Wednesday, March 09, 2016

R.I.P. Ron Jacobs

This has been a horrible few weeks for radio.  Over the course of a couple of weeks we lost Charlie Tuna, programmer John Rook, and now a true giant, Ron Jacobs.  Known to listeners in Hawaii as "Whodaguy," Ron was 78. 

Quite simply, Ron Jacobs was the Orson Welles of radio. And one of the few creative geniuses I ever knew. 

A typical Ron Jacobs story. He was 21, working at a radio station in his native Hawaii in 1957. Elvis was coming to town for the first time. Jacobs learned that Presley’s entire entourage would be staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village one floor below his radio station. However, Colonel Tom Parker made it very clear that Elvis was not giving interviews or appearing in public before his shows.

So Ron decided to create a fake Elvis. He got an impersonator (the first), drove him around Honolulu while station personnel “reported” his whereabouts from mobile units (pay phones). There were practically riots. Ron even crashed into Honolulu Stadium with his “King” just before a football game and caused mass hysteria there.

They finally got back to the station, were practically doubled over with laughter when they got a call – from the Colonel. He wanted to see them immediately.

Jacobs and accomplices went downstairs as if going to the gallows. But Parker, the consummate showmen, appreciated a good stunt when he saw it, introduced Ron to Elvis, he got to emcee the concert, and a lifelong friendship with the Colonel and E. was formed.

When Ricky Nelson was the flavor of the month and wouldn’t go on the air for an interview, Jacobs had an impostor go on and staged a fist fight with him. Back in the states, Ozzie Nelson went bat shit.

In the mid 60’s Ron was the program director of KHJ, “Boss Radio” in Los Angeles. That station changed the entire course of Top 40 radio and was a major influence on the music of the decade. While there he created the 48 hour “History of Rock & Roll”. Today if a radio station gets a 3 share that’s huge. “The History of Rock & Roll” was getting 33 shares. That's "final MASH" type radio numbers.   Many stations around the country tried to imitate KHJ and couldn't.  Why?  They could copy the format and copy the jingles, but Jacobs brought a level of creativity to the station that was unmatched and never-before-seen (or heard).   His promotions were innovative and his on-air promos were more ingenious and better written than most Pulitzer Prize winning novels. 

He left KHJ to start a syndication company and created a little show called “American Top 40”. He went back into radio in the 70’s, this time taking the album rock format to new heights. Looking for a way to promote his new station he created “The San Diego Chicken”.

Oscar Levant once said, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity and I have erased that line.” Ron obliterated it. A typical conversation with RJ would go from astute observation, to mad rant, to expert analysis of the Los Angeles Rams (he always knew they'd be back). to a lyrical discourse on the beauty of Hawaii. to Harrison Ford (who was once his carpenter in Laurel Canyon). to eastern religion. to the breasts on a certain CNN anchor, and then in no particular order – a prediction on the future of technology so insightful you’d think he was Steve Jobs, a tirade on how he can’t get his George Foreman to work, an anecdote about Elvis, a take on the current pop culture, Don Ho, NFL collectibles, family values, recounting the morning of Pearl Harbor, Barack Obama, Robert W. Morgan, jail time in the Orient, and Carla Gugino. Usually all in a two minute span.

As a kid growing up enamored by KHJ, I couldn't believe that eventually he would call me his friend.   When David Isaacs and I did our series BIG WAVE DAVE'S, set in Hawaii, Ron was our technical adviser.   It was my honor to help him write his wonderful book KHJ: INSIDE BOSS RADIO.  Best part of the book is that it contains many of his original memos.  It is a must for anyone remotely interested in radio.

He also wrote poetry, travel pieces, commentaries, did a morning radio show in Hawaii for years, had one of the very first internet radio stations, and once ran a marathon.  He also started the Miami Pop Festival and created the CRUISIN' series of oldies LP's.

Ron lived in Hawaii the last twenty or so years of his life. I was planning to see him again in the late summer.  He was the world's biggest Rams fan and my friend Kevin Gershan and I were going to fly him over and take him to the Rams' first game back in Los Angeles.   I may still see him.  I'm not sure even death is enough to keep him from seeing that game.

Ron Jacobs was one of my mentors.  He inspired me with his brilliance, his passion, and his friendship.   Aloha, Whodaguy.

Ho'o nani Ka Makua Mau
Ke Keiki Me Ka Uhane no
Ke Akua Mau
Ho'o Mai Ka'ipu
Ko Ke ia ao, Ko ke la ao

Video produced by Bob Meadow.


