DJ Jim Ladd strikes a chord with the attuned ear. He has the ability to use songs like a painter uses a palette and the time he is on the air is a canvas. His perception isn’t the product of a commercial routine but a deep and abiding conviction for relaying quality music to his audience. He knows, instinctively, the sound of powerful music.
The times in which we live may be constrained to a commercial setlist but D.J. Jim Ladd will not and never has allowed himself to be narrowed to the sound of convention. He plays music from throughout the rock and roll landscape. DJ Jim Ladd has inhabited the radio airwaves since 1969, first heard on KNAC and later heard on FM stations like KLOS, KMET and KMPC. Ladd is one of the last champions of freeform radio and the idea that radio is for the listener. He has slipped the noose of an ever tightening terrestrial radio and is now heard on Sirius XM by those that seek liberated radio, today.
DJ Jim Ladd has interviewed many noteworthy people including John Lennon, Jackson Browne, Roger Waters, Stephen Stills, George Harrison and a great many others including Elliot Minz on several occasions throughout the years. Ladd says he learned the art of interviewing in part from Elliot Mintz. The filmed interview entitled “Mintz on Mintz” can be found on elliotmintz.com. It was conducted by Ladd in Elliot’s home. It is an in-depth examination of all things Mintz.
Don’t touch that dial, DJ Jim Ladd is up next.
Ladies and gentlemen it is a great pleasure to welcome this man, DJ Jim Ladd. Thank you so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure, Paul.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was the music that you enjoyed the most as a young person?
Well, everything to me is it’s either pre-Beatles of post-Beatles. So pre-Beatles, before the Beatles came out, as a young kid I was listening to early 50s rock and roll on my, that came on the radio when my parents were driving the car. Also, you know, as a little kid you would hear The Sons of the Pioneers if you watch Roy Rogers, that kind of thing. And then as I approached my teenage years, the Beach Boys became very important to me.
Were you ever a Fats Domino fan?
Sure. Sure, again I was very, I wasn’t a teenager yet but I liked Fats Domino and all of those guys because although I wasn’t really that keyed into music yet because I was too young, it was something that I knew was kind of more toward, geared toward to me than the other things I was listening to.
I was hoping you could give us recollections about the first time you leaned in and spoken into a microphone and you were on the radio.
Well that would be in college and it was, you know, I was taking a class in radio and TV communications and you were required to do a show and that was the first time that I did what you would call an actual radio show and I thought this is fascinating and everybody is hearing me on the radio. And then I discovered that at the little school I was going to the radio signal was actually a speaker in the quad. It didn’t actually go anywhere except around the campus but still it was pretty exciting for me.
What in your opinion makes for good radio?
It should be personal, you know, it should be…the best radio, it should be something that connects with people on a personal level whether it’s through the music or the spoken word. And also creativity, the person on the air should be allowed to have the freedom to be as creative as possible because radio at its best is an art form, certainly music radio should be looked at as an art form. And you need to have the freedom to be an artist if you’re going to do good radio.
When someone is listening to you, DJ Jim Ladd, when you’re on the mic, what do you hope that the listener gets out of the experience?
I want them to be connected and engaged, that’s very important. And I hope that it makes them use their imagination, that’s very important. The kind of radio that I do is called free form radio. It means that I can, I pick all the music as I do it. There is no list or format or anything like that. I’m picking this music and I put the songs together in thematic sets and those thematic sets are geared to tell a story and it communicates. So at one moment I might be playing a set of songs about the environment, in the next moment I would play a set of songs about something in the news, what was happening in the news. So, if you listen to my show and you really listen to the lyrics of the songs as they go together, they will make a comment on what I’m trying to say.
Right now you’re heard on Satellite Radio, but the type of radio you’re talking about free form radio, it’s almost non-existent. Do you think that it will survive somehow?
Yes. It certainly exists on Sirius XM where I am working now. They not only allow me to do it, they encourage me to do it which is fantastic. But I fought this battle for a long, long time and but certainly on terrestrial radio, it’s almost non-existent and that’s a shame because there’s a lot of very, very talented people who could do free form in their way and they’re not allowed to do it. And so what you’re hearing and especially if you’re listening to an FM rock station is not what FM rock radio is supposed to sound like nor sounded like when it began. And it just is a really pale, pale ghost of what FM radio used to be. So, that’s why I’m really happy to be on Sirius because Sirius XM allows me not only to do a free form show but allows me to do it nationwide. So, it’s alive and well.
