ART IS LIFE IS ART IS . . . IN WATERS’ ‘RADIO KAOS’
The hero of the tale is Jim, a renegade L.A. deejay who’s fighting an uphill battle to prevent his station from being transformed into a format-controlled, eerily depersonalized radio wasteland. The story features sound-effects from Laurel Canyon, the voices of local radio personalities Cynthia Fox and Paraquat Kelly, and a devastating critique of broadcasting takeovers by market-research wizards.
Geez, does this mean someone has bought the rights to “The Jim Ladd Story”?
Not quite. But after you’ve heard ex-Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters’ new album, “Radio KAOS,” you’d have to wonder that either life imitates art--or that Waters has taken the storyline for his new record from the recent events surrounding the much-debated transformation of rock-giant KMET into Diet-Pop station KTWV (the Wave).
Due out June 15, “Radio KAOS” is Waters’ new sonic blast against what he sees as the death of independent radio and the growing popularity of entertainment forces governed by demographics and market research. As Waters puts it: “Its effect is to dramatically change the face of radio for the worst. And the effect doesn’t only apply to radio. If you are governed by the lowest common denominator, you end up with no KMET, only new-age stations; no theater, only soap opera; and no ordinary people, only Rambos.”
According to Waters, his new album was completed before what he termed “the KMET debacle” happened. Yet Ladd, one of the leading lights of KMET before its demise, is featured prominently on the album, playing a deejay (also named Jim) who talks between songs on the Waters album.
“The similarities are incredibly striking, aren’t they?” Waters said. “It almost makes this record seem rather prophetic. The whole KMET takeover was very sad. So I think it’s very appropriate to have the voices of some of its deejays on my album, almost as a tribute.”
Ladd, who had become friendly with Waters after doing numerous interviews with him over the past decade, said he began recording material for Waters last fall. “He wanted a 24-track tape of 24 radio stations playing all at once, plus some ambient noise from Laurel Canyon, which I recorded out on my balcony, since I live in a tree house perched on one of the hills there.
“Then I went to England last December to Roger’s home studio, where I recorded my deejay material. We did about two hours of material, virtually all improvised--just off the top of our heads. Roger knew what he wanted to get, but he didn’t script it out because wanted it as real and gut-level as possible.”
Ladd, who now has a Saturday night show on KSLX-FM, sounded overjoyed to be involved with a pop artist of Waters’ stature. “I try to kid about it, but it was a real honor,” he said. “The whole record will really fry your brain. It’s real close to my heart, not just because of my performance, but because of what this project has to say. I think it’s Roger’s most important statement since ‘The Wall.’ ”
Waters said the project was initially inspired by seeing his own kids glued to his TV set. “I was drawn back to when I was a teen-ager and I’d lie awake at night in bed, listening to Radio Luxembourg, which was the only station back then where you could hear rock ‘n roll.
“Today, kids aren’t getting to listen to other people’s feelings, like I did. They just hear what other people want them to hear.”
Waters insists that most entertainment media today--especially TV--are equally in the grip of the ideology of entertainment. “It seems as if politics in democracies today are governed by the capability of how well people can entertain us. On the album sleeve, I make specific reference to the bombing of Tripoli as an act of entertainment.
“I know that may not go over well in the States, but it seemed to me that the bombing raid there was an entertaining diversionary tactic designed to distract people from the problems at home--it’s as if it were just a new installment of ‘Top Gun.’ ”
Waters, who plans to tour the United States this fall, isn’t sure how his new record will go over with pop fans or radio programmers. “CBS Records is saying there are three potential hit singles on it, which would be very weird for me, since I’ve only had two hits in my whole life.”
Waters laughed. “But then again, they may be wrong.”