R.I.P. Ron Jacobs

This has been a horrible few weeks for radio.  Over the course of a couple of weeks we lost Charlie Tuna, programmer John Rook, and now a true giant, Ron Jacobs.  Known to listeners in Hawaii as “Whodaguy,” Ron was 78. 

Quite simply, Ron Jacobs was the Orson Welles of radio. And one of the few creative geniuses I ever knew. 

A typical Ron Jacobs story. He was 21, working at a radio station in his native Hawaii in 1957. Elvis was coming to town for the first time. Jacobs learned that Presley’s entire entourage would be staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village one floor below his radio station. However, Colonel Tom Parker made it very clear that Elvis was not giving interviews or appearing in public before his shows.

So Ron decided to create a fake Elvis. He got an impersonator (the first), drove him around Honolulu while station personnel “reported” his whereabouts from mobile units (pay phones). There were practically riots. Ron even crashed into Honolulu Stadium with his “King” just before a football game and caused mass hysteria there.

They finally got back to the station, were practically doubled over with laughter when they got a call – from the Colonel. He wanted to see them immediately.

Jacobs and accomplices went downstairs as if going to the gallows. But Parker, the consummate showmen, appreciated a good stunt when he saw it, introduced Ron to Elvis, he got to emcee the concert, and a lifelong friendship with the Colonel and E. was formed.

When Ricky Nelson was the flavor of the month and wouldn’t go on the air for an interview, Jacobs had an impostor go on and staged a fist fight with him. Back in the states, Ozzie Nelson went bat shit.

In the mid 60’s Ron was the program director of KHJ, “Boss Radio” in Los Angeles. That station changed the entire course of Top 40 radio and was a major influence on the music of the decade. While there he created the 48 hour “History of Rock & Roll”. Today if a radio station gets a 3 share that’s huge. “The History of Rock & Roll” was getting 33 shares. That’s “final MASH” type radio numbers.   Many stations around the country tried to imitate KHJ and couldn’t.  Why?  They could copy the format and copy the jingles, but Jacobs brought a level of creativity to the station that was unmatched and never-before-seen (or heard).   His promotions were innovative and his on-air promos were more ingenious and better written than most Pulitzer Prize winning novels. 

He left KHJ to start a syndication company and created a little show called “American Top 40”. He went back into radio in the 70’s, this time taking the album rock format to new heights. Looking for a way to promote his new station he created “The San Diego Chicken”.

Oscar Levant once said, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity and I have erased that line.” Ron obliterated it. A typical conversation with RJ would go from astute observation, to mad rant, to expert analysis of the Los Angeles Rams (he always knew they’d be back). to a lyrical discourse on the beauty of Hawaii. to Harrison Ford (who was once his carpenter in Laurel Canyon). to eastern religion. to the breasts on a certain CNN anchor, and then in no particular order – a prediction on the future of technology so insightful you’d think he was Steve Jobs, a tirade on how he can’t get his George Foreman to work, an anecdote about Elvis, a take on the current pop culture, Don Ho, NFL collectibles, family values, recounting the morning of Pearl Harbor, Barack Obama, Robert W. Morgan, jail time in the Orient, and Carla Gugino. Usually all in a two minute span.

As a kid growing up enamored by KHJ, I couldn’t believe that eventually he would call me his friend.   When David Isaacs and I did our series BIG WAVE DAVE’S, set in Hawaii, Ron was our technical adviser.   It was my honor to help him write his wonderful book KHJ: INSIDE BOSS RADIO.  Best part of the book is that it contains many of his original memos.  It is a must for anyone remotely interested in radio.

He also wrote poetry, travel pieces, commentaries, did a morning radio show in Hawaii for years, had one of the very first internet radio stations, and once ran a marathon.  He also started the Miami Pop Festival and created the CRUISIN’ series of oldies LP’s.

Ron lived in Hawaii the last twenty or so years of his life. I was planning to see him again in the late summer.  He was the world’s biggest Rams fan and my friend Kevin Gershan and I were going to fly him over and take him to the Rams’ first game back in Los Angeles.   I may still see him.  I’m not sure even death is enough to keep him from seeing that game.

Ron Jacobs was one of my mentors.  He inspired me with his brilliance, his passion, and his friendship.   Aloha, Whodaguy.

Ho’o nani Ka Makua Mau
Ke Keiki Me Ka Uhane no
Ke Akua Mau
Ho’o Mai Ka’ipu
Ko Ke ia ao, Ko ke la ao
Video produced by Bob Meadow.

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