Jim Ladd, a legendary Los Angeles disc jockey who pioneered “freeform radio” throughout his career, died on Saturday in Los Angeles at 75. Ladd’s death was announced on Monday by veteran DJ Meg Griffin on Ladd’s SiriusXM show on Deep Tracks. Griffin hosted Ladd’s show on Monday.
While passing along the news, Griffin said that Helene Lodge-Ladd, Jim’s wife, wanted Griffin to announce it on Deep Tracks. Ladd’s show ran between 2-6 p.m. Pacific time. Tom Petty fans know that Ladd was the inspiration for the album The Last DJ, Deadline reports.
Ladd died of a heart attack. “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. (And) he lived for the music.”
“As I have always done throughout my career, I will be choosing all my own music,” Ladd said when 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.”
Ladd always said he was broadcasting from “high in the Hollywood Hills.”
Jim Ladd Started SiriusXM Program In 2011
Ladd began his satellite radio stint months after being laid off from Los Angeles radio outlet KLOS-FM in October 2011. It marked his third stint at the rock station. He moved to archrival KMET until the station changed formats in 1987. Ladd, after a couple of other stints elsewhere, returned to KLOS in the nighttime slot until his exit.
He made a name for himself playing what he termed “freeform radio.” He would not use playlists and created themed sets of music and urged listeners to call in. Famed for the catchphrase “Lord have mercy” and for dubbing his female fans “long-legged ponies, “Ladd was a mainstay on the SoCal FM dial. Ladd also hosted the syndicated radio show InnerView. He would speak 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. That’s 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. It was 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 Counted Roger Waters Among His Friends
Ladd also was a longtime friend and supporter of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. It is 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,” Ladd told his listeners.
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 the late 1960s. An FM staple by the mid-’70s Ladd was branded the Top Rock Jock by the Los Angeles Times in 1980. The paper cited the “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.
He 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 The Odd Couple and The Manchurian Candidate producer Howard W. Koch for Paramount Pictures in 1994.
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