DJ Larry Walton dies in Oregon at 61

August 06, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

"Old Dirty Shirt," also known as DJ Larry Walton, whose deep baritone voice and well-defined sense of the absurd and off-air antics amused Baltimore-area radio listeners for nearly three decades, was found dead of pneumonia last week at his apartment in Portland, Ore.

He was 61.

During his broadcasting career, he worked for nearly every Baltimore station at one time or another. He spun records and chatted from the studios of WCBM, WJZ, WITH and WFBR, and in the process developed a cult of devoted listeners.

He was described in a 1974 article in the Sun Magazine as "gristle and skin, [with] a bad temper and quick wit. He's 41, intelligent and often unkempt. But beneath that scruffy exterior beats a heart as pure as . . . as pure as . . . harbor water."

"He used to make up these characters like Old Dirty Shirt to amuse us when we were kids," said Sue Stone, a daughter who lives in Vancouver, Wash.

"He was a wonderful storyteller who brought to life on the radio these characters he created. Everywhere he went, people loved him."

Meet Old Dirty Shirt, who is fresh from the streets of Wolf City, Mont. The kind of guy who has infrequent contact with the bathtub, puts his feet on the furniture, feels generous with other people's liquor, and has an opinion on everything and everybody.

Old Dirty Shirt, he told the Sun Magazine, "just popped into my head and out of my mouth one day. I thought it would go in Houston, but I knew it wouldn't in Idaho because there are a lot of real Dirty Shirts out there."

Another standard in the Walton repertoire, which he took from station to station, was "Winging the Weather," a feature he created with Count Basie's rendition of "Cute" playing in the background.

He would use a sheet of wire copy with the temperatures and forecasts from around the country, taking his listeners on a weather tour, offering observations as the record played,

"touching down at BWI" precisely as the record concluded.

"I never heard anyone do anything as clever," said Harry Shriver, radio executive and former owner of WFBR. "He was a great radio talent who loved telling long, involved jokes.

"He was one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, and was well-liked in the business."

"Everybody loved Larry with the exception of his six ex-wives," said Mike March, former radio personality and friend. "I'm just kidding -- actually, even they still liked him.

"He had all of these funny sayings such as, 'Kick the cat goodbye,' or 'Can chicken be eaten with the fingers or should the fingers be eaten separately?' He'd do this stuff off the top of his head -- it was simply amazing," said Mr. March, who is now marketing and promotion director at Bond Distributors.

"When he quit WCBM, he walked in dressed in his tuxedo carrying a bottle of champagne and six glasses. He announced that he was quitting after his show and the station manager said, 'You're quitting now,' and shoved him out the door.'"

"He used to call me Jack Edwards, the All-American Boy," said Mr. Edwards, a DJ with WITH for 38 years.

"He was a man's man and lived life to the hilt, but off the air had a certain shyness about him. He always seemed restless and never stayed too long in one place," Mr. Edwards said.

"He told me one time, 'Whenever I leave Baltimore, I'm going to travel until I see a transmitter and then I'm going to unpack my bag and get a job.'"

"Radio people all have sand in their shoes," said Mr. Shriver, "and Walton was no exception."

"He was a real professional who was well-liked," said Jim Davis, formerly program director at WITH. "No matter how mad you got, it was impossible to hold a grudge with him."

Mr. Walton was born in New York and grew up in American Falls, Idaho. He began his career in Black Foot, Idaho, at a station he described as "a little-bitty shack on the outskirts of town." After work, he would give accordion lessons.

His next job was at a station in Alaska. Of that experience, he said, "By the time I arrived in Anchorage, the place had just become a state, the boom was over and there was a heckuva squabble about paying income tax. I was there three months.

"Know how I sign off nowadays -- 'I'll be back tomorrow for money'? Up in Alaska, I used to let out with this low grown and say, 'Does anyone know when the next goose leaves?' "

He started to reflect on his own travels and hopping from station to station and from state to state when he told about a guy he was working with in Twin Falls, Idaho, who suddenly decided to go to Salt Lake City: "He went home to his apartment, took the drawers out of the dresser, stacked 'em in the back of his convertible and just took off."

He would say of his multiple marriages, which all ended in divorce, "Oh, hell, you can tell 'em the number is five. Maybe it's the business, maybe it's me, I don't know."

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