Connect with us
Barrett News Media Summit 2024

BNM Writers

A Memorial to Jim Ladd, The Last DJ

“Either you were on the bus to Woodstock, or you weren’t. Welcome aboard.” –Jim Ladd.

Andy Bloom

Published

on

A photo of Jim Ladd
(Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez | Getty Images)

In the days since Jim Ladd passed, many have written tributes and remembrances about him. A few have incorporated Tom Petty’s song about Jim and are more eloquent than I could ever write. Nevertheless, my last column of 2023 is my memorial to Ladd, honoring his unique talents and recalling a few of my memories from working together at KLSX, Los Angeles.

Well, you can’t turn him into a company man
You can’t turn him into a whore
And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore

That’s the opening verse to Tom Petty’s 2002 song, “The Last DJ.” Many have written that Jim Ladd, who died last week at 75, was the “inspiration for the song.”

Well, the top brass don’t like him talking so much,
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change.

Ladd may have inspired Petty to write the song, but make no mistake, the song is about Jim Ladd.

I oughta know. I hired Ladd to come back to radio in 1991. Except for the fact that Ladd and the “top brass” were on the same floor, at least at KLSX, and I don’t know about the Mexican radio station, every line of the song precisely applies to our three years of working together.

Please don’t misunderstand. I loved working with Ladd, although it was sometimes maddening. We frequently debated (versus argued) passionately. Although we disagreed (a lot), we were never disagreeable. No matter the passion, he was never disrespectful, and I do not recall a single instance where he stormed out or slammed the door.

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, everybody told me about Jim Ladd. The research backed up the stories. I’d also never seen an air talent with scores like his.

Initially, I wanted to hire him for afternoons on KLSX. The guy had been on the beach for over five years. I thought I had all the leverage. I didn’t know Jim Ladd and couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ladd wouldn’t work at a radio station unless he could select the music. “No, thank you,” he told me then, “I’ll stay out until I find a place that lets me do it my way.” We spent weeks negotiating. We finally agreed on a mix that included a few songs per hour that we picked, but we had to let him choose his own music for more than half the hour – and the order in which he played them. I’d never heard a jock place so much value on theme sets, but it meant everything to him.

When you work with the lengthy list of superstars I have, you learn that there are some people for whom it’s best to put the rulebook back in the desk drawer. Ladd was one of those people.

His value was so monstrous that I finally relented, although I could only agree to these terms at night.

We agreed on a few parameters, which he held to most of the time. Now and then, he’d drive me nuts by playing a Blues song that was out of the Classic Rock domain. I only called him on his music selections and put my foot down when he played a new artist outside the format – which was rare.

If he had agreed to play the music like every other jock, he would have gone on in afternoon drive and made significantly more money. If he played better (as in tested) music, he would have had higher ratings at night and earned larger bonuses. Although Ladd was very much a capitalist, money took a back seat to “creative freedom,” and more than once said, “I won’t whore out.”

One of Ladd’s admirable qualities was that he was always willing to discuss and defend his principles. Therefore, we had many spirited debates on an array of topics. We disagreed on what would happen if he played tested music. During his long career, Jim Ladd never found out with certainty. His fans thought I was wrong. We’ll never know how many more fans he might have made with more accessible music.

Ladd had his mind made up what was or wasn’t cool. Two artists were absolute no-goes for him: Billy Joel and Elton John.

Ladd was unmoved by test scores, which I showed him repeatedly and tried to explain. I gave up on Billy, figuring he was more of an East Coast phenomenon. But Elton’s first American shows were “here in Los Angeles at the Troubador,” I pleaded. “The shows were critically acclaimed by rock critics and attended by artists like Leon Russell, Mama Cass, David Crosby, Brian Wilson, even The Doors were there. How can you not play his early stuff?”

Ladd replied with the words he would write as an inscription in my copy of his book “Radio Waves:” Andy, either you were on the bus to Woodstock, or you weren’t. Welcome aboard.” –Jim Ladd. I wasn’t old enough to attend Woodstock, but Ladd taught me what I missed.

Ladd had a few phrases that would have been clichés if delivered by mere mortal jocks. From Ladd, they were comfort food. For example, I’d never met a rock jock who identified as a cowboy, but Ladd, who epitomized cool, called himself “The Lonesome L.A. Cowboy.”

Here’s a story that best exemplifies Ladd’s importance. The station held an annual free outdoor concert called “Classic Jam” in a park with significant Classic Rock artists.

One year, the concert was at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. That’s in Orange County, for those unfamiliar with Southern California – one of the few politically conservative places in the state. The airstaff joked about “going behind the orange curtain.”

