Jim Ladd, LA Radio Legend Linked to Tom Petty’s ‘The Last DJ,’ Dies at 75

Ladd was celebrated as one of the greatest free-form DJs in American radio history

Jim Ladd

Jim Ladd, a celebrated free-form radio DJ who is widely considered the inspiration for Tom Petty’s 2002 album and single “The Last DJ,” died Dec. 17 of a heart attack. He was 75.

Since 2012, Ladd hosted a live, daily free-form show on Sirius XMU’s “Deep Tracks” channel; his friend, fellow Sirius DJ Meg Griffin, announced his death on Monday while guest-hosting Ladd’s show.

Prior to his tenure at Sirius XMU, Ladd spent decades as one of the most familiar voices of rock radio in Los Angeles. Born Jan. 17, 1948, in Lynnwood, Ca., Ladd got his start in radio in 1969 on Long Beach radio station KNAC, moving to KLOS in Los Angeles two years later. In 1974, he moved again to LA’s KMET, where he remained until 1987.

During those years he also launched his acclaimed syndicated radio show “Innerview.” He was laid off along with all other staff when KMET changed formats in 1987.

But by then he’d achieved high reknown, and over the next decade would have an unusual career run building off that success. He appeared on “Radio K.A.O.S.,” the second solo album by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, and accompanied the tour. He made cameos in films such as “Tequila Sunrise” (1988) and “Say Anything” (1989).” He published an industry tell-all in 1991 titled “Radio Waves: Life And Revolution On The FM Dial.”

Ladd once again worked for KLOS starting in 1997, remaining there until he was laid off in 2011.

Ladd, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, was also widely believed to be the inspiration for Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ,” a song about a rock DJ increasingly frustrated by the constraints of corporate-dominated radio, and no longer being allowed to play what he wants.

For his part, Petty always denied that the song was about any living person — perhaps in part because of a 2004 lawsuit filed against Petty and Ladd by a songwriter who claimed “The Last DJ” was based on song the songwriter gave to Ladd in 2000.

Ladd is survived by his wife, poet and writer Helene Hodge-Ladd.

“SiriusXM remembers Jim Ladd, legendary freeform rock DJ. For over 50 years, he championed classic rock and interviewed many of the greatest artists,” the company said Monday.

The KLOS family and the radio universe lost a legend today,” the station said. “We are so heartbroken to hear that groundbreaking DJ Jim Ladd passed away yesterday. KLOS sends our love to Jim’s family and friends.”


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