By Marie Fricker
Young Elvis Presley and his Memphis pal Johnny Cash walked into the KGHI radio station in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 to request airplay for their music. The first person they met was a 17-year-old deejay named Larry K. Justice, who would later be called “the King of Rock and Roll” in Boston radio as a longtime WMEX and WBZ “Good Guy” and host of The Halls of Justice.
“Being in Little Rock back then was amazing,” said Justice. “Artists like Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were looking to get their records heard, and our station was known for taking a chance on newcomers. So, I met a lot of young hopefuls, some of whom went on to become music legends.”
Lawrence Kirk Justice, born September 20, 1939, dreamed of being a radio personality from the age of four. He had no interest in his family’s traditional vocation of firefighting, or in working at his parents’ grocery store in Little Rock. The calling was so strong that he became a “go-fer” at a local radio station when he was just 14 years old.
“They had me emptying wastebaskets and fetching coffee but at least I got to be around the business,” he said. “In 1955, I was allowed to sign the station on before school and do a couple of hours on air before going back to my classes. I was thrilled.”
Other assignments followed, and his career grew to the point where he quit high school in his last semester. He later got his GED and studied at Framingham State College while living in Wellesley. He held posts as a deejay and program director in his hometown at a time when the country rock scene was emerging just two hours away in Memphis.
Barely out of his teens, Justice was already developing a name in the broadcast industry, when he was drafted into the army in 1959. Assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he created a radio division publicizing what was going on at the base. Straight out of the army, he got his first “big league” job at WPGC, a radio station in Washington, D.C.
“My boss, Mac Richmond, was a tough taskmaster, but he taught me so much,” said Justice. “He took me under his wing and showed me how to be a good radio personality. I was like a wild racehorse with all this talent but didn’t know how to direct it.”
After Justice left DC for a post in Philadelphia, his former boss kept calling him with the offer of having his own show at WMEX 1510 AM, a radio station Richmond also owned in Boston.
“Mac always smoked a stogie, and looked a little like Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker,” he said. “So, one day, he called and said, ‘Son, are you ready to go to Boston yet?’ And for some reason, he caught me in a moment and I said, ‘I’m in.’ I became a ‘Good Guy’ on Valentine’s Day, 1965.”
Any artist or group that was coming through town stopped to visit the WMEX station, and Justice got to interview them all—the Beatles, the Association, The Rascals, Frank Sinatra, Little Anthony and the Imperials—and he emceed many of their concerts.”
In 1969, Justice made the move to another Boston radio station when WBZ offered him three times the salary he was making at WMEX. He hosted the “Halls of Justice” program from 1-5 p.m. every day for the next six years.
The format was adult contemporary, and the guests who came by the show were what were called “middle of the road” artists like Sonny and Cher, Wayne Newton, the Carpenters, and Tom Jones. In July of 1973, Justice brought his show to the South Shore for two nights during WBZ’s Second Annual Grease weekend at Paragon Park.
The enthusiasm for his craft was evident as he spoke from the WBZ broadcast booth on the shores of Nantasket Beach. “It’s 28 minutes before midnight on the Larry Justice Show, and you are in the halls of Justice, baby,” said the 34-year-old deejay. “We’re getting it on the air, everywhere, on the scene with my record machine! Come on down and see Justice, your A number one meanest man. The King of Rock and Roll.”
When his contract ended at WBZ in 1976, Justice decided to fill another desire on his bucket list. To become a voiceover announcer for national TV and radio commercials.
“I had done hundreds of voiceovers in Boston, but I wanted to dip my toe into the national advertising market,” he said. “So, I went to New York and got an agent, and I became the voice of brands like Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder, Tide, Mcdonalds, Chef Boyardee, Ford, and many others. And I enjoyed getting the new perk of ‘residuals,’ which meant I was paid every time one of my commercials aired. So, for four hours or so of recording in studio, the checks just kept coming.”
After tiring of the commute between New York and Wellesley every week while his wife Beverly remained at home with their teenaged son and daughter, Justice returned to Boston and worked a 2-year stint as a program host at WROR.
Then it was time to fulfill another item on his bucket list—to own a radio station.
“I bought WCIB-FM on Cape Cod for $2 million,” said Justice. “I served as the morning show host for four years with a team that included Channel 7 weatherman Harvey Leonard and Fred Cusick, the voice of the Boston Bruins.
Subsequently, the Justices bought a number of other radio stations in Florida, Vermont, and New Hampshire, but later sold them during the market crash of the nineties.
Returning full circle to his radio roots last September, he and his friend Tony LaGreca, the CEO/owner of Bissell Carpet Co., and an ardent anti-opiate addiction activist, purchased WMEX radio from Ed Perry, owner of WATD FM 95.9 in Marshfield.
At age 82, Larry K. Justice again hosts the Halls of Justice on the station that launched it, WMEX 1510 AM, weekdays from 10 to 2. The station plays music from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties—The Greatest Hits of All Time.
“It’s wonderful to be a WMEX ‘Good Guy’ again,” said Justice, whose broadcast career, like his marriage to his high school sweetheart, has spanned more than 60 years. “But I’ve promised my wife I won’t buy any more radio stations. At least not anytime soon.” Larry and Beverly Justice are currently Naples, Florida residents but they are self-described “Heart and Soul Bostonians.”