The concert featured Spirit and the reunion of the original Doobie Brothers lineup. During the show, Ladd maintained a low profile. I recall getting irritated as the rest of the staff worked the event, and he hid, perhaps uncomfortable in conservative Orange County. Our promotions and marketing guru, Scott Segelbaum, was sweating because if we left the park in poor condition, we might incur additional clean-up costs and, worse, not be invited back.

Immediately, as the Doobie Brothers exited the stage, Ladd jumped up and got the crowd’s attention with his standard: “How ya’ doin’ everybody? I’m Jim Ladd.” He asked every audience member to come to the stage and take a trash bag. Like a parent speaking sternly to their children, he instructed them to “leave this park cleaner than we found it,” he continued by saying, “I don’t want to see a single cigarette butt in the grass.” Ladd dropped the mic, hopped in his car parked backstage, and sped off.

I’m guessing he was chuckling all the way home to his home high in Laurel Canyon, knowing what would happen next.

Thousands of Classic Rock fans who had been partying only an hour earlier spread out like locusts, filling dozens of garbage bags with trash and depositing them in the truck as instructed. It was nearly as miraculous as Moses parting the sea. When we left the park that day, there wasn’t so much as a cigarette butt left anywhere.

I have so many Ladd stories that I could fill a book. Writing about the tree house in Laurel Canyon and taking the tram to get to it might take an entire chapter.

I want to impart at least one story that may surprise people who knew him because, to borrow a movie line, Jim was a “mystery wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma.” (JFK, 1991).

During the Los Angeles riots (1992), KLSX had to move from its Mid-Wilshire (Koreatown) studios to the transmitter location at Mount Wilson. I decided to drop in on Ladd and found myself looking down the barrel of a shotgun. Ladd nearly blew my head off!

Little did I know that Ladd, politically an extremely progressive person, was not only a gun owner but (at least at the time) a member of the NRA (I believe he left the group later).

Ladd and I also traveled together to Washington, D.C., to attend Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993 as guests of the president’s half-brother, Roger Clinton. And yes, 1992 was the one presidential election I voted for the Democrat. For Ladd, it was like converting Alex P. Keaton – or so he thought. Together, we collected some fantastic interviews to send back to the station while in D.C.

Flying back into LAX reminded me of the many return trips to the City of Angeles I’d made over the past couple of years. During some of my time programming KLSX, I also oversaw sister station, WCSX, Detroit. A specific flight back to L.A. put me back in the car just in time to hear Ladd’s first break.

Nothing reminded me I was back in SoCal better than hopping in my car and hearing Ladd’s dulcet tones, “Lord have mercy! How ya doin’ everybody? I’m Jim Ladd. Thank you for being my friend.” Above all, he was my friend, and I would often call him on my “state-of-the-art brick phone just to say hello.

KLSX was triumphant during my three-year run, which resulted in my promotion to Vice President of Programming for Greater Media and relocation to its New Jersey headquarters. Hiring Ladd was essential to the station’s success. I never felt that I had made the wrong decision by hiring Ladd.

Since he joined SiriusXM, I tuned to “Deep Trax” occasionally to hear his unparalleled smooth voice and delivery more than any other reason, and we’d connect about once a year. When it comes to music jocks, nobody has ever compared to Jim Ladd.

There goes the last human voice.
And there goes the last DJ.

The Lonesome L.A. Cowboy
R.I.P. Jim Ladd

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

BNM Writers

What to Do When Your Fear Your Media Career is Headed to the Graveyard

If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

Published

on

A photo of a graveyard

“Do you guys ever think about dying?”

If you saw the Barbie movie, you know the line. Barbie is living the perfect and perfectly plastic life, perfectly choreographed and full of perfect smiles.

But the movie turns on that one line, basically shattering Barbie’s world with a concept no one there would ever have considered.

Death.

Why would you consider it when everything seemed in perfect order?

Well, when it comes to broadcasting and media, a lot of you think about dying … a lot. I do, too.

Of course, it’s not the stop breathing and get buried type of death but rather, the death of a career in media.

The truth is, when it comes to our business, very few people get to choose when it ends. Take a minute and consider a major media personality who truly “retired” after a multi-decade career.

It happens, but percentage-wise, it’s rare.

Take a minute and think. Name some. Name one. It’s not easy.

More often than not, you will get laid off or fired before you want to leave, and after a certain age, getting that next opportunity may be a bridge too far.

Then, you are done done.

That’s as much a music stopper as Barbie admitting she has considered her own mortality in the middle of the dance floor. Here on planet Earth, at least from the people in my orbit, the death of a media career often leads to even better professional options and more balanced lifestyle choices.

