They fired Jim Ladd on a Tuesday. Ladd had been the nighttime DJ on L.A. classic rock station KLOS, in various incarnations, since 1969. He's a rare DJ with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and inspired Tom Petty's song “The Last DJ.”
Cumulus Media, having absorbed bankrupt former KLOS owner Citadel Media, fired Ladd without warning along with 26 other employees in a morning meeting on October 25. (The following day, Clear Channel fired scores of DJs from their 850 stations, as well.) “What am I going to say to my wife?” Ladd thought.
Ladd was considered one of the last “freeform” mainstream broadcast DJs, in which a hand-picked playlist propels a themed broadcast through multiple hours. The last song he played was Pink Floyd's “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” (KLOS did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Known for his access to stars like Petty, Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Roger Waters, Ladd's late-evening show employed a concept he called “Theater of the Mind,” more like storytelling than simply playing a series of unrelated songs. A war-themed program might feature “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath segueing into “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills & Nash and Young, leading into “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. Ladd interviewed John Lennon in 1974, and, while at KMET, was also pivotal in bringing the news of his assassination to local audiences in 1980.
Last month, Clear Channel-owned L.A. talk station KFI aired a three-hour “final” show for Ladd. “The Last DJ” started and ended the salute, and folks calling in included Jackson Browne, Roger Waters, Billy Bob Thornton and David Crosby. Ladd's shocked and disappointed listeners voiced their displeasure as well.
“The people at KFI just couldn't have been nicer, more welcoming,” Ladd says. “They just threw their radio station open to me and said, “Do whatever you want.”
What's next for Ladd?
Signs initially pointed to a move to adult contemporary outpost 100.3 FM The Sound, but instead, next month he'll join the lineup of Sirius XM Radio's Deep Tracks on channel 27. The show will re-create his approach on KLOS, with themed-broadcasts, and conversations with rock icons.
It'll be like the glory days of classic rock never left, and when you drive through a tunnel, the signal won't fade out.