Jim Ladd, the longtime Los Angeles FM deejay known as “The Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” who had hosted a SiriusXM show for 12 years and was the inspiration for Tom Petty‘s album The Last DJ, died overnight Saturday of a heart attack at his L.A. home. He was 75.
His death was announced today by fellow veteran DJ Meg Griffin, who hosted Ladd’s SiriusXM Deep Tracks show in his place today. Griffin said his wife Helene Lodge-Ladd had asked her to announce the news at the start of his show that aired live weekdays from 2-6 p.m. PT. It was Ladd’s first national program.
“I am so sorry for the shock that just hit you as you are listening right now,” Griffin told listeners. “He never stopped caring. He delivered the truth. He lived for the music.”
“As I have always done throughout my career, I will be choosing all my own music,” Ladd said in announcing his satcaster gig. “I will be playing everything I want — from Pink Floyd to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, from the Doors to Moby Grape — freely and with no playlists.”
Possessed of the Ultimate FM Voice, he would say every night, “I’m Jim Ladd, and you and I are listening to KMET” — or KLOS or Deep Tracks. And he’d close with: “I want to thank for listening and for being my friend this evening. Good night, everybody.” On the SiriusXM show, he made a point of noting that was broadcasting from “high in the Hollywood Hills.”
Ladd began his satellite radio stint months after being laid off from Los Angeles rock outlet KLOS-FM in October 2011. It was his third stint at the rock station, having worked there from 1969-75, when he moved to archrival KMET until the station changed formats in 1987. After a couple of other stints elsewhere — including startup KLSX-FM, which introduced the “classic rock” format to L.A. — he returned to KLOS in the nighttime slot until his exit.
He also worked at L.A.’s short-lived FM rock outlet KMPC/KEDG, aka “The Edge,” and did a three-hour “farewell” show on KFI-AM after leaving KLOS and before landing the SiriusXM gig.
Ladd made a name for himself playing what he termed “freeform radio,” eschewing playlists and creating themed sets of music and urging listeners to call in. Famed for the catchphrase “Lord have mercy” and for dubbing his female fans “long-legged ponies,” he was a mainstay on the SoCal FM dial who also hosted the long-running
syndicated radio show InnerView, during which he spoke with rock’s biggest stars. Another popular show was Headsets, during which Ladd played thematic sets intended for listening in headphones.
He also was the inspiration for The Last DJ, the 2002 Petty album and title track that skewered the radio industry. Ladd’s longtime friend Petty and the Heartbreakers played the song during an intimate show at Cal State Northridge days after Ladd’s firing. “Jim Ladd was fired this week for having an imagination,” the singer said from the stage that night before lamenting how music stars now are made on “game shows.” “Everybody wins, but you get f*ckin’ ripped off.”
The band later played the album’s standout track “Have Love Will Travel,” which features the lines: “And the lonely DJ’s digging a ditch/Trying to keep the flames from the temple.”
Ladd also was a longtime friend and supporter of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, and it’s his voice on the singer’s 1987 solo album Radio K.A.O.S. When the group’s seminal album The Wall was released in late November 1979, Ladd debuted Side 1 in its entirety for his L.A. radio audience. He noted on-air that the songs were going to flow into one another. “You know how the Floyd does it,” Ladd told his listeners.
Ladd hosted a SiriusXM Town Hall with Waters in 2012.
In another medium, Ladd appeared in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 romantic comedy Say Anything, starring John Cusack and Ione Skye, and is heard as a DJ in 1988’s To Die For and Tequila Sunrise, She’s Out of Control (1989), Rush (1991) and Defender (2009) and as a newscaster in the 1989 movie Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!
Most recently, Ladd guested on IFC’s Marc Maron comedy Maron. In the 2014 Season 2 episode, Maron is annoyed after doing yet another typically terribly morning-radio interview and declares the format dead in favor of podcasting. But later he meets an overlooked radio genius (Ladd) and finds new respect for DJs — well, at least some of them.
He also was featured in a 2002 episode of Biography titled “Sunset Strip: Paradise Lost“ and hosted a 2014 WKRP in Cincinnati reunion at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.
Born on January 17, 1948, Ladd was around for the birth of the underground album-oriented rock format. He began his career in radio — what he often called “theater of the mind.” He worked at Long Beach outlet KNAC-FM in 1967. An FM staple by the mid-’70s Ladd was branded the Top Rock Jock by the Los Angeles Times in 1980. The paper cited his “passion that he brings to both the songs he plays and the words that set the mood. Ladd cares, and it shows.”
He was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, was named Air Personality of the Year in 2000 by The Los Angeles Music Awards and received The Hollywood Arts Council’s Media Arts Award in 2007.
Ladd also authored the 1991 book Radio Waves: Life and Revolution on the FM Dial, which chronicled his life on the airwaves from FM’s rebellious early years through its defeat at the hands of “the format machine” in the ’80s. The book was optioned by producer Howard “Hawk” Koch Jr. for Paramount Pictures in 1994.
Ladd made a habit of infuriating his bosses with frequent comments about the corporatization of radio. He often played the Kinks’ 1981 track “Around the Dial,” which laments the sudden absence of a favorite disc jockey. Sample lyric: “Where did you go Mr. DJ?/Did they take you off the air?/Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs?”
Griffin played the song as she announced Ladd’s death on SiriusXM today. She followed that up by playing “The Last DJ,” which opens with the lines: “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.”
There goes the last DJ, who plays what he wants to play and says what he wants to say.
Thank you to deadline for posting this tribute