There is this very talented man, very interesting man, he has launched this website, ElliotMintz.com and the flagship interview is this filmed interview that you, DJ Jim Ladd, you did with Elliot Mintz, how did you first come to meet Elliot Mintz?
We were working together at the same radio station here in LA. I was just starting out in my career. It was only the second station I had worked for. Elliot had been in the business a few years longer and he worked at the very first FM station in Los Angeles, KPPC. And then was working at a station the KLOS where I was working and that’s where I met him and he was doing this extraordinary talk show which I would listen to and just was in awe of his, of the way he interviewed people. And so basically I just decided I would just rip him off for everything I could because he, you know, I didn’t know how to interview anybody. And he was so great at it. So I learned a lot from him.
The first time you shook his hands, you had looked in his eyes, what was your first impression of this guy, Elliot Mintz?
First off, extremely intelligent. He just knew and by listening to him and meeting him he is very bright, a very gentle person and also someone who had a kind of a spiritual aura about them. So you felt comfortable, I felt comfortable meeting him and so like this guy knew some things that I didn’t know.
You’ve interviewed Elliot Mintz several times going back to there was the interview you did with him at 1980 and then there was one recently that you did, the 30-year anniversary of John Lennon’s passing and then this “Mintz on Mintz,” what is it like to interview such an extraordinary interviewer?
That’s a very good question. It’s a very good question. You would think and it might be this way with other people that if you’re in a situation and that would be difficult but Elliot makes it really easy because he has done hundreds, probably thousands of interviews in his career. So he knows what makes a good interview from the interviewer’s side. So, when the tables are turned and I’m asking him questions, he is very expertise in knowing how to answer those questions. Plus he is probably the most articulate person I have ever met. You know, he is just, by his nature, he is a very articulate and engaging speaker. So it’s very easy to interview Elliot.
This filmed interview, the “Mintz on Mintz” interview that’s on ElliotMintz.com, can you tell us your recollections of those evenings? What are the memories and how did it play out?
Well it was certainly enjoyable and fascinating. I went to his house and he was kind enough to invite me to do the interview and there’s a good deal of preparation because Elliot was very meticulous in preparing the film crew and making sure everything looked just right. And so when we finally sat down to do the interview, I was comfortable and then once we got into the interview, it was, I just tried to speak to him as if we were having a conversation without the cameras. So we could just go anywhere we wanted and explore all these different areas well keeping in mind that I was there to elicit information about his extraordinary career, but it was a great evening. I really enjoyed it. It went on for quite some time but it was a lot of fun and fascinating. And the more it went on, the more I got into it.
Having checked out the website, I’m sure what do you think about Elliot’s website now that it’s live?
I think it’s one of the most extraordinary websites I’ve ever seen. It has more information packed in to that thing than probably most websites you would go and I certainly don’t know of any other website quite like that where you can go and get all of this extraordinary radio, TV and music history In one place that’s all generated by this one person. And the way that it’s set up using the jukebox as the menu. It makes it really easy to navigate, extremely easy. And once you start playing around with it, you’re just hooked. You better bring a sandwich and coffee because you’re going to be there a while.
It’s a lot of content.
Oh my gosh. Extraordinary that one person could generate that much content but thank God Elliot saved all this stuff over the years, you know, not a lot of people do that. I certainly didn’t. I wasn’t that meticulous in my career but Elliot, just thank God he did that because it’s like this Smithsonian of radio and TV here through the eyes of one man.
Well, what is something about Elliot Mintz we would be surprised to know?
He is Batman. He is actually Batman, yeah.
You know, I’ve asked Elliot who he is and he said, you know, I really don’t know. Now you’re saying he is Batman. Who would you say he is?
He tries to keep his identity secret but I’m here to tell you he’s Batman.
I wanted to ask you about the Tom Petty song The Last DJ. How did you feel and what did you think the first time you heard that track?
