Michael Jackson passes
Longtime radio broadcaster Michael Jackson — most known for his talk program heard for many years on KABC (790 AM) during its talk format heydays — passed away January 15th at the age of 87.
His Los Angeles career began in 1963 at KHJ (930 AM), but he gained his radio experience in South Africa, when his family moved there from London when he was 11; Jackson started on the air at the age of 16 in Johannesburg. In 1958 the family moved to the United States, and he quickly landed on the air in San Francisco playing popular music of the day … something he reportedly hated to do.
He worked nights at KHJ — still playing music while incorporating elements of talk — before moving to work in news at KNX (1070 AM) in 1965 just as KHJ was launching the teen-oriented Boss Radio format.
But KABC — where he moved in 1966 — is where he gained real traction. The combination of KABC and Jackson was a perfect fit for both, as KABC was deeply committed to the new talk format and Jackson found a place where he could be what he wanted to be.
Always a gentleman both on an off the air, Jackson was the consummate professional. He treated his guests and listeners with nothing but respect. And he had guests from all walks of life. He leaned liberal personally, but he spoke with political leaders from all sides and treated them all equally well. To say that Jackson was the perfect gentleman puts it lightly. He truly was a class act.
He spent over three decades at KABC and on the syndicated ABC talkradio network, interviewing such newsmakers as advisors to Richard Nixon, then- Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan, Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, and Bill Clinton, and a far-too-long-to-list selection of other politicians, movie and TV stars, musicians, signers, and artists.
Perhaps the one criticism people might have is that he tended to be nice in his interviews, often avoiding what might bee considered tough, in-your-face questions. But that didn’t seem to matter to listeners, who propelled his show toward the top of the ratings for most of his tenure at KABC.
When KFI (640 AM) entered the talk arena, KABC didn’t know how to respond, and management made numerous missteps that led to the decline of the station in general, and Jackson in particular. One such move was putting Jackson in a part time position with no one to take up the slack in his old slot; eventually Jackson left the station for good — the station fired him in 1998, and KABC continued to drop in both ratings and stature under numerous programmers and missed opportunities.
When the original KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM) went talk in 1999, Jackson joined the station and revived his show. But KRLA dropped talk soon after and Jackson was out. He later went on to work at KLAC (570 AM), another short time at KNX, and finally KGIL (now KMZT, 1260 AM) before retiring in 2008. He told me at the time that he retired in part to be with his wife, Alana, who was suffering from her own health issues. She died in 2014.
I didn’t realize it, but for the past ten years Jackson was fighting Parkinson’s Disease. That explains his lack of public appearances and the few interviews he did. He kept his own health issues private.
Jackson’s popularity among listeners was strong enough that as recently as last month, I received emails asking where he was and what he was doing. Unfortunately, it had been many years since I was able to connect with him. He really didn’t like to talk about himself, and I suppose that with his declining health and the direction of radio precluding a return to there airwaves, he didn’t see a major reason to talk … I can appreciate his decision. Classy to the end.
In addition to his work on the radio, Jackson played numerous characters in various television shows, including a TV announcer on The Munsters, a news commentator on Police Story, and as the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in 2012’s Batman, The Dark Knight Returns.
There are very few people as closely associated with talk radio as Michael Jackson. He is one of the greats … and hopefully his style of talk radio can some day make a comeback.
Longtime Jackson show producer Lyle Gregory is scheduled to be the guest this week on the RadioWaves podcast with myself and Michael Stark; find it at laradiowaves.com.