Tuesday, February 4, 2003
Room for Rush - and Michael Jackson
Even a conservative wishes the veteran radio host was still on the air
By Doug Gamble
Carmel resident and former presidential writer
At the risk of being drummed out of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, I believe a few words of praise are in order for one of the few radio talk-show hosts who is, well, not a conservative.
Anyone who has listened to radio in Southern California during the last 40 years has heard the distinctive voice of Michael Jackson at one time or another, especially while he was a 32-year fixture at KABC. But Jackson has been on the arena sidelines since December when the station carrying his program, KLAC, scrapped its talk shows in favor of an all-music format.
While living in Los Angeles, I occasionally found Jackson and some of his views irksome, especially in the Reagan years, but over time I came to grudgingly conclude that his show led the way in topics explored, variety of guests, range of views and information imparted. On days when he left this conservative annoyed, he usually also left me better informed.
While KFI advertises itself as "more stimulating talk radio," Jackson virtually invented the term in Southern California in 1963. He was later fired from KNX for being a bit too stimulating when he insisted on speaking out about the Watts riots. To paraphrase a country song, he was controversial when controversy wasn't cool.
Jackson may have had to build a wing onto his house to store all the awards he's won. He was named best radio talk-show host nationwide in 1997 and 1998, has four Golden Mikes for outstanding achievement in radio broadcasting, was nominated to the Radio Hall of Fame the last four years, was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth and the French Legion of Merit by then-President Mitterrand and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This guy off the air is like Barry Bonds out of the All-Star Game.
Criticism Jackson has of conservative talk radio is based not so much on the ideology it brings to the airwaves as the local content it denies the community. "In most cities the major conservative players are syndicated, which means that local issues are ignored," he told me. "It used to be that station owners cared about their community, believed the public owned the airwaves and recognized that a responsibility to local concerns went along with their FCC license."
A hope held by some Jackson fans is that he return to KABC, considering the precedent set by the station in rehiring early morning man Ken Minyard for a second tour of duty. While scrupulously noncommittal, KABC program director Erik Braverman praised Jackson's work and called him "one of the founding fathers of KABC." He said, "I am very happy with our lineup currently," but then added, "Who knows what the future holds?"
With Bill O'Reilly's syndicated program on KABC just a Mini-Me version of his TV show, one has to wonder if the time might be better spent on homegrown programming.
Meanwhile, many Jackson fans have managed to find the veteran broadcaster through his Web site, even though it has never been publicized. It's nearing 100,000 hits in less than two months, and he says he has heard from people all over the world.
I welcomed, as a counter to liberal major media, the conservative talk radio revolution begun by Rush Limbaugh in 1988. I still do. But with urgent issues facing Southern California and the state, not to mention the nation and world, someone as erudite, witty and accomplished as Michael Jackson should not remain silenced.
Talk radio needs a statesman as much as it needed a founding father.

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