July 20, 2004

Jackson returns to SoCal airwaves
By Tom Hennessy Columnist

Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - After 20 months without a microphone, Michael Jackson, regarded as the dean of talk radio in Southern California, is coming back on the air.

Jackson's new gig will be an interview format, rather than the talk-show formula that made him one of the area's most recognized radio voices. Still, it represents a new start for Jackson, who had the plug pulled on him in December 2002, when his former station, KLAC, went to an all-music format.

Starting Thursday or Friday the exact day still has not been set Jackson will appear on KNX, which is 1070 on the dial and has the most powerful radio-station signal west of the Mississippi.

Eisner on tap

His first guest, he says, will be Michael Eisner, the embattled head of the Disney empire and Jackson's former boss at ABC.

Question one? "How about this?" says Jackson. "You wouldn't promote and distribute 'Fahrenheit 9/11' because, ostensibly, it was too politically sensitive, when, at the same time, you employed at your talk stations nationwide some of the toughest, most hard-edged, obviously conservative Republicans without a hint at balance."

For now, Jackson will be doing an interview during morning drive time. It will be repeated during evening drive time.

His overdue return to radio is the doing of David Hall, former program manager of KFI, who recently moved to KNX.

"My task is exciting," says Jackson. "My instructions from David are to interview anyone I like on any topic I like. There is so much to talk about: the war, crime, the administration, sex, the election, the economy, science, entertainment. We'll meet with world leaders and the people who are making a difference in this state of California.

"We'll be talking, too, with authors, doctors, and people from every walk of life who have a unique story to tell, people who in many cases you won't hear elsewhere."

In time, it is possible that Jackson's interviews could be aired on the CBS radio network.

Aside from the station's far-reaching signal, Jackson has other reasons to be pleased about his new-found association with KNX. One of them is Hall. "He has been with KNX just a few months," says Jackson, "and the differences he has made there are beginning to show his genius."

Jackson has known Hall for years. When the talk-show veteran was inducted last year into the Radio Hall of Fame, one of only 115 people to be accorded that honor, he asked to have Hall introduce him at the black-tie ceremony in Chicago.

A radio home

Jackson also has a personal affection for KNX. It was his first station when he came to L.A. from the Bay area, and it was while he was working there that he met his future wife, Alana Ladd, the daughter of actor Alan Ladd. Ironically, KNX played a role in the meeting of Alana's parents. Actor Alan Ladd was working there when he met Sue Carroll, who became his wife and agent.

What has Jackson been doing during 20 months off the air? "I've been writing on my Web site and doing some (radio) voice-over work, mostly for Europe. I've also been taking care of Alana." His wife suffered a stroke a year ago.Recovery has been slow, says Jackson.

His web site is michaeljacksontalkradio.com

Had he given up hope of ever getting back to radio? I've kept fairly close contact with Jackson during his down time, and don't think he ever gave up, although the prospects at times were discouraging.

Too nice for today?

"I was beginning to believe that it would be a long time before I found my way back in," he says. "It appears, according to management (at other stations), that I didn't fit the times; I wasn't hard-edged, 'in your face," more opinionated than the guest.

"What's more, I was insufficiently abusive of the callers. Remember, (Rush) Limbaugh has said, with frequency, that 'the purpose of the caller is to make me look good.'

"Jackson's overall view of talk-radio these days?"

For reasons I have yet to fathom, talk-radio has become an extension of far-right thinking. Guests are nearly all, along with the hosts, doing the bidding of the White House.

"In the more than a year since my leaving the air waves, very few authors have been interviewed and this at a time when more substantial books are being written about the Bush administration than about any president during his term in office. If we don't buy and read the book, there's very little likelihood that the authors' views will be explored or challenged.

"He adds, "That is about to change. I'm coming back."

Tom Hennessy's viewpoint appears Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He can be reached at (562) 499-1270 or by e-mail at Scribe17@aol.com