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Arnold ‘Giant Gene’ Rubin, 78, Philly radio DJ and music promoter

Arnold Rubin, better known by his stage name "Giant Gene," spent three decades playing music for radio listeners in the Philadelphia region.

Arnold Rubin, better known by his stage name, Giant Gene Arnold, passed away this month after a bout with cancer.
Arnold Rubin, better known by his stage name, Giant Gene Arnold, passed away this month after a bout with cancer.Read moreCourtesy Rubin family (custom credit)

Chances are good that Philadelphia-area radio listeners in the 1960s and 1970s knew the voice of Giant Gene Arnold.

“Giant Gene” — the stage name of Arnold Eugene Rubin, given for his tall stature — built a thriving DJ career at radio stations including WCAM, WIBG, and WCAU, and later became a fixture at rock concerts and dances he promoted and hosted.

Mr. Rubin, 78, died Monday, Nov. 18, at his home in Northeast Philadelphia after a two-year bout with cancer.

He spent his childhood in West Philadelphia and Center City, then attended Olney High School. He frequently danced on American Bandstand, where host Dick Clark gave him the name “Rick Roman.”

Mr. Rubin went on to use that stage name at the beginning of his career, penning lyrics and producing songs for local rock-and-roll groups including the Tridels and the Good Guys. Music helped him meet his wife, Terryl, a vocalist, for whom he wrote a few songs.

Art Wilson first met Mr. Rubin around that time while playing in the Driftwoods, a Fishtown band. Mr. Rubin was a mentor to Wilson and his bandmates, giving them advice and booking them gigs. When the two crossed paths again decades later, they became fast friends.

“He had an authority about him. You listened to him when he spoke,” Wilson said. “And he used that knowledge and experience that he had to help people. He was open and friendly to whoever needed it.”

Mr. Rubin’s career as a radio personality started in 1966 in Chester at WEEZ, where he hosted a talk show. A year later, he switched to WIFI in Philadelphia and started playing music, with a heavy focus on oldies.

The format changed somewhat accidentally, according to a legend Mr. Rubin spread among his friends: After arriving at the studio one day, he realized he had forgotten his records at home. Out of options, he played vinyl that had been discarded by other DJs, and inadvertently introduced his station’s listeners to Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, and Bob Dylan.

The overwhelmingly positive response inspired Mr. Rubin to create “Giant Gene’s Electric Scene,” a show that focused on progressive rock, according to Gerry Wilkinson, Mr. Rubin’s friend and colleague of nearly 30 years.

Throughout his broadcast career, Mr. Rubin advocated against drug use, especially to younger listeners, Wilkinson said. At WCAM in Camden, he created “rap lines,” inviting teenagers to call in and discuss matters that bothered them. The subject matter ran the gamut, from bullying to depression and thoughts of suicide.

His son Jody fondly remembers those lines. He said they encapsulated his father’s philosophy of using music as a way of helping people.

“He was trying to create an opportunity for them to break the ice and not do the thing they were thinking of doing, and put them in touch with people who could help them,” Jody Rubin said.

Later in his career, Mr. Rubin emceed rock concerts at the former Electric Factory and other area venues, and found success in advertising, creating spots that ran on KYW Newsradio. He also became active in the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, a nonprofit that catalogs radio and television history and honors people in the industry.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Rubin is survived by sons Brian and Frank, and 12 grandchildren.

Funeral services were held Thursday, Nov. 21. Burial was in Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown.

Donations in Mr. Rubin’s memory may be made to the Best Friends Animal Society or the Wounded Warrior Project.