Popular talk radio host Michael Jackson has died at the age of 87


Michael Jackson, the former dean of Los Angeles talk radio whose voice graced the airwaves of Southern California for more than half a century, died Saturday. He was 87.

Jackson, who had Parkinson’s disease, died peacefully at home surrounded by his three children, a family spokesman said.

Jackson was best known for his collegial rather than combative style when interviewing presidents, celebrities, authors and ordinary Angelenos, particularly during his reign at the top of the local ratings while he was with KABC-AM from 1966 to 1998.

His distinctive British accent has been heard by millions of listeners on multiple continents, with his long list of accolades including a place in the Radio Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and even an honor from the Queen of England.

“The world knew and adored our Michael Jackson. But Michael’s homeland was California, Los Angeles, America. For that we are grateful,” former US Senator Barbara Boxer, who was a frequent guest on Jackson’s show, said in a statement from Jackson’s family.

Jackson’s amiable demeanor and quest for balance in his on-air discussions of news and events stood in stark contrast to the brash radio hosts that were rising in popularity in the early 1990s. Jackson was reassigned to KABC in 1997 for low ratings against conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh before resigning a year later.

Still, Jackson said he refuses to sacrifice his signature politeness for a ratings surge.

“I think at times I’ve been overly polite to guests and shown them greater deference, but I won’t become any less polite,” Jackson told The Times in 1992. “Rudeness is such an easy excuse for not doing your homework. ”

Born in England in 1934, Jackson occasionally shared with his devoted listeners the fear he felt as a child when Germany launched air raids on the United Kingdom during World War II, in what became known as the Blitzbombs. At the time, his father was serving as the Royal Air Force’s navigator trainer, and Jackson’s anxiety was compounded by concerns for his father’s safety.

Amid the uncertainty, Jackson said he would huddle with classmates in the dining room at the boarding school he attended to listen to the radio.

“The headmaster called for silence and we listened to the BBC news,” Jackson told The Time in 2014. “Then he announced [former students] killed or wounded in battle. We little kids didn’t really understand that.”

After the war, Jackson’s family moved to South Africa, where he began his disc jockeying career at the age of 16 by lying about his age and claiming he was 22.

Jackson’s family left South Africa in 1958 for the United States, where he soon began working as a DJ in San Francisco. Jackson moved to Los Angeles to work at KHJ-AM and then news channel KNX-AM before ending up at KABC, where he would stay for 32 years, in the studio in a coat and tie every day.

After leaving KABC, Jackson worked at various stations until his retirement at the age of 73.

“It was a testament to Michael that so many of the guests and celebrities chose to actually come into the studio rather than make phone calls,” said Lyle Gregory, who worked as Jackson’s show producer for 30 years and is a close family friend. “With his British accent and youthful charm, Michael made people comfortable, they opened up. That was his present. Michael shaped an interview to talk, news and information.”

Gregory said since news of Jackson’s death there had been a spate of condolences, including from former President Clinton, who was among the presidents the radio host had interviewed on his show.

“Michael Jackson was both an indispensable voice for Los Angeles and a huge influence on me as a host,” said Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s AirTalk. “He’s the one who got me into hosting a talk show. Michael had remarkable skills that combined wide-ranging knowledge, deep curiosity, empathy for the listener and a quick learner.”

Mantle said growing up in Los Angeles it was well known that Jackson’s show was where “the Conversation took place,” he added, adding that the presenter himself became influential because so many prominent Angelenos were listening to Michael.

“He clearly understood that appreciating the audience goes hand-in-hand with serving them,” Mantle said. “Whether he was speaking to elected officials, actors, business people, or devoted listeners, Michael’s enthusiasm for LA and concern for our region came through.”

Jackson was preceded in death by his wife Alana Ladd. He is survived by his children, Alan Jackson, Alisa Magno, and Devon Jackson, their respective spouses, Heidi, Tom, and Sarah, and his grandchildren, Taylor, Emily, Adeline, Amelia, and Hugo.

In a statement, Jackson’s children said they hoped people would honor their father by being “polite and good to one another,” a quality the radio host valued the most. For those who want to pay tribute to Jackson, the family asked for donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in “Memory of Talk Radio Broadcaster Michael Robin Jackson.” Popular talk radio host Michael Jackson has died at the age of 87

Caroline Bleakley

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