Hulbert, 'bald prince' of radio, dies Black pioneer brought city new sound in '50s

December 25, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Maurice "HotRod" Hulbert Jr., the self-proclaimed "bald-headed prince" of radio during his three decades on Baltimore airwaves, died Monday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Towson. He was 80.

One of the first black hosts at a white-owned radio station when he started at WITH in Baltimore in 1951, Mr. Hulbert immediately influenced the music the city listened to by playing songs of black artists that previously had been kept off the air.

"He was unbelievable. He was so far ahead of his time," said Jack Edwards, a WITH disc jockey and a 40-year Baltimore radio personality. "He was way ahead of his time. His shows were un-be-lieve-able."

On Monday, WITH will offer an hourlong tribute to Mr. Hulbert at 5 p.m. with clips and highlights of his radio career.

In addition to radio, Mr. Hulbert was a concert promoter who brought black acts such as Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Berry and the Flamingos to local concert halls such as the old Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue and Carr's Beach in Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Hulbert, whose most recent residence was in Randallstown, endeared himself to generations of local listeners by his creativity and the off-beat humor he brought to his show.

"He was just a fun listen because you never knew what to expect. You knew you were going to get good, new music, but he made the times when music wasn't playing entertaining," said Tim Carrington, a longtime fan of Mr. Hulbert.

For example, Mr. Hulbert introduced many terms and phrases to the city, such as "mommyo" and "daddyo," "good googa mooga," which meant awesome, and his signature word "vosa," an acronym that meant the voice of sound advice.

A native of Helena, Ark., Mr. Hulbert arrived in Baltimore in 1951 and worked at WITH until 1960.

He spent two years at a Philadelphia station and in 1963 worked simultaneously at three radio stations -- in three different cities.

"He was always on the go when he worked at WHAT in Philadelphia, WITH in Baltimore and WDES in New York," said Bob Mathers, a radio personality at WITH.

He returned to Baltimore in 1963 and worked solely at WITH until 1964, when he switched to WWIN and remained there until 1970. During the next 14 years, he switched back and forth between WWIN and WEBB.

From 1984 until he retired in 1991, he was general manager at the gospel station WBGR.

His hiring at WITH was an attempt to increase the station's audience, which was based in Baltimore City, with its large black population. "It was the station's strategy to get a good black DJ and take the city by storm," Mr. Mathers said. "It worked like a charm."

Always innovative and daring, Mr. Hulbert began a program called "Commander Hot Rod and The Rocket Ship," where he methodically described planets in the solar system while giving astrological information.

"Something really unique about his rocket ship show was that he really went into outer space before the astronauts did," said his wife, the former Brenda Jones, whom he married in 1984.

Continuing his space theme, he once arrived at a concert at Carr's Beach dressed in an astronaut costume and accompanied by nine lovely women -- each, he said, representing one of the planets.

He received many awards over the years, but the one he prized most was one given to him in 1967 by a group of city teens who chose him "DJ of the Year."

Mr. Hulbert was the only Baltimore radio personality featured in a 1990 exhibit in Cleveland, Ohio.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Vanessa Cottrell and Marnicia Devore, both of Philadelphia; a brother, DonJulian Hulbert of Memphis; nine grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/25/96

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