Pioneering rock DJ Joe Niagara dies at 76 Known as the Rockin' Bird, he worked at Phila. stations up and down the dial until 2002.

Posted: June 05, 2004

Joe Niagara, 76, known as the Rockin' Bird and one of the great Philadelphia disc jockeys from the golden age of rock and roll, died of heart failure yesterday following cancer surgery at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

He had been fighting bladder cancer for the last few years. His wife, Evelyn, said he died about 3:30 a.m. Mike Bowe announced the death yesterday afternoon on WPEN-AM (950), Mr. Niagara's last station.

"When people mention the great disc jockeys of Philadelphia, they always mention Joe Niagara, Hy Lit and Jerry Blavat," said Clark DeLeon, a former Inquirer columnist who is writing a biography of Lit. "Niagara transcended being a normal disc jockey."

Lit, who knew Mr. Niagara for 50 years and worked with him at the old WIBG-AM (990), said he spoke to him about four days ago. "He was a little peppy, but later he became down in the dumps," Lit said.

Jerry Blavat said that Mr. Niagara, more than a decade his senior, helped get him started. Blavat said that, as a teen dancer from South Philadelphia, he went to a record hop that Mr. Niagara was hosting in Levittown. "He played 'Walking With Mr. Lee,' and I went up and won the jitterbug contest," Blavat said. They became friends.

Mr. Niagara appeared in the 1980 Guinness Book of World Records for playing the most (more than 500) consecutive different versions of "Stardust."

Besides WIBG, Mr. Niagara worked for a dial full of stations, including WFIL-AM, WCAU-AM, WCAU-FM, WDAS-AM, WIFI-FM and - briefly - KBIG-AM in Los Angeles. He officially retired in 1999 from WPEN-AM and worked part time until 2002.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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