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.
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.
306 pages, St. Martin’s Press