I have friends doing a million different things: Public relations, crisis management, content creation for large companies, political communications, fundraising, and teaching. Almost all of them tell me that it was such a stress relief to have a “normal” life, to not be worried about every pending contract or new boss.

Their work is appreciated. Their job is stable. And their schedule? Normal. Never has “normal” sounded so lovely than when they talk about watching shows with spouses, going out for a drink on a Tuesday, or having a regular pickleball game (or insert any middle-aged recreational sport).

I believe them.

Sort of.

The “sort of” comes from me not being able to actually envision that for myself. As enticing as it would be to see people on a more accessible schedule or play a weekly game with buddies, nothing beats talking and writing for a living. Nothing. And I am going to hang on until the lights are out, and we can’t pay to get them turned back on.

For me, I’m in too deep. I’m an indoor cat, incapable of survival outside.

Meetings. Deadlines. Reliant on other people. Meetings.

I’d be dead in a week. It’s beyond no, thank you. It’s, “I can’t”.

Sure, I have three teenagers and three college tuitions to pay. And two dogs. Two cars. And a mortgage.

Here’s where I am supposed to tell you that you should not only have thoughts about (career) death but also have a survival plan – a professional media-career living will if you would.

I should tell you that because you should.

But I don’t have one. And I don’t want one.

Why?

Because I don’t want to think about death anymore. I mean, I’ve already died twice. It wasn’t fun, and the third time most likely would be the charm in terms of getting me out of the business for good.

Why so stubborn? I don’t know.

Several times, I’ve said to myself, I need to make sure I have a backup plan … just in case. Each time, I find a reason not to get one.

Ultimately, what’s my point? Get a backup plan. Think about death. But it can’t take away from the essential joy of having the privilege of talking for a living. In that vein, don’t take it for granted. Ever. Even if the pay stinks and the schedule stinks. If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BNM Writers

Is the Fairness Doctrine Even Possible in Today’s Media Landscape?

Is it right for media consumers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news?

Published

on

A photo of an equal scale

As many media outlets shutter their doors, some have clamored for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Newsweek released the results of their new way to connect with readers, by asking if its reporting is “fair.” Since September 2023, readers were asked to judge stories on the site, 78% said the outlet is “fair.” Another 22% found at least one story they read to be “unfair.”

AllSides Media has judged Newsweek to be center. However, let’s not forget they are the same outlet that wrongly claimed President Donald Trump was golfing on Thanksgiving in 2019. As Sheryl Attkisson noted on Full Measure this week, on Thanksgiving in 2019 President Trump was visiting troops in Iraq and the Newsweek story was fabricated.

While the reader assessment of Newsweek’s content is on par with AllSides Media, is it right for readers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news? If outlets like The Daily Caller (Right) or Vox (Left) would ask the same of their readers, would their echo chamber subscribers find them “fair?” While historically print (and later digital) outlets could (and still can) embrace the political leanings of their owner(s), from 1949 till 1987 TV news had guidelines they must adhere to: The Fairness Doctrine.

Long before Americans argued about bias in news, every TV outlet (there were only three major ones at the time) would follow “The Fairness Doctrine.” The Reagan Library notes the doctrine was “enforced by the Federal Communications Council, [and] was rooted in the media world of 1949. Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.”

To put it simply, the Fairness Doctrine made it so all sides of any story were presented. In 1985, under the Reagan Administration, the FCC found “the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Two years later, a panel under FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick repealed the Fairness Doctrine unanimously.

Keep in mind, at this point in time, CNN was the first and only 24-hour news network in the United States (it launched on June 1, 1980). Fox News wouldn’t be launched until almost 10 years after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, on October 7, 1996.

Also happening at this time, large corporations (with lobbying power) were buying media outlets. General Electric purchased NBC in 1986. Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1995. One year later, ABC was bought by Disney. These purchases did not go unnoticed. Saturday Night Live even mocked the acquisitions in a now-banned short called “Conspiracy Theory Rock!: Media-opoly.”

The unwillingness of news organizations to cover both sides of a story has led to the creation of biased outlets including: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, OAN, Newsmax, and others. None of these would be able to exist in their current form if the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t repealed.

News outlets that aren’t overtly biased use another trick to manipulate their viewers/readers, using emotionally charged verbiage. AllSides Media defines sensationalist words as presenting information in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. This includes words like “shocking”, “heart-breaking”, “explosive”, “scathing”, “chaotic”, “desperate”, and “remarkable”… this list goes on but you’ve seen and heard these words from the news outlets daily. This is the media telling you how to react to a story instead of letting you determine how you actually feel after they present the facts of the story.

