Talk Radio Virtuoso Conducts L.A. Rhapsodies for
Watching talk maestro Michael
Jackson on the air orchestrating guests and
callers is like watching a great conductor; his every
move is an exciting
melody, and he never misses a beat.
Just before the election, Jackson mediated between
opponents and proponents
of Prop 215( marijuana's medicinal use), interrupting at
to allow each side its say. When libertarian presidential
Brown came on the line, the veteran host asked the exact
wanted to know and also let callers have their say.
When frenetic weight-loss guru Richard Simmons popped
into the studio,
Jackson changed tunes and persona. As the TV star sang
show tunes about
dieting, a giggling Jackson accompanied him with doo-wops
Simmons' line of low-fat caramel corn and egging the
"Michael Jackson is a combination of James Bond and
the Pope," Simmons
exclaimed. "He's got that sexy voice and mystery
like James Bond,
mysterious like a 'Foggy Day in London Town,' " he
belted out in a
Mermanesque manner. "He's a peacemaker and a
caretaker like the Pope."
Simmons chortled and added sincerely,
trust him; he's honest. I do 425
radio shows a year, and I have recipe cards for each host
with a rating. I give Michael the best rating: four
Like Simmons, most guests of the "The Michael
Jackson Show" on KABC 790 AM
(weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon) give their host top
When the libertarian candidate signed off, he told his
the most open-minded liberal I have ever met in my
The gentlemanly host has earned the respect of political
celebrities through the years; his Rolodex would make
Heidi Fleiss envious.
He has been known to call Mayor Richard Riordan on a
pressing issue at
home at 7 a.m. and leave an answer on his honor's phone
answers with "Hello, I'm Dick."
Jackson has interviewed every American president since
Lyndon Johnson. His
phone book lists the likes of: Bishop Desmond Tutu,
General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Henry
James, B.B. King, Judy Collins, Liza Minelli, Trisha
Yearwood, Mel Brooks,
Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Hank Aron, Magic Johnson,
Cher, Whoopi Goldberg
and Charleton Heston - for starters.
His workday begins at 6:40 am when he scans seven
newspapers. He receives
two boxes of mail a day, which he reads himself -
sometimes while on the
air. Even with two producers working for him, Jackson
takes a hands-on
approach to his show, carefully considering how he will
stack his always
impressive lineup of guests. When authors appear on his
show, they are
surprised to find a host who actually has read their
The well-read interviewer describes his job as akin to
roulette with a telephone." He takes the calls as
they come and relishes
talking to people who don't agree with him.
Jackson is a product of a strict English boarding school.
During World War
II, while his father was in the Royal Air Force, the
Voice of America
broadcasts entranced the boy. He dreamed about going to
Entertainment figures such as Bing Crosby filled the
young Jackson with awe.
"I was amazed that the biggest star could take the
humblest person and
introduce them as if they were very important and they
Jackson mused. "I learned a great lesson from Bing
Longing for a Hollywood career, he felt that he didn't
have the looks for
the movies, but knew he had the voice. He set his sights
on L.A. radio. He
predicted that he wouldn't marry an actress, but
entertained fantasies of
marrying the daughter of a movie star.
After the war, his family moved to South Africa, where
his father had
fallen in love with the sunshine while instructing
fighter pilots. He
finished school at 16 and immediately searched for a
broadcasting. By winning a national Golden Voice of Radio
by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, he snared
his first job.
At 17, he learned a lesson for life when Danny Kaye
visited South Africa.
"I had done no homework, and I asked Danny Kaye some
Jackson recalled. "He just stared at me and said not
one word. Since that
time, I have always done my homework."
Years later, in Los Angeles, he and Kaye became the best
of friends, after
the movie star reminded him of that dreadful interview.
At 21, Jackson left South Africa behind and moved to
London, where he took
an entry-level broadcasting job at the BBC. He quickly
graduated to higher
posts: television announcer, children's show host and DJ
In 1959, he took the first step toward realizing his
dream of Hollywood and
found a job in Springfield, Mass. as a radio and
television host. He
learned how to become an American. Eighteen months later,
he drove across
the country to San Francisco where he became a rock DJ on
KYA. He called
himself "Michael Scotland."
Six months later, at the Bay Area's KEWB, Jackson was
given a free hand on
the air to create his own overnight talk show. After an
article about him
appeared in Time magazine, radio stations in Los Angeles
him. KHJ and KNX hired and fired him before he landed at
KABC Dec. 12, 1966.
Thirty years later, the seasoned host loves his job more
"There's a greater variety of people," he
explained. "I no longer ever get
intimidated by guests: I get stimulated, but never
Honored by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth with the Member of
Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), recipient
of seven Emmys
and four Golden Mike Awards, the broadcasting pro is
unphased by critics
who accuse him of being too easy on his guests.
"They're full of it," he
declared. "My accent makes it easier to get away
with things. At a conference I attended in Washington,
Bob Grant [East
Coast conservative talk host] kept referring to the
president as 'Slick
Willie.' I said, 'How very brave of you. Would you do
that face to face
with the president?' He said, 'Well, of course not. He's
the president of
the United States; he wouldn't come on my show.' I said,
difference. He would come on my show, and I have earned
the right to say to
the president, 'How do you feel about people calling you
Slick Willie?' I
asked the same question, but haven't been personally
insulting. They would
call that soft; I call that diplomatic and getting the
answer I'm seeking."
During his interview with Hillary Clinton - live from
Washington D.C. - he
was able to relate to the first lady's desire to rid the
world of land
mines, which maim and kill children, by telling the story
of his youth
during World War II. He recalled how nothing was left of
students who played with booby-trapped toy trucks and
bicycles dropped by the Luftwaffe.
L.A. is Jackson's home, and he calls it the most exciting
city in the world.
"It's where the stone hits the water, causing a
ripple-out effect in so
many areas," he enthused. "It's where we give
the world a different
religion every month. Nowhere else is like it. We are
poised to be the
leading community of the 21st Century."
Jackson and his wife, Alana (daughter of Alan Ladd), have
Their oldest son, Alan, owns two restaurants, Jackson's
and Jackson's Farm
in Beverly Hills. Alisa works in post-production film.
His son, Devon, is
a nationally-ranked equestrian who attends Loyola
Talk show conductor Jackson has played many symphonies
with his orchestra
of talk skills and is still perfecting his craft. He has
a spirited glow
with gleaming childlike eyes when he works.
"When I came to this station 30 years ago, I was the
youngest on the
staff," he said. "I don't care if sounds
immodest, but I truly believe that
I am still the youngest on the staff."
-LYNN WALFORD | Top of Page