmy Rabbitt knows where he’s headed. It’s just that his listeners wish he brought them along for at least one more journey.

For more information about Jimmy Rabbitt, pleas see https://www.feenotes.com/database/artists/rabbitt-jimmy/ as well as his profiles at www.laradio.com and www.440int.com



Comments

  1. Thanx, Alan, for this article. El Conejo was the absolute best, bar none.

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    1. My pleasure. Very sorry to have learned of his passing.

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  2. Correction: At least one website says Rabbitt worked in Port Charles, Louisiana, at KOLE. The station is in Port Arthur, Texas. He was there for a few months in 1963.

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    1. You may be right. Most of his early years were in Texas, so that would make sense.

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  3. Met The Rabbitt in '69 while he was on the cross town rival KCBQ I was at KGB. A great talent.

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    1. He was indeed. Do you know what KCBQ-FM was programming back then?

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    2. Didn't know KCBQ had an FM. We had KGB FM & called it KBKB. It was automated and carried Drake/Chenaults Hit Parade.

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  4. Alan, 105.3 was KITT in 1969. I believe the format was MOR/beautiful music. The station became KCBQ-FM in 1981.

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    1. I do remember the time when they were "Modern Oldies" in the early 90s (?) as KCBQ-FM, was KITT co-owned with AM 1170?

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    2. I have an aircheck of KCBQ-FM's first day of the Modern Oldies format. It was July 31, 1993 – and yes, "modern oldies" is an oxymoron. KITT was owned by Fred Rabell. He bought KSON in 1951, launched KSON-FM in 1954 and sold KSON-AM in 1957. The FM became KITT in 1958. Rabell had previously managed stations in Pensacola, Panama City, Jacksonville and Asheville. In January 1960, he became president of the newly-formed National Association of FM Broadcasters

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  5. I don't know if you guys are mixed up or not, but let me just state that when rabbitt was on KCBQ/AM, it was top-40. He wasn't on KCBQ/FM, to my knowledge.
    ALSO, Jimmy was on KWST/FM in L.A. sometime in the mid 1980's, I heard one show, by accident, while turning the dial one afternoon, then a few days later he wasn't on anymore, so I don't know how long he lasted there.

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    1. No, we are not mixed up. We're discussing KCBQ-FM. We know Jimmy Rabbitt never worked there. I had not heard about Rabbitt working at KWST. The station was top-40 in 1981-82. Chuck Martin, who programmed KHJ from 1977 to 1980, was program director. The airstaff included Bobby Ocean, Chris Kelly and Terry McGovern. From 1982 until early 1986, the station was "Magic 106" KMGG.

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    2. Just a few thoughts about the Rabbitt. When he wanted to he was the big rock jock in LA, as he got into music and performing live (years ahead of the Outlaw movement) IMHO Jimmy got distracted, but what a wonderful talent and man. Best FM Rock jock of all time, but really he could do anything of course especially country. As an aside, what does KWST's Top 40 days or KCBQ-FM have to do with anything concerning this thread.?...I didn't think so either.

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  6. I guess that I am not sure WHEN I heard rabbitt on KWST/FM -- but it was not top-40 & definitely NOT Jazz... It was more free form than anything else. My memory is a bit shady. Unless he just decided to buck whatever format they had & did his own thing! Happened before...

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  7. I asked about KCBQ-FM as one of the websites I used for research said The Rabbitt worked there, that may be erroneous. K-WEST was a rocker for awhile, I didn't see anything about The Rabbitt making a stop there, but they were a hard rock station between beautiful music and Chuck Martin's top 40.

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    1. Alan, I think headed to Texas in the late 70's early 80's. Of course up until a few weeks ago hosting a weekend show by remote on KOCI.

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    2. El conejo's "Back on the Beach." KOCI weekends. Sorry it was short lived. Dan, you sound like a fan, sorry that The Rabbitt's many fans and you lost a real talent.

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    3. Yes Alan, thanks. Grew up listening to Jimmy and Jim Carson as well. Both fine talents.

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  8. FYI, in the early 2000's rabbitt was doing live "freeform" shows at KAFM/FM, in Grand Junction, CO. Then, he was invited by station owner & P.D. of KOCI/(LP)FM to do a show, which he did for a while overlapping his duties at KAFM/FM. He eventually ceased his shows at KAFM/FM & concentrated solely on his weekly Saturday shows at KOCI/FM. It is very possible that Jimmy rabbitt's duration at KOCI/FM was the longest of his career. It was a great run, if not the lengthiest. He played what he wanted.

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  9. Sad to hear this. I recall listening to him back in the 70's. Great mix of music. Saw him perform at the Palomino once also. Had just found him recently on KOCI. I have a couple of cassettes of him on KROQ and KGBS. On both occasions he was obviously pretty at least drunk so I put a cassette in to record it, couldn't believe what I was hearing on the radio. On the KGBS one, he was saying the boss was on his way down to the station to get him off the air so he locked the door.
    Incredible radio. I loved his mix of music, stuff you didn't hear on the air back then. Thanks for the writeup, brought back all kinds of memories

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