Book Reviews

Reviews of Jim's Book

Review by Claude Hall - Radio-TV Editor of Billboard Magazine for 14 Years


Hollywood Hills

November 12, 2012 Commentary

by Claude Hall

We were big. You and me. Super stars. And then we were nothing. Except, of course some of us still bask in that glow of success that once was. Maybe not as strong a glow, but now a warm, soft floodlight. One of these is Jim LaBarbara, the Music Professor. What William B. Williams was to New York City, Jim LaBarbara was - and still is - to Cincinnati. What Gary Owens was to Los Angeles - still is - that is Jim LaBarbara to Cincinnati. A radio cultural icon. He told me some while back that he was writing a book - "Jim LaBarbara: The Music Professor"- - focusing on his countless interviews with recording artists and was going to include a chapter on Bill Randle. I asked if I could have the chapter on Bill Randle. Understand this: All that Top 40 came to be may have been because of Bill Randle. I believe this is absolutely true. But in this world and maybe the next, nothing is definite. We accumulate information, postulate, wait for additional information. Postulate again. And continue the research. Thus, I would have begged for that chapter. Instead, Jim sent me his book. And I'm grateful. It's radio life at the hard peak. Dramatic, Pithy, Raw, Sensitive. And JIm LaBarbara WRITES WELL. THIS IS HISTORY, AS HE LIVED IT. GREAT HISTORY RADIO HISTORY.

There are many, including myself and Jim LaBarbara, who more or less worshipped Bill Randle. For just reason. Randle deserves a book....

It was promotion whiz Don Graham who set up my first meeting with Randle. At a rooftop swimming pool in downtown Manhatten where Bill swam, had a sandwich, showered before going to his one-hour daily show on WCBS. Then back to Cleveland to do his daily show on WERE. I met him again when Billboard tossed one of those exceedingly boring corporate meetings in the Cincinnati area. After I quickly told other employees how great I was, I joined Bill Randle for a drive through town. Our chauffeur was Jim LaBarbara who, as far as I can remember, never said a word. Bill told me that he'd produced more than a hundred hit records at King Studios in Cincinnati. He had not placed his name on the 45 rpms for fear that other disc jockeys might not play the records. Just one of these groups he produced was the Crew-Cuts, which Jim LaBarbara mentions in his book, along with other acts. Jim also covers with flair and accuracy Randle's role in the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Ray and others.

Jim doesn't just discuss Bill Randle, he mentions countless names from Sonny & Cher to Tony Orlando, Bobby Vee,Buddy Holly, the get the idea? Plus Gary Owens, Ken Draper, Harry Hare Martin, Dick Biondi, Joe Finan, Dick Clark, Jack Armstrong...on and on. Alan Freed, too. Charlie Murdock! He even mentions Jane Scott, a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer who also was a stringer for Billboard; I ran several stories that she wrote; she was great. You must get this book! It's $28 from Little Miami Publishing, P.O. Box 588, Milford,Oh 45150-0588. Cheap at that price!

Got to give you a snippert from the book. Jim had been fired at WKYC in Cleveland because of a new manager. "I was devastated. My last night was a Saturday show. When I got off at ten, one of the new guys who had been with us a few weeks, Chuck Dunaway, took over. I was in the hallway, leaving with my girlfriend Susan, when he said to me, "Hey, you won't be doing anything for a while -- listen to me. I'll show you how it's supposed to be done." That really hurt and embarrassed me in front of Susan. I knew my career could be over. Chuck had been with some great stations, including WABC, New York. What he said was true, I could learn from him, but to say that to me was just being a jerk."

That's what Jim LaBarbara is all about - stories. Well. At least there are two of us who think Chuck Dunaway is a jerk.

The stories that LaBarbara tells are based on his radio interviews over the years. And, of couse his career. I've just read about LaBarbara throwing a huff and quitting when Dan Clayton joins WLW. Clayton pleads with him not to leave: Clayton is to be the new program director. LaBarbara, however, goes to Denver for a year before rejoining WLW. In the book, LaBarbara confesses to making a mistake when he left WLW. I've just read this when, viola, who walks in my door but Kenneth "Dan Clayton" Wolt, now a citizen of Las Vegas.

One of the stories in ths book was extremely embarrassing to me. Not know, fortunately I guess, by everyone. But I planned each annual International Radio Programming Forum meticulously. Stem to stern. Research. Organization. Execution. After the one at the Century-Plazza in Los Angeles with the help of L. David Moorhead, general manager of KMET-FM, Los Angeles. And I gather he had permission from George Duncan, president of Metromedia, though I don't know this for a fact.

