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J.J. Jackson, 62; MTV and Rock-Radio Personality

March 19, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

J.J. Jackson, a longtime Los Angeles rock-radio personality who made pop culture history more than two decades ago as one of the original MTV VJs, has died. He was 62.

Jackson died of an apparent heart attack Wednesday in Los Angeles, according to friends and former business associates.

"J.J. Jackson's deep passion for music, his ease and good humor on air, and his welcoming style really set the tone for the early days of MTV," MTV officials said in a statement released Thursday.

The deep-voiced Jackson had more than a decade as a rock-radio disc jockey in Boston and Los Angeles behind him, and had spent two years as the first "rock reporter" for KABC-TV Channel 7's "Eyewitness News" in Los Angeles when he got the call from MTV.

The year was 1981 and he, along with Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn, were hired for a new kind of job category: VJ, or video jockey, as the MTV hosts were called.

Jackson, who was considered the elder statesman of what is now called "the original fab five," had misgivings about a cable channel devoted to music videos.

"I thought it would be a nice promotional tool, but I never knew it would get to be this monster thing," he told the San Antonio Express-News in 1998.

Two weeks into his MTV job, fellow VJ Quinn had to talk Jackson out of quitting over the handling of a news story on a blues musician. "She said, 'If you leave, I think you'll regret it for the rest of your life,' " Jackson told People magazine in 2001. "From that point on, she was like my little sister."

It wasn't long before Jackson and his fellow VJs, a close-knit group that originally had to share a coed dressing room, were as well-known to pop fans as many of the rock stars whose videos they introduced from their MTV living room set.

"It still amazes me how people react now," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times in 1983. "I went to a local club two weeks ago and I started dancing with Patty Smyth [of the band Scandal] and people started staring at us. The odd thing was, her record was playing on the sound system, but they didn't recognize her. They were looking at me because I'm the one who comes into their home every day."

VJ alumnus Mark Goodman, in an interview posted on the MTV website Thursday, said he had a close bond with Jackson, one "that has only gotten deeper through the years." He remembered Jackson as a smart, gentle man with a "huge laugh."

"For the five of us, he was the wise DJ," Goodman said. "He was the guy who had been through it all and was able to always put a mature perspective to things. He wound up handling the spotlight that was thrust on us better than any of us."

During his five years on MTV, Jackson interviewed many of the top performers of the era. He also covered the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert in London, helped to "unmask" Kiss during a 1982 interview and was host for the debut episode of MTV's long-running "120 Minutes."

In 1986, "Downtown" Julie Brown became the first of the new VJs, and more new faces were brought in. Blackwood and Jackson were the first of the original VJs to quit or be "retired."

Jackson began his career in radio in 1968 as an on-air personality at WBCN, a legendary free-form rock station in Boston, where he was emcee at concerts by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Who.

By 1971, he was in Los Angeles working the afternoon shift as one of the original rock DJs at KLOS-FM. Jackson, whose voice is heard as the DJ on the soundtrack of the 1976 film "Car Wash," continued working at KLOS until he became the rock reporter at Channel 7.

After leaving MTV, Jackson returned to Los Angeles, where he continued to work in local radio.

Since 1995, he had been host of Westwood One's "The Beatle Years," a nationally syndicated weekly, hourlong show that offers a reflective look at the Beatles and their music. He also was host to Westwood One's biweekly "Super Star Concert Series," and served as anchor of the network's "Woodstock 1994" concert coverage.

"The passing of J.J. Jackson has touched all of us very deeply," Ron Stephan, Westwood One's director of production, said in a statement. "J.J.'s passion for radio was only surpassed by his love for music and people."

A list of survivors was not immediately available.

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