Thursday 27 Oct 2016

The Last DJ
Matt Seinberg

I was listening to an air check my friend Al Levine gave me that he got from another friend in California in 2006, and track 4 of this mp3 CD was KLOS-FM in Los Angeles. I wasn’t really paying attention, just listening to the music. All of a sudden, Uncle Joe Benson was back selling the music, and doing his thing. Then the commercials started, all 10 minutes or so of them.

The music started again, and the next thing I heard was Jim Ladd introducing his show. Cool! What a nice surprise this was, 50 minutes into the air check to hear one of the most famous Southern California DJ’s of all time. I have collected many air checks of Jim through the years, but haven’t listened to any of them for a time.

Jim Ladd has worked at many Southern California radio stations, and without going into a full history, here are the stations he worked at: KNAC-FM, in Long Beach; KLOS-FM, several times; KMET-FM, KMPC-KEDG-FM and KLSX-FM, all in Los Angeles. It’s not too often that a DJ stays at one station for that long, but to stay in the second largest radio market for forty years, that’s 40 years, is unheard of.

Jim Ladd served as the inspiration for the Tom Petty album, “The Last DJ” and its title track; that was 2002. How many DJs do you know that had a song written for them? This just proved the power and reach of this incredible DJ, who wove songs and moods together like a fine tailor sewing a fine suit.

Ladd was the last DJ in the United States, if not the world, that had complete autonomy over his radio show. He picked all the music he played, creating themes and what he called theatre of the mind, weaving together different artists and musical styles like a fine tapestry.

In 1991, Jim wrote a semi-autographical book called, “Radio Waves.” When I heard about this book, I had to have a copy. I found one on E-bay for a reasonable price, and devoured it very quickly. The fun part was figuring out who the characters were based upon, and putting their real names to those in the book. I’m not giving out the answers, so go buy the book!

On 26 October 2011, KLOS-FM fired Jim Ladd, along with Program Director, Bob Buchmann, and many other staffers. After Cumulus Media took over Citadel Broadcasting, it cleaned house and high-priced KLOS-FM topped the list. This truly was the end of an era. If a talented DJ, such as Jim Ladd, was fireable, no one was safe

Clear Channel station, KFI-AM, in Los Angeles, gave Ladd the chance to say good-bye to his listeners, in a three-hour show on 5 November 2011. Many friends and former co-workers called the last show. Everyone wished him good luck in whatever he did, next.

Then some good news came on 2 December 2011 from Sirius XM Radio. Jim Ladd got his own show on its Deep Tracks channel, broadcasting live from somewhere in Los Angeles starting 13 February 2012. Imagine Ladd doing his thing with free rein and no commercials! I asked my friend Al to record his first show for me. I’ve always collected as many first and last shows of DJs that I can, and this one will be very special.

A newspaper article, about the Top 10 jobs that will disappear in the next few years, ran the other day. Do you know what number six was? Take a guess; no wait.

Radio broadcaster was number six among the jobs expected to vanish in the next few years. If we haven’t seen this coming for the last few years, we’re blind. More DJ jobs have been lost than added, and it’s very likely to continue. Outside the top ten major markets, most midday shifts are voice tracked or automated, and after 7 pm, there usually is no live person in the building. It’s only Otto Nation, read that slowly, running multiple radio stations at one time.

Here’s something that too many working DJs don’t realize, even though they do it every day: they finish their live shift at their home station and proceed to cut voice tracks for other stations. I’m not against anyone making a living, but these jocks are letting the big radio groups replace live people in the studio with pre-recorded voices. The motion is to keep their own job by displacing others.

Imagine if, one by one, voice track jocks refused to record spots or ids for other stations. After a time, stations would have to hire live, on-air talent. Ryan Seacrest would lose one of his many jobs; so sad.

What kind of dream world am I living in? Wait, I’m still asleep. Let me dream, just a little longer, okay.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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