One of the panel sessions in New Orleans was guided by Ted Atkins and featured Bill Randle, Jim LaBarbara, the Magnificent Montague,and Jack Lawyer. To demonstrate what some shock jocks could get away with on the air, Randle played a tape of Gary Dees in the Cleveland market. It was absolutely despicable. You felt sick. I remember the topic even now. Montague blew his top. And I can't blame him. People began to grow angry. Atkins deserted, coming past me he leaned down and said, "Don't you ever do this to me again!" Jesus! I had no idea! I swear. Anyway, that was the end of that session. I got the tape and sent it to a friend at the FCC. He told me that no one had protested Gary Dees. Anyway, Jim LaBarbara writes about that whole scene--and later about Buzz Bennett at the awards dinner. You don't want to know that bit.


I recommend this book without reservation. You will enjoy it immensely. It will look good in your bookcase and impress the devil out of your friends and relatives. It impressed the devil out of me!

By Claude Hall

Review by John Kiesewetter in 2011

More Musical Notes From Jim LaBarbara

11:03 am, Oct 17, 2011 | Written by jkiesewetter

"The Music Professor" Jim LaBarbara with his 1940s Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox.

Wanted to make sure you saw my Sunday story about former DJ Jim LaBarbara and his new autobiography. It’s filled with great stories about the greatest rock n rollers, and some of your favorite Cincinnati icons — from Ray Charles and the Rolling Stones, to Neil Diamond and James Brown, Don McLean to Bill Haley, to best friend Johnny Bench (best man at his wedding), Sparky Anderson, Bob Trumpy and Marty Brennaman.

He’ll be signing “Jim LaBarbara, The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio & Rock ‘n’ Roll” ($28; Little Miami Publishing) at Books by the Banks Saturday at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown.

My favorite story is his revelation that feds investigated him for payola in the early 1970s. They thought they had him nailed for WLW-AM playing the Sesame Street “Rubber Duckie” song mulitple times every day — until he pointed out that it was during the simulcast “Bob Braun Show” between noon-1;30 p.m., when Rob Reider would sing it repeatedly to upset Braun!

Here are a couple of outtakes that didn’t make my story:

Roy Orbison on the Beatles: When Beatlemania hit in 1964, LaBarbara recalled how Roy Orbison predicted their U.S. stardom. Orbison, who was touring England in 1963, had said back then that if the Beatles “kept their hair like it was… and did a show like the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ then they would be as big here as they were in England.”

Jerry Lee Lewis on love: When Jerry Lee Lewis was playing the Beverly Hills Supper Club in 1974, backstage he cried and confessed he still loved his ex-wife Myra Brown, his first cousin once removed who was 13 when she married him. Lewis told him: “Jimmy, she wasn’t 13 – she was closer to 14.”

Sparky Anderson’s advice: LaBarbara writes that he got relationship advice from Sparky Anderson. During spring training in 1974 in tampa, Anderson told him over dinner to stop running around with all these ladies and settle down with Sally Suttle, the woman he had been dating. Spark told him: “You should marry that pretty girl, and when you do, I’ll be at your wedding.” And he was there, along with Bench, his best man, and Bob Braun.

The book includes LaBarbara’s stories about Animals, Beach Boys, James Brown, Tony Bennett, Marty Brennaman, Ray Charles, Dick Clark, John Denver, Neil Diamond, Dion, Bill Haley, Kenny Loggins, Joe Morgan, Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), Little Richard, Don McLean, the Monkees, Mike Reid, Rolling Stones, Neal Sedaka, Paul Simon, Sonny & Cher, Ed Sullivan, Supremes, Pete Rose, Bob Trumpy, Andy Williams, Jackie Wilson, former Beatles drummer Pete Best, Cash D. Amburgy and Elvis. To name a few dozen.

Review by Randy McNutt at

I wrote the introduction for Randy's book "Cincinnati Sound." He has written a number of definitive books about the music business.

Jim LaBarbara and 1960s Radio


Jim LaBarbara on the air in Cincinnati, 1980s.

Jim LaBarbara: A Life Amplified

Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll

By Randy McNutt

When the golden age of the 45-rpm single is re-examined, future historians will undoubtedly give proper credit to local disc jockeys who made and played the hits. One of them is Jim LaBarbara, late of Erie, Cleveland, Denver, Cincinnati, and other cities. Not only did he play the hits, but he interviewed and knew many of the singers and musicians who recorded them. He also has the distinction of being a major air personality in two great Ohio music towns.

One of the most knowledgeable air personalities in radio recalls his long career in Jim Labarbara, The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll. It's not just another DJ book, nor is it a superficial one. It is a personal and career memoir, a rock history, and a tribute to the radio industry that employed him for fifty years. And it's also a lot of fun to read. Its many photographs give a sense of being there.

