It was a custom to say "buuurn" when music was moving.
"Something hit me, and I said, 'Burn, Baby, Burn,'" Montague said. Then he asked his listeners to call in and experience it with him.
"If you like the record, call me and say, 'Montague, Burn, Baby, Burn.'"
That night a catchphrase was born. Students would call in with their name and their school and say "Burn, Baby, Burn" to express their pleasure with the R&B and soul hits he was spinning. They'd howl and he'd drop the latest album by the Platters, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder -- "All the heavyweights, baby" -- and together they'd exclaim, "Buuurn."
Magnificent Montague took his show -- and his hot catchphrase -- from New York to Chicago, and from Chicago to Los Angeles, where he arrived three months before the August 1965 Watts riots.
By then, "Burn, Baby, Burn" had caught on in Los Angeles and quickly became the battle cry for those taking to the streets after a white highway patrolman arrested a black motorist on suspicion of drunken driving. It was a hot night in the Watts neighborhood, and the scene soon escalated into a confrontation between police and nearby residents. Tensions between the black community and police boiled over, and a week later 34 people were dead and more than 1,000 were injured. More than 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
"They wanted to be recognized," Montague said of the rioters. "And the only way they could be recognized with what was going on in Watts, what happened with this young man, what happened with no jobs, all of this grief, the easiest thing to use is what they knew how to use."
He stopped using the phrase after that, but he kept the recordings and added them to his collection.
Merrill, who assessed the collection, calls him a hero.
"You're not going to see another collection like this," said Merrill, who is an appraiser on PBS's "Antiques Roadshow" and a consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
"Sometimes you find mass-produced pieces," like posters, brochures or pamphlets, Merrill said. "This is not that. It's all rare and one-of-a-kind.
"The collection was built on love," Merrill said. "He did this for future generations."
For 50 years Montague kept his pieces in public storage facilities, protected by nothing but a padlock. It was set up as his personal museum. Paintings and documents were framed and hung. Books and periodicals were meticulously organized. He kept a small desk and chair in the storage bin and spent time with the collection every day, reading and researching.
"No one knew where it was," Montague said. "It had no address. Nobody knew nothing. Not even the storage people knew what I had."
When it was time for him to move to a new city, he'd find a new home for his family and a new home for his collection. He'd drive behind the movers and keep an eye on it.
"When I first started collecting, I had no plan," Montague said. "I was drunk with the passion to collect. I had no plan to do anything with it but keep it. To hoard it for myself. Have it in my house. It was for me. I was doing it for Magnificent Montague."
Eventually he decided it was something that needed to be shared. He saw "museum libraries" on trips to Europe, places where artifacts could be viewed and touched but not checked out. He wanted to do the same with his collection.
"I'd like to see it where the people of America -- the young people mainly -- can have access to it, where it can be toured if possible," he said.
He didn't get a chance to finish his work. After the judgment against him was filed, he declared bankruptcy in August 2011, and the collection was seized in October.
"It's an emotional case," said Dotan Melech, the federal bankruptcy trustee assigned to administer the estate. "The conventional approach to bankruptcy is to take the few items that were worth anything, sell it and satisfy the debt, and give the debtor the rest of the items. That's the conventional approach to bankruptcy. That's what any bankruptcy trustee would've done."
However after meeting Montague, Melech said he caught his passion. "It's very contagious," he said.
"This is an opportunity to do something that can really benefit future generations and educate for many years to come, and I share the same desire and objective as the debtor has in this case," Melech said.
"I feel that this is an opportunity for the bankruptcy system to do the right thing."
He is looking for what he calls a win-win situation, where the debt can be satisfied and the collection can remain intact.
Merrill, a collector himself, is worried that won't happen.