Today, what’s most concerning are outlets saying ‘fair and balanced’ news is a disservice to the public. An August 2023 NPR article explored just this, saying “Objectivity actually comes from an accurate examination of facts (actions, documentation, and even educated opinions) presented in transparent reports. Often, that coverage should also encourage audiences to examine supporting evidence for themselves.”

The problem with this is three-fold:

  • Selective fact presentation develops a one-sided narrative
  • An “educated opinion” is not a fact. It’s an opinion that is neither right nor wrong.
  • It is impossible for human beings to be completely unbiased (see January 31st column)

While it’s great Newsweek is asking readers if their reporting is ‘fair’ is the reader’s judgment neutral, or just as biased as the outlet they prefer to read? Sometimes when we are clicking to satisfy our own confirmation bias it’s hard to tell.

What the media and all Americans need to start recognizing is their own echo chamber. Knowing we all have some sort of bias is not a flaw but what makes us human. Our flaw is the inability to recognize our bias yet call out others for being biased just because they are on the other side of an issue.

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BNM Writers

CNN Sees Biggest Viewership Jump During Super Bowl Parade Shooting Coverage

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

Doug Pucci

Published

on

A photo of the CNN logo
(Photo: Getty Images)

The cable news outlets got increased viewership from two different news events during the week of Feb. 12, namely the shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, of the mass shooting at the Super Bowl celebration parade in Kansas City for the Chiefs football team. One person died and roughly two dozen others were injured.

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

The following are what each network drew as the story unfolded on that Feb. 14 afternoon from Kansas City and how it grew from the same Wednesday time slots from Jan. 3 thru Feb. 7:

Fox News Channel

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.656 million viewers (+18 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 1.873 million viewers (+34 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 3.175 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 2.441 million viewers (+12 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 2.250 million viewers (+4 percent)

MSNBC

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.008 million viewers (+10 percent)
  • 4-6 p.m.: 1.504 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 1.763 million viewers (+17 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 1.474 million viewers (+13 percent)

CNN

  • 3-4 p.m.: 0.762 million viewers (+27 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.913 million viewers (+35 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 1.007 million viewers (+28 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 0.985 million viewers (+43 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.960 million viewers (+29 percent)

Newsmax

  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.343 million viewers (+23 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 0.354 million viewers (+16 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.547 million viewers (+13 percent)

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the results were announced for the special election race for New York’s third congressional district between its former representative Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican challenger Mazi Pilip. Suozzi left office in 2022 to run in the New York gubernatorial election but lost out to incumbent Kathy Hochul. Suozzi’s successor in Congress was the infamous George Santos who was officially expelled from office on Dec. 1, 2023 over charges of federal criminal laws including campaign finance fraud.

MSNBC and CNN were the only major national news outlets that provided live coverage of the special election results, stressing the significance of Suozzi’s eight-point win over Pilip as it reduced the GOP’s advantage in the House of Representatives by one.

From when the voting polls closed in New York at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC easily topped CNN in total viewers at 9 p.m. (1.616 million viewers vs. CNN’s 0.847 million), 10 p.m. (1.903 million vs. CNN’s 0.879 million), 11 p.m. (1.112 million vs. CNN’s 0.541 million), and at midnight (774,000 viewers vs. CNN’s 299,000).

From 9-11 p.m. ET, though, both MSNBC and CNN scored the same performance among the key 25-54 demographic: a 0.15 rating at 9 p.m. and a 0.18 rating at 10 p.m. (Note: a 1.0 rating in 25-54 equates to 1.21 million viewers within the aforementioned age range.) 

For the 10-11 p.m. hour, when the New York candidate speeches had aired, CNN grew by 68 percent (in viewers) and by 80 percent (in 25-54) from its Tuesday 10-11 p.m. hour output from Jan. 2 thru Feb. 6 — a time period that included a Ron DeSantis town hall and New Hampshire primary results.

MSNBC was up as well at 10 p.m. hour — +16 percent in viewers, +33 percent in the 25-54 demo — using the same reference parameters.

Even though Fox News did not offer live coverage of New York’s special election results, Hannity at 9 p.m. (2.528 million viewers; 0.21 A25-54 demo rating) and Gutfeld! at 10 p. m. (2.357 million viewers; 0.31 A25-54 demo rating) still held the top spots in their respective hours on all of cable news.

Source: Nielsen Media Research

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement
Advertisement

Upcoming Events

BNM Writers

Copyright © 2024 Barrett Media.