Richard Simmons

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Mr. Jackson's Opus

From D.C. to Hollywood
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 perfect intervals
to allow each side its say. When libertarian presidential candidate Harry
Brown came on the line, the veteran host asked the exact questions everyone
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 while crunching
Simmons' line of low-fat caramel corn and egging the comedian on.
"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,


"I 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 stars."



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 ratings.
When the libertarian candidate signed off, he told his interviewer, "You're
the most open-minded liberal I have ever met in my life."
The gentlemanly host has earned the respect of political figures and
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 machine that
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, Margaret Thatcher,
General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Henry Kissinger, Etta
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 books.
The well-read interviewer describes his job as akin to playing "Russian
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 Hollywood.
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 become important,"
Jackson mused. "I learned a great lesson from Bing Crosby."
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 position in
broadcasting. By winning a national Golden Voice of Radio contest sponsored
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 inane question,"
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 on Radio
Luxembourg.


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 started wooing
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 than ever.
"There's a greater variety of people," he explained. "I no longer ever get
intimidated by guests: I get stimulated, but never nervous."
Honored by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth with the Member of the Most
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, 'There's the
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 his fellow
students who played with booby-trapped toy trucks and rode bomb-rigged
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 three children.
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 Marymount.
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