Unknown said...

No disrespect to your wonderful tribute but Orson Wells was the Orson Wells of radio.

Tom Asher said...

Sorry for your loss, Ken.

Assuming the CNN anchor is Robin Meade?

Rashad Khan said...

That was a gorgeous tribute, Ken. Thank you for sharing your memories and impressions of Mr. Jacobs.

Mr. Hollywood said...

Once again Ken, you have written an eloquent tribute to an exceptional man. My sympathies to you on his passing

Ron Erickson said...

Ron shared his knowledge with me during the time I started re-creating KHJ on an LPFM in Oregon. He sent me his book and gave me information about Boss Radio, not to mention a "Tina Delgado Is Alive" button.
Condolences to all who knew and loved him.

John Hammes said...

Roy Orbison was once asked how he would like to be remembered. This interview occurred late in his life - though obviously nobody knew that at the time.

Beneath those thick dark glasses, Roy allowed a shy smile and simply said "... I would just like to BE remembered... " .

Sometimes, one can feel they missed out on that crazy golden era of radio DJs.
Thankfully - through audio, video, and best of all, stories - the internet can still allow one to visit with these nice people time and again, enjoy a solid sampling of their creative talents, and maybe pick up a positive example or two on living (thank you Ken for reminders that there actually are good people in the business). They will always be around. They will always be remembered.

Roy Orbison had it right.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Huge fan of 93/KHJ in the '60's; met him in the '70's and occasionally exchanged emails with him over the past decade or so. An amazing personality.

For the past few years, I affectionately refer to my wife as "my comet" because she is always moving, explosive and leaves a trail of beauty wherever she goes.

"Comet" comes to mind for Ron, too. In my head, at least. Whattaguy Whodaguy.

He conducted the symphony of the soundtrack of the '60's.

He was Boss.

Don Jennett said...

Let's say RJ was the Orson Welles of Post WWII radio. Part genius, part madman, always three steps ahead of the competition. Beautiful tribute, Ken.

Todd Everett said...

I'd like to hear more about his discussions of Anderson Cooper's breasts.

Jim Mitchell said...

Ken, thank you for this knowledgable and touching tribute to an extraordinary man.

I'd like to add mention of another quality that made RJ who he was: ferocious loyalty to the people who worked with him. That certainly included me. I was at KPOI, KMAK, KMEN, and KHJ. Each time I left for what seemed like greener pastures, he sought me out and brought me aboard somewhere else. Even after KHJ days, when I visited Ron while on vacation in Honolulu, he had me record station breaks and promos for him at KGU.

Everyone who worked with Ron probably remembers an epic shouting match or two. A few minutes later, it was always back to work, back to the fun, back to the shared pride of those great radio stations that he created and kept at the top.

Yesterday, a mutual friend reminded me that the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts gave Ron a Lifetime Achievement Award last year. He must have treasured that enormously because he was proud of his efforts to preserve and encourage appreciation of his home state's special music. Aloha, old friend.

Betty Breneman said...

Thank you, Ken, for your beautiful tribute to Ron, a one-of-a-kind. I am among the many who was blessed by his life - as my co-worker, my friend, my teacher. It was an education to watch him work & to be included. He made me laugh, made me angry, made me proud, made me grateful. He taught me, praised me, corrected me, inspired me, confided in me, included me, sought me, made me feel special. I saw a side of him that some did not - he was loyal, sensitive, gentle, thoughtful and caring to those in his circle. He was generous with praise. Unlike some others' experience - Ron was never rude to me. If he was about to be - I'd walk away. He'd immediately change and give his version of an apology. Then all was well again and we'd proceed.
Ron called me recently and I was planning to visit him soon. I waited too long - & I am devastated!
I feel tremendous sadness at losing him - but I will be eternally grateful for the years from 1965 on when we shared part of our lives together. And thank God that so much of his creativity is preserved in a body of work for everyone to enjoy.
Mahalo, my friend, for honestly sharing yourself with all of us. And for now, Aloha.

Jeff P said...

I grew up on KHJ...and worked for Ron at KGB......Not knowing his history when I was virtually a radio rookie.....much like the names of those Vietnam generals (we just made up names -"Vin Win Two", etc), a seemingly innocuous volcano blew in Hawaii and there was no way I was gonna pronounce Kilauea correctly! So I, of course, mangled it.
Newsroom door swings open; Jacobs bellows, "It's Kee-lou-ey-ah, Jeff,"; door slams shut. #BadgeOfHonor. And....never made that mistake again!

