Book Review: Jim Ladd’s “Radio Waves” and freeform radio

Jim Lad­d’s book Radio Waves, is part mem­oir, part his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive about the rise and fall of freeform FM radio. If you don’t know what freeform radio is, you will cer­tain­ly rec­og­nize it in this book, as the very soul of radio. It’s the abil­i­ty of a local DJ to pick music that they love, play it and speak as they like on the air for their entire show. Such free­dom is now gone with tight­ly restrict­ed cor­po­rate playlists and cur­tailed speak­ing times. Ladd shows with deli­cious detail how FM once gar­nered huge audi­ences through the sim­ple force of sin­cer­i­ty and local­ism. The book may be a requiem for FM com­mer­cial radio, but is is also an unset­tling reminder that good radio is just one deci­sion away. But as long as cor­po­rate boss­es and finance tycoons run radio, the “safe” choice of pushed pro­gram­ming will always win.Radio Waves by Jim Ladd

The final chap­ters of Lad­d’s book read like a greek tragedy about the impend­ing mur­der of the liv­ing LA rock sta­tion Radio KAOS.  Out-of-town own­ers, moti­vat­ed by ever-increas­ing appetites for cash, turn sole­ly to accoun­tants and research to deter­mine pro­gram­ming.  The result is a mish­mash of medi­oc­rity that tanks the sta­tion.  The only per­son who learns a les­son from this is the read­er, as the same cat­a­stro­phe is played out over and over again as man­age­ment moves up and DJs and lis­ten­ers are moved out.

Radio Waves is an engag­ing read that is sprin­kled with the author’s per­son­able encoun­ters with rock­’s great­est leg­ends. In the end, I was left won­der­ing if all of us know that good radio requires local­ism and a tal­ent­ed staff;  how long will it be till we reim­pose the local­ism rules that were ditched by the gov­ern­ment?  The move is cer­tain­ly ripe.

Radio Waves

Jim Ladd

306 pages, St. Mar­t­in’s Press

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