This Christmas Eve will mark the 18 anniversary of the death of Maurice “Hot Rod” Hulbert who died December 24, 1996 in a Baltimore hospice at the age of 80. Hot Rod was the self-proclaimed seed from which germinated a radio garden.
“Hot Rod was still programing two Baltimore stations until the mid-’90s, leaving after medical problems took away his voice [suspected throat cancer – unconfirmed]. He was in and out of hospitals and then the hospice for the last year, but he stayed in touch with many of the people he’d met in his travels.”
[from friend and admirer, Jonny Meadow, in a New York Daily News article]
In 1951 Hulbert left radio station WDIA in Memphis to work at WITH 1230 AM in Baltimore, Maryland. The most remarkable thing about that move is it made Hulbert the first full-time black air personality to work at an all-white Baltimore radio station – a minor revolution for 1950s Baltimore.
There is surprisingly little information online about Hot Rod, considering his originality and influence. If you google him, most of what you’ll turn up is the meager collection we have at BaltimoreJam.org. Much more well known is a Hot Rod protege and “appropriator” named Douglas “Jocko” Henderson. Henderson knew Hulbert and was on the air in Baltimore briefly in 1952 on WSID. A year later Henderson “borrowed” Hulbert’s trademark rap, rocket ship show format, great googa mooga and the rest, took it to Philadelphia and presented it as his own. From there he became much more widely known than Hulbert, and most people today think of Jocko as the originator of that radio persona.
The best single article I’ve seen about Hot Rod appeared in a Boulder, CO magazine, Blues Access, in 1997. That article is still available online, written by a DJ named Cary Wolfson who counted Hulbert as an influence. These are the words of the Rod as published in that article:
“Hello mommios and daddios, keen teens, ladies and gentlemen. Commander Hot Rod moving and grooving, wheeling and dealing, hop, skipping and jumping here, there, each and everywhere bringing you the best in music, oyay, the best in songs, the best in jive, the best in helpful information, dedicated to you, the greatest people in the world, my listeners, as we move and groove, wheel and deal, hop, skip, jump here there and everywhere, I gotta say this is without a doubt the High Priest of Space, not the flower, not the root, but the seed, sometimes called the herb, sometimes called the burner.