Well, I went to interview Tom and when we got done with the interview, he said, you know, I’m working on a demo of a song, would you like to hear it? And being the wise ass that I am, I said “no Tom, you know, I’m really too busy now” but I said “of course I would like to hear it.” So we went back into his studio and he played The Last DJ for me. And I did not connect that was about me. I thought it was about a character and Tom’s obvious love for radio and his kind of plea to let this character do what he wanted to do and be what he wanted to be and I said, man, thanks for not effing it up and again, being a wise ass and I said could you play it again and he did.
And I just loved it. I just thought it was great but it was on driving home with my producer and engineer. My producer turned to me and he goes, you know, that song is about you, don’t you? And I went no. You know, it’s like I didn’t jump to that conclusion. And he said, “oh yeah,” God bless him. It turned out to be that’s what it’s about and he wrote a very nice thing in the liner notes a very nice piece of the liner notes of the album. So, I’m obviously honored and overwhelmed by that that he would. Now that’s not, that’s not like a biographical piece, but it’s the, if it’s in anyway inspired by what I did. I am very, very pleased with that and very honored. In fact I have the poster hanging over my, for that album, hanging over on my wall right now over my head, so, something that gives me a lot of pride.
Very cool. What is the responsibility of a good DJ? You said that ideally you have to have creativity. What about responsibility?
Well, I think responsibility is to, I think that you have to be grateful for the opportunity of doing that for a living because it’s a real…you’re not digging ditches, you’re not flipping burgers of, you know, you’re doing something that has a potential to reach thousands, if not millions of people and I think that you have to take not yourself seriously, but the job really seriously. The way I approach it is every moment that I’m on the air of every show, I’m trying to do the very best I can. I’m trying to pick exactly the right song to further the thematic set that I’m playing, I try to make sure that I’m saying something appropriate especially if I’m making a social commentary of any kind. You know, I want to research what I’m saying. I want to do it not only from the heart but from the head. And just be good at it because I don’t want to waste the time I have on the air and I think that the responsibility to be as absolutely as good as you can every moment that you’re on the air.
What is the best thing about being Jim Ladd?
That’s a hard one. I looked and it’s a hard one. I am blessed, you know, I’m very, very blessed I have a wonderful wife and I have two great dogs and I live in the Hollywood Hills in a house I’ve been in for a long, long time. And I do, I have somehow been able to make a living at what I love doing. That’s really huge. Joseph Campbell, famously said, “Follow your bliss” and I’ve often always agree with that that if someone can find something that they would do if you take money out of the equation. Say, you were independently wealthy or something and you didn’t have to, the money wasn’t a factor. What would you do with your time on the planet, what would make you happy? And I’ve often felt that if you got really good at that, whatever it was, if you got really good at it, someone would pay you to do that and that’s kind of what I’ve done is I’ve found something I really love doing and fortunately got competent enough that people will pay me to do it.
You just mentioned the planet, one of the things about the World Wide Web, you never know who is going to hear something.
So, for anyone who hears this, wherever they are, what do you want to say to them?
“Peace” should be the first word that comes to mind. The planet is going through pretty some rough times right now. In the Middle East and here at home, the environment is under siege and although we’re getting better at that, we seem to be getting more aware about the environment. So this is kind of a cliché but think globally, act locally, do what you can to make this a better place and a more peaceful planet. Take a deep breath, take a deep breath before you just violently react to whatever dogma is being put in front of you on social media. And remember that your actions affect other people.
Well spoken. My last question, who is DJ Jim Ladd?
I would be Bruce Wayne in that case.
I thought you’re going to say Robin.
Yeah, no. No, I’m not good in tights, I don’t look good in tights so, if Elliot is Batman, I’d be Bruce Wayne without the money.
Well Mr. Ladd, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
Paul, it’s been my pleasure, great questions. You know, you’re a good interviewer yourself and thanks for asking some smart questions and I hope this worked out for you.
All right, keep on rocking.
The last thing I want to say is tune in to or go to ElliotMintz.com and check it out, check out ElliotMintz.com because you will be absolutely be fascinated and engaged and there is so much there. I mean, if you got a guy that is going to bring you an interview with John Lennon and then you can click on an interview of Jack Nicholson or click on an interview of Mick Jagger and then click on an interview with John Wayne, you’re in for a hell of a ride.
It’s really something.
Again, thank you very much. Have a good one.
My pleasure, thanks Paul.