Barry Saunders

Late disc jockey ‘Dr. Jocko’ spun the hits and helped keep the peace

Ray “Dr. Jocko” Henderson died March 24 in Detroit at age 74.
Ray “Dr. Jocko” Henderson died March 24 in Detroit at age 74.

You wouldn’t know it today, not when radio stations are programmed – literally, in some cases – by robots, but there was a time when disc jockeys ruled the world.

Instead of Audio Oscillator, Univac or R2D2, they had cool names such as Wolfman, Moon Man, Hoss Man, Sweet Bob, Norma Jean the Queen, Butterball, Butterball Jr. and Platter-Pushin’ Papa.

One eminent disc jockey from that era – the 1950s and ’60s – was Ray “Dr. Jocko” Henderson of Raleigh. He died March 24 in Detroit at age 74.

Dr. Jocko was a Raleigh original, spinning discs on the radio before moving to Detroit, where he was a popular radio and TV host and a Motown Records executive.

At WLLE radio in Raleigh in the ’50s and ’60s, he is credited with playing a part in ensuring that this part of the world kept spinning instead of burning during turbulent times.

Thad Woodard, former head of the N.C. Bankers Association and a Broughton High School student in 1964, remembered Dr. Jocko as a man who brought the races together through a love of music.

“His hit show was popular with teens and music hipsters, black and white. He was more than an entertainer,” Woodard said, pointing out what many considered to be Henderson’s calming influence during both school integration and the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Raleigh came through it,” Woodard said. “It wasn’t easy, but we made it through it.”

He noted that Dr. Jocko came to parties featuring students from Broughton and Ligon, Raleigh’s segregated high schools of that time.

Henderson helped preserve the peace in Raleigh, but he helped disturb it, with music, in Detroit. Sharony Andrews Green, in her biographical book on her father-in-law, guitarist Grant Green, said Henderson’s TV show, “The Scene,” often caused bumper-to-bumper traffic on Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue as hundreds of excited teens tried to meet the music royalty that appeared on the show.

“Yes sir, yes sir, I remember that,” Rob Douglas told me Wednesday. Douglas, now director of production for PNC Arena, grew up in Detroit before moving to Raleigh.

“ ‘The Scene,’ ” he said, “was a daily dance show, but it was more than that. You couldn’t come on the show if you weren’t about education.”

‘Went out of his way’

Douglas, who met Henderson while in junior high school, said he remembered the many visits “Dr. Jocko” made to area schools stressing education. “He was just a part of the fabric of Detroit. He lit the city afire with his energy. … He went out of his way to help young people, and if you had any gifts or talents, he would try to pull those out of you.”

He pulled them out of Douglas and his brother, Andre, who became a deejay aboard his ship while serving in the U.S. Navy.

“I saw what Dr. Jocko did, and I told them ‘I can do that,’ ” Andre Douglas told me as mourners stood around what will be Dr. Jocko’s gravesite in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.

Wednesday’s planned graveside service turned into a memorial service because Henderson’s son-in-law died days after he did, delaying the arrival here of his family from Detroit. A funeral service for Henderson was held Tuesday in Detroit.

“He inspired me, he touched me,” Jimmy “J.J.” Johnson, a Ligon schoolmate, said during Wednesday’s memorial service in Raleigh. “I used to listen to him on my little transistor radio.”

Johnson now owns three radio stations.

‘Made himself available’

Cash Michaels, editor of The Carolinian newspaper, has made a lauded documentary about disc jockeys, and Henderson was prominent in it. When Michaels reached out to Henderson while making the documentary, he said, “He was in ill health, but he made himself available to me both times.”

Like the Douglases, the Rev. Joe Stevenson of Raleigh’s Macedonia New Life Church met Henderson in Detroit.

“He would often come by the church to see what he could do for us on the radio,” Stevenson said. “I would be a part of his congregation … and he would be a part of mine.”

Many of the people at Wednesday’s service, such as Chick Monroe, were Henderson’s schoolmates at the former Ligon High. Monroe, who said he was a year behind Henderson’s class of ’59, recalled him as a great athlete and “a ‘cutie.’… He was good in football, but he didn’t play until his junior year because all of the fellas wanted to hurt him because the girls liked him.

“He was really good at basketball. We called him ‘Goose,’ ” after Harlem Globetrotter legend Goose Tatum, Monroe said.

When Dr. Jocko is interred at Oakwood Cemetery, he will be a mere sock hop from the grave of J.D. Lewis, the former Raleigh disc jockey and TV personality after whom Henderson modeled his own TV show.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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