Victor Velasco said...

Just amazing; for those of us who love radio, a great loss. Thank you, Ken

Jeff Randall said...

To be remembered AND to have affected so many along the way is simply the best one can do!
Mahalo and Aloha to one of a kind - the Boss!

Johnny Williams said...

Ken, you really should consider getting into writing :-) Your pieces on Charlie Tuna AND Ron Jacobs are absolutely spot on. Thanks so much for saying -- and sharing -- it so eloquently.

H Johnson said...


Thank you for again informing us of sad news with a beautifully written tribute. Charlie Tuna, then George Martin yesterday and now this. We're losing the people that made growing up when we did so cool. KHJ and KPOI were both big in my life. I build and collect hot rods so I found every 'Cruising' album and listened to them constantly. The Home Grown albums were huge here.

I listen to his internet show from time to time until they got so sporadic. Loved reading his pain as a Ram fan as well as his astute observations on local and national politics. He did not suffer fools lightly.

Your Hawaiian prayer is beautiful. Not much left to be said.

Rest in peace Ron Jacobs. Aloha and Mahalo for a job well done.

Rashad Khan said...

Apropos of nothing but...

Friday Question: What is the WORST sitcom idea you've ever heard of? (You don't have to have names, and it doesn't have to be for a show that actually made it to air.)

Unknown said...

Ken, I was fortunate to get to know Ron over the phone and we became friends. I loved hearing his life stories and he loved telling them to me. When he recently stopped calling and I couldn't reach him, I knew something wasn't right and the news yesterday morning confirmed that. I feel blessed for the short time I got to know him. I have some great messages he left me on my voice mail to remember him by. I will continue with the project I started "The Ron Jacobs Story" because he wants me to and I feel I'm suppose to. He always spoke highly of you Ken and I told him how I almost met you at the KIIS Broadcasting Workshop in 1976. The tribute you wrote here for Ron was so good that I agree with Johnny Williams. You should be a writer. :-)
RIP RJ Aloha and Mahalo
-Bob Meadows 

Pete Battistini said...

A well-written tribute ... thank you, Ken.

Treasure Island Oldies said...

Ken, we lost a radio legend; you lost a true friend. My thoughts are with you.
Michael Godin
Treasure Island Oldies

sean hall said...

Ron Jacobs was a man I always wanted to meet. A very eloquent piece, Ken.

Anonymous said...

A true genius. I wonder if the read my "The Rise and Fall" of Boss Radio on L.A. Always wanted to get his reaction to it. Got quite a bit from some of the other participants....

Artie in Sin City said...

I am so sad to see them go...BUT I am SO GLAD to have basked in their brilliance...

Stupendous look at Ron's life...Know it was from your heart, Ken...

LosAl said...


Anonymous said...

I should have pointed out that Betty Breneman, who posted earlier, was another key person in the rise and success of Boss Radio, but had nothing to do with it's fall. She was there for the whole ride as Music Director and later National Music Director for RKO Radio and her contributions should receive a lot more credit. I was only there for the Rise, left, and came back for the Fall. Betty, if you're still out there, did you see my L.A. story? If not, I'll e-mail it to you, would like to get your opinion on it.

Unknown said...

Aloha from Pearl City! I lived up the street from RJ and was the last person to see him alive on a Saturday afternoon after delivering him 2 cheeseburgers and 2 chocolate shakes from McDonald's. I met him through Facebook and broke bread with him at the Zippy's on Kam Highway across from his penthouse apartment. We met in April 2015 and will be staying friends forever as I am the unofficial keeper of his Bipolar flame. I have a Jewish first name so we bonded as Jewaiians. My dad's name was Herbert which is RJ's middle name. I hung in there as he mused and amused me, became a caregiver for him chauffeuring him to the doctors and to the Goodwill store in Waimalu. Watching from afar as he walked out with a fanny pack around his waist as he walked out of the store. I was yelled at and loved by RJ.

So here it is in December and I'm finally getting around to editing the video I shot of his memorial. The memorial happened later than he would have liked but hey it's Hawaiian time! I would like to include quotes from his friends for the video tribute that I'm working on. It will be a work in progress and will be ongoing. I am Loo Ow on FB and have uploaded some of the videos I shot of him through out the year that he mentored about life and the biz.

I was there for RJ in his darkest days of his life but no matter what he would still strive to create his next great promotional stunt.

Aloha RJ, we had a wild ride and glad I paid the admission!