Gridiron guru gets set for Super Bowl
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Ask Ron Jacobs about outrageous Super Bowl mark-ups. That's just one of the football memories the legendary former disc jockey can share.
Jacobs, who made his mark during the wild days of radio in the '60s and '70s in California and Hawai'i, was working as program director for KHJ in Los Angeles when the first Super Bowl, then called the AFL-NFL World Championship of Professional Football, was staged in 1967.
The historic contest between the top teams from upstart American Football League and the more established National Football League was to be held at the Memorial Coliseum. Jacobs, whose KHJ perks included season tickets for the Los Angeles Rams, was given the chance to get three seats for $9 apiece.
"Regular-season tickets were $6," Jacobs recalls. "That's a 30 percent mark-up! And the Rams weren't even in the game! And we hated Green Bay! No way was I going to pay that."
Instead, Jacobs lit out for Northern California, outside the regional TV blackout area, to watch the game on TV for free. All he had to do was avoid finding out the final score before the game aired on tape delay.
"What are the chances," Jacobs says, his briar-patch eyebrows arching fiercely, "that we would run into three (expletive) Green Bay Packers first? They were all laughing and smiling, so we knew they had won."
Still, there was a chance to redeem the trip. A new GM was joining the station from Northern California, so Jacobs offered to drive him to Los Angeles, figuring he'd use the opportunity to let the newbie know what was what.
Two hours into the ride, Jacobs and his new boss were standing outside the car waving their arms at passing traffic. Jacobs' then-wife fumed in the back seat, wondering how her husband forgot to get gas again.
"Football is a microcosm of everything," Jacobs says. "That's why people watch."
Football's orderly chaos resonates with the 68-year-old Jacobs. The Cleveland Rams scored their first touchdown when Jacobs was 14 days old. And his personal record book is filled with amazing success, heartbreaking disappointment, fortuitous interceptions and unlikely comebacks.
SIX DECADES AGO
Jacobs traces his love of football back to the early 1940s — shortly after his family moved from Honolulu to San Francisco to ride out World War II — when his father took him to Kezar Stadium to see the annual East-West Shrine Game.
Back in Honolulu in the 1950s, Jacobs worked as a high school reporter covering prep football games at the old Honolulu Stadium. That eventually led to a wide-ranging career as a disc jockey, radio correspondent (he once covered a Kilauea eruption for NBC), program director and radio entrepreneur.
Paired with longtime friend and collaborator Tom Moffatt, Jacobs helped shape rock 'n' roll radio in Hawai'i as a DJ for KHVH. After a stint with KPOA, where he was Hawai'i's youngest programming director at age 20, he helped launch highly influential KPOI.
Moving to California in the 1960s, Jacobs worked in the valley before being recruited — fresh from a one-month stint in jail for marijuana possession — to KHJ. Within months, the station was No. 1 in its market. Jacobs would accomplish the same feat with San Diego's KGB station.
Jacobs helped give birth to dozens of projects that left their imprint on American popular culture. He produced the 48-hour special "The History of Rock and Roll," credited with being the first radio rockumentary (a term Jacobs first coined). Along with partners Tom Rounds and Casey Kasem, Jacobs launched "American Top 40," one of the most widely syndicated radio programs in history.
Jacobs returned to Hawai'i in 1976 and became a fixture on morning radio with KKUA. In 1981, he launched KDEO, Hawai'i's first country music radio station.
In recent years, Jacobs has also tried his hand as an author ("Backdoor Waikiki," "KHJ: Inside Boss Radio") and an essayist.
He'll gladly drop names and stories about famous friends and acquaintances, from Elvis Presley and Col. Tom Parker (Jacobs was a pallbearer at Parker's funeral), to Harrison Ford (a young actor who built a studio for Jacobs' Watermark Inc.).
BACK TO BUSINESS
The subject today, of course, is Super Bowls.
Best one ever? That would be Super Bowl XXXIV, in which Jacobs' beloved Rams beat Tennessee, 23-16. (Wanna hear how Jacobs used to rack up $70 phone calls tapping in to a private Rams gamecast line in the 1970s?)
Best non-Rams Super Bowl ever? How about No. III, the one where Joe Namath led the uber-underdog New York Jets past Johnny Unitas' Baltimore Colts. Jacobs was in Florida that day organizing the Miami Pop Festival, a precursor to Woodstock. (Wanna hear how Jacobs scored a puck of hashish from two teenagers while driving Mama Cass Elliot to Woodstock?)
The worst Super Bowl? Try No. XXXVI, in which the New England Patriots upset the Rams on a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri as time expired.
"New England," Jacobs says, scowling. "Those phonies. And Vinatieri ... that (expletive)!"
Jacobs has been a die-hard Rams fan since he first moved to Los Angeles in 1965. He still has an original Los Angeles Rams cap from that year.
The hat has racked its share of frequent-flier miles over the years, traveling from Jacob's head to the television screen after fits of outrage. "This thing," he says, shaking the cap by its brim, "has been hurled and retrieved, soaked in beer, been through fights. ..."
GO AHEAD, CALL IT
Pressed for a prediction for today's game, Jacobs lays bare a complex analytical methodology. Seattle gets points because owner Paul Allen was instrumental in rebuilding the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and because quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's father, Don, was once a roommate of Russ Francis, the former San Francisco 49er great who invited Jacobs to the one and only Super Bowl he attended. (See box.)
However, Jacobs notes, Seattle is "a (expletive) latte town."
After considering several players with Hawai'i connections, Jacobs identifies Steelers running back Jerome Bettis as the tipping point. "He was involved in the greatest game of the century," Jacobs says.
Jacobs shifts to his radio voice and delivers a play-by-play re-enactment of the final two minutes of the Steelers-Colts playoff game that would put Al Michaels to shame: Bettis' uncharacteristic goal-line fumble. The gamesaving tackle by Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The blown field goal attempt by Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt.
"Bettis went to Notre Dame, and he was the Rams No. 1 pick in 1993," says Jacobs, slowly so all can understand. "Pitt wins because Jerome has RAM KARMA!"
Makes perfect sense.
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.