With the sad news earlier today of the passing of talk show host and personality Michael Jackson, who dominated in the airwaves in Los Angeles in the 1960’s and 70s I am running this post, which originally ran in 2014. He was the shining example of all the good things Talk Radio was capable of doing – the lost art.
Talk Radio in the 1960s was an entire different world, in comparison to Talk Radio today. In 1965 it was still relatively new. Although the idea of listeners calling in and being put on the air had been around since the 1940s, it wasn’t until around 1960 that it was considered a viable format for radio. Listening to the average person call in and either complain or rant or offer advice was surprisingly popular, and it soon found its way into most homes, workplaces and cars in America.
By most accounts, the epicenter of this new movement was in Los Angeles – KLAC-AM, a small station that struggled with various formats over the years, hatched the idea of listeners calling in and saying what was on their minds and engaging with confrontational personalities, usually over politics, but it was more often over sports and the day-to-day episodes of life. It became an overnight sensation and launched the careers of many legendary figures. It also established a new kind of radio, one which has been driven to extremes over the years.
But during the formative stage, it was a free-for-all, and not everyone engaged in on-air fights. Some used this new format as a way of creating a two-way conversation with a well-known figure to discuss a number of topics.
This one – a conversation with the legendary actor Raymond Burr, a staple in most American homes as Perry Mason on TV, and also an actor in numerous films, was also involved in humanitarian efforts via the UN. It was typical of what was a more conventional approach to the new format. He’s interviewed by Michael Jackson, a then-soon-to-be well known staple in Los Angeles talk radio for the next three decades and takes calls from listeners. Burr talks about his experiences in Vietnam, having just returned from a lengthy stay there, and the subject of the Vietnam War is brought up and is interesting for a lot of reasons. One; it was still new to most people. Our involvement wasn’t yet viewed as a rabbit-hole, and most Americans were still 100% behind it. Second; There is a good deal of the “trust me” approach to the Vietnam War – a lot of misconception and a heavy reliance on news reports from “official sources” permeates the conversation. In retrospect, this was most likely the crux of the generational divide which took place a short time later. A generation who believed everything they heard via the news media and a generation who sought to question statements and motives in an attempt to figure out what was really going on.
In this one-hour segment, you can almost hear the divide in attitudes take place – you also hear a lot of statements and quips which would make us wince now, but seemed perfectly normal at the time.
So here is a slice of Popular Culture via other formats of radio in the 1960s, what other people were listening to and talking about that wasn’t related to Rock n’ Roll and how people felt about The Vietnam War early on. KNX would continue with a mixture of talk and personalities until 1968 when they went all-news. By then, the appetite to be informed grew, while the appetite to argue became ravenous.
Times did, in fact change.
Here is Michael Jackson interviewing Raymond Burr and taking calls over KNX in Los Angeles on June 30, 1965.
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