Mr. Lavong was born Reginald Jerome Nelson on April 5, 1933, in Gainesville, Fla. His mother, Honey Nelson, died when he was 2, his daughter said. At 4 he was adopted by a cousin, Mae Lavong, a beautician, and her husband, Walter, a Pullman porter, who lived in Brooklyn.
After graduating from Boys High School, Mr. Lavong attended City College in New York and then Temple University in Philadelphia, where he studied journalism and worked at WRTI, the campus radio station. That led, during the 1950s, to jobs at WHAT and at the flagship station of Rollins Broadcasting, WAMS, in Wilmington, Del.
Rollins then sent Mr. Lavong to a station in Chicago, where he became acquainted with that cityâs brand of blues, music he would later feature on the air and onstage in New York.
In the late 1950s, the disc jockey Tommy Smalls was making a name for himself at WWRL in New York as Dr. Jive; his popular afternoon show and the concerts he promoted helped established rhythm and blues in the New York market. But when Mr. Smalls was accused in a payola scandal and cast out of radio in 1960, Mr. Lavong saw an opportunity.
Jonny Meadow, a radio historian, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Lavong called WWRL, drove to New York to audition and was installed as the new Dr. Jive.
The R&B focus of the station did not stop Mr. Lavong from varying his musical offerings, Mr. Meadow said. In the early afternoon he would play artists who appealed to an older crowd, like Nat King Cole or Sammy Davis Jr. When schools let out, he would switch to younger-skewing material. And after the late-afternoon news, when blue-collar listeners were getting off work, heâd go with the blues.
Later in the 1960s, Mr. Lavong returned to Philadelphia to work at KYW, and in 1964 he became a part owner of a television station, WPHL. In 1968 he…