During court-ordered busing in Boston in the 1970s, WBZ-AM talk show host Lovell Dyett sparred week after week on the air with Raymond Flynn, who was then a state representative.
Mr. Dyett passionately argued for equal educational opportunities. Flynn advocated for the benefits of neighborhood schools and emphasized the plight of poor urban white children. The phone lines lit up and the talk went on until midnight on Saturdays.
“It was argue and fight, and then at the end of the night, we would go out for hamburgers or Chinese food,” Flynn recalled. “That’s how much we respected each other.”
Mr. Dyett, who was on the air for almost 40 years, died of kidney failure Tuesday inGolden Living Center in Melrose. He was 77 and had lived in Cambridge for many years.
With his commanding deep voice and love of a good argument, Mr. Dyett was both media personality and community activist, and his shows had bite. Co-workers recalled that he interviewed former Ku Klux Klan members, probed why television rarely reflected black life, and often wondered aloud why Americans have a hard time discussing race.
“I will remember most his passion for issues and his passion for solving problems in the community,” said Peter Casey, director of news and programming for WBZ news radio. “He was more of a person who thought of himself as a problem solver, as opposed to somebody who just talked about the issues.… He wanted to find solutions.”
Mr. Dyett was born in Florida. His father was an Episcopal minister and his mother was a college administrator. He graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
In Washington, D.C.,Mr. Dyett served as executive assistant to the president of urban affairs at Howard University. He also worked in television in Washington, winning a regional Emmy award.
By the mid 1960s, he was an activist in Boston.AGlobe photo from 1965 shows a handsome young Mr. Dyett leading a discussion group between white Arlington teens and black youths from West Medford when he was an organizer for community action councils in the state through the Commonwealth Services Corps.
He became special assistant to the head of Action for Boston Community Development in 1966, and he worked on Edward Brooke’s landmark campaign that year for US Senate. Brooke, a Republican, became the first black person popularly elected to the US Senate.
With his good looks and deep, rich voice, Mr. Dyett made his way into Boston television in the 1970s.
His public affairs show on WBZ-TV called “Sixteen-72” made headlines. One broadcast criticized Boston public schools for “failing to prepare and motivate black students.” He also took his cameras into the South End to capture the multi-ethnic community in 1972 in a broadcast called “My Grandfather Left Me a Neighborhood -- Shawmut Ave.”
“He loved a good fight. It wasn’t fisticuffs. It was about social justice,” said his friend Dan Henderson, who lives in Melrose and considered Mr. Dyett an early mentor. “There was a constant frustration why more hadn’t been done. He was always coming up with ideas to put this organization together to handle this and handle that.”
Henderson recalled lively talks with Mr. Dyett, who liked to rib the younger man about politics.
“He was always an engaging intellect,” Henderson said. “The time we spent together, we attempted to solve the problems of the world.”
WBZ dropped Mr. Dyett’s radio show at the beginning of 2009 during a round of layoffs and replaced him with syndicated content. His fans and leaders of Boston’s black community rallied behind him and demanded his return to the airwaves. WBZ responded by putting Mr. Dyett’s show on at 4:30 a.m. on Sundays.
“They brought him back,” Henderson said, “but they never really gave him his show back.”
Mr. Dyett and his wife, Thomasina, separated after more than 20 years of marriage, according to his family.
He leaves his brother,Morris of Daytona Beach, Fla., and his daughter, Lydia of Baltimore.
Burial will be private inDaytona, and a memorial service will be announced.
In recent years, though Mr. Dyett dealt with many health problems, he persevered through pain to go to the studio to record his show and never complained, according to coworkers.
“He would do anything to make it to the show,” Jordan Rich, a WBZ personality, said Tuesday night on “Nightside with Dan Rea” on WBZ.
“What an honor it is to have hung out with him,” Rich said. “Lovell always was, and will be, a character, and a man with character.”
A man who identified himself as Bob from Everett told the show he was such a fan of Mr. Dyett that when he learned he was ill, he visited him in the nursing home.
“Little did I know it turned into the equivalent of a ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ ” said the caller, who brought Mr. Dyett peach pie and ice cream. “He was the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”
Mr. Dyett ended his show with the Duke Ellington lyrics, “I love you, I love you madly.”
Those words gave listeners and guests a lift after hours of intellectual wrangling, according to Flynn, who was mayor of Boston from 1984 to 1993.
“What a perfect ending because you couldn’t turn off the radio and say there were any hard feelings,” Flynn said. “And the funny part about it was, he meant it.”