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Rick Colom, radio host who loved melodic popular music, dies

Rick Colom, a former radio disc jockey and music collector who championed dance bands and pop vocals of the pre-World War II years, died of cancer May 4 at Howard County General Hospital. The Columbia resident was 69.

Born Richard James Colom in New York City and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Dover, Del., he was the son of Guillermo Antonio Colom Sr., a Playtex manager, and his wife, Marie Inez Vizcarrondo. He was a 1968 graduate of Holy Cross High School in Dover and earned a degree in psychology at La Salle University in Philadelphia, where he sang in the Roman Catholic Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral Basilica Choir. He received a master’s degree from the Catholic University of America.

He joined the District of Columbia public schools system in 1974 and was a psychologist for its students. He spent his professional career with the school system and retired in 2010.

“He loved the hundreds of children and families he worked with over the years,” said a niece, Caroline Vasquez, of New London, Conn.

Friends said Mr. Colom was a popular music aficionado and used his knowledge and enthusiasm to host a radio program.

“Rick Colom was about 12 when he thinks he first heard the luxuriant strains of Glenn Miller playing [on] a local Dover, Del., radio station,” said a 1988 Sun article. “It was a turning point for him because he began a lifelong hunger to collect, preserve and promote the sweet sounds of the ’30s and ’40s.”

“Rick was one of a kind,” said WYPR Friday night host Ken Jackson. “There are collectors out there with records, but they are not there with Rick’s knowledge and dedication. He was generous and shared his music. He did it gladly.”

In 1976 he became the producer and disc jockey of a show he named the “Make Believe Ballroom” on station WAMU in Washington. He had similar shows at WEAM, also in Washington. In 1988 he moved the program to Baltimore’s WITH and later hosted programs on WLG and WGAY.

“In high school, when kids were buying the Beatles, I was buying Artie Shaw,” he said in the 1988 Sun article.

A Sun writer described the show as a “lyrical six-hour session of nostalgia radio.” Mr. Colom said he was attracted to pre-World War II music “because it just sounded like the old music in the movies I liked.”

Mr. Colom spent his free time at antique and thrift stores searching for old recordings. Friends said he enjoyed 1930s film musicals and was a devoted fan of Alice Faye and the New York-based orchestra leader Richard Himber. They said he specialized in a type of mainstream pre-World War II music that though once popular had fallen out out favor as tastes moved to jazz and later rock. Mr. Colom managed his extensive collection of records and listed them on Excel spreadsheets.

“The melodies are beautiful,and they are melodic and not just rhythm,” Mr. Colom said of his music. “It’s classy, it’s clever and it’s witty. There was a certain literacy about it. I’m locked into that whole era of music and can’t get out — and don’t want to.”

After he left radio — some of the stations were changing their formats — he teamed with a Columbia-based friend, Robert Moke, who presented Mr. Colom’s records on a YouTube internet channel.

“His collection became pretty well known around the world, and a lot of people loved it,” said Mr. Moke, his collaborator and a former Sirius Radio producer.

Another collector, Robert Merchant of Chantilly, Va., said: “He had spectacular collection, especially of the period 1930 [to] 1934. I once gave him a record he didn’t have and he was beside himself.”

“Rick was personable and made his radio shows intimate. He was not a downer in any respect. On the air Rick was fun and ebullient,” said Mark Kotishion, a Woodlawn resident and friend.

Mr. Colom, who started writing with a fountain pen in the first grade, collected new and vintage fountain pens. He had more than 70 colors of inks. He had numerous film recordings of streetcars — and often followed the entirety of Philadelphia car lines.

“He was enamored of Center City Philadelphia. It reminded him of his childhood,” said Mr. Kotishion, who plays piano with the Doc Scantlin and Lynn Summerall orchestras.

Friends said he often spoke of department stores — and their music departments — and of how he liked the food at John Wanamaker and Strawbridge and Clothier in Philadelphia and the Columbia branch of the old Woodward and Lothrop. He also explored nonchain neighborhood restaurants for cheese steak and cold-cut submarine sandwiches.

Plans for a life celebration are incomplete.

In addition to his niece, survivors include his brother, Dr. William Colom Jr. of New London, Conn., and another niece.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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