The radio industry that he discusses is mostly gone today. When he started in it in the late 1950s, the business was still wacky and wide open to people with big ideas. In the 1970s, I used to listen to LaBarbara--the Music Professor--on WLW Radio in Cincinnati, when he played the hits and then interviewed their artists. (I find it hard to believe that the same station today is mostly talk radio, but then that has happened all over the country.) If I missed his show, I thought I possibly missed something special. More recently, he played oldies on the popular WGRR in Cincinnati. Lately he has turned to chronicling his career, and with this book he proves that he can write with flair. He weaves his own story--a college kid wants to get into radio in the late 1950s--with the concurrent stories of singers who were making hit records in the early days of rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. Over the years, he interviewed hundreds of them, including Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry, Neil Diamond, John Denver, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. And yes, the book offfers anecdotes about dozens of them. Those anecdotes, including the ones he tells about himself, make the book interesting.

He worked in a time when radio was still exciting and creative. His radio career began at small stations in Pennsylvania, his home state. "I drove my new ... light-blue 1959 Jaguar XK150 with red leather ... 150 miles to Erie on a few hours sleep," he writes in a chapter titled "J. Bentley Starr," his on-air name then. "The receptionist laughed when she saw me. She still had all the postcards I sent. I was so tired, but I wanted to go on from seven to midnight. I felt terrific; my adrenalin was pumping, and about eleven o'clock that tnight, I got an idea. I was going to hijack the station. WWGO had the transmitter controls in the same area as my on-air studio. I had control of the station. They couldn't take me off. When the all-night man came in, I locked him out after putting the news microphone in the hall. He was a college student and didn't care; he studied. I put a huge desk in front of the door and stacked cabinets on top and barricaded myself in the studio. I was replacing a guy who left to go across the street to 'Jet,' the number-one station. It was shameless self-promotion: 'Hey everybody, look at me! Here I am.' It worked. The next morning by 9 a.m., the whole city knew I was in town, but my boss wasn't happy because I missed playing some commercials. [While on the air] he fired me a couple of times, but I had to tell him to watch his language because I had the news microphone in the hall turned on. A local high school team came to break the door down. During most of that time, I played one record--"C'mon and Swim" by Bobby Freeman--and introduced it differently every time . . . It drove me crazy; I can just imagine what listeners thought." When the marathon ended thirty-some hours later, his boss agreed to keep him. When LaBarbara finally went to his car to go home, however, he found a lot of parking tickets waiting.

Eventually, he became the station's music director as well as a DJ. He stayed in Erie into the British Invasion, when he played both a British and American countdown show every night. When the Beatles visited Pittsburgh in 1964, he asked them before the show, "The 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' in the song 'She Loves You,' was that inspired by your Liverpool friends Gerry and the Pacemakers' song 'I Like It'? Where did you get it? They all stood up [from the interview table] and mocked me, singing, 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.' Everybody got a good laugh."

He left Erie in 1966 to work for WKYC, a 50,000-watt Top 40 station in Cleveland, and WIXY. He used his real name.

LaBarbara was impressed and shocked at times by what he saw on stage and behind it. "I got shocked for the first time on stage . . . I was standing in a little puddle of sweat when I grabbed the microphone to take off [stage] a soaking wet Mitch Ryder. It hurt, but I kept it to myself."

He is reminded of a conversation he had with Jerry Lewis, who visited the radio station when his son Gary had some hits. "What advice did you give Gary?" LaBarbara asks him. "He said, 'Just make sure you can look at yourself the next day in the mirror.' A simple sentence but more complex than you might think."

In the '60s, LaBarbara was excited to work in Cleveland, one of the nation's top radio markets. In 1967, he says, he and Ken Scott tied for second place behind the popular Jerry G. in a Billboard magazine radio response rating for the city. "I was flattered to be in that company," he says. Cleveland was one of America's top radio markets.

Another LaBarbara story comes from Sonny Bono, just after he and Cher had divorced. The incident reveals the way the entertainment business works. To the public, Bono had went from big star on records and television to nobody, he tells LaBarbara, with people asking what he would do now that he didn't have Cher. People saw her as the major part of the act. "I had built this whole thing," he tells Jim. "I had written all the songs--ten million-selling songs. I had written the show I had created; I worked eleven years, devoted to this act. And when everything was shaken down, I came out really holding a fig leaf. You know, I thought, I don't ever want to do that again. So, I want to do things, and at least get recognized for what I do."

Turning to politics, Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs and later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He later died in a skiing accident.

Another telling incident came years later, when the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum recognized famous DJ Bill Randle, LaBarbara's good friend and the man who once brought Elvis to Cleveland. "I was asked to sit on the dais," LaBarbara says. "As I sat there on stage, I thought about the irony. The one place I knew he had total disdain for was the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. He told me that seventy-five to eighty percent of all the people [enshrined or noted] in there are accused or convicted felons. He certainly didn't like the politics involved with the selection process."

When the 1960s ended, and campus life erupted in violence, LaBarbara decided to move to Cincinnati, where he did a radio show that allowed him to conduct interviews with recording artists and play records. He became Jim LaBarbara, the Music Professor.

Class is still in session.