At Hart Plaza: Jacobs (second from left and above) and Oak Park-native Marshall Crenshaw (second from right).
At Hart Plaza: Jacobs (second from left and above) and Oak Park-native Marshall Crenshaw (second from right).

The inside scoop with National Radio Hall of Fame Inductee Fred Jacobs — as told by his daughter.

Fred Jacobs
Fred Jacobs Newsroom

One of our own local radio experts, Fred Jacobs, is being inducted into this year’s National Radio Hall of Fame on Nov. 15 in New York City. Jacobs will accept his award alongside Mike & Mike of ESPN, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, morning-radio icon Jonathon Brandmeier, fellow Detroiter and NYC DJ Jim Kerr, and others. I had the privilege of learning more about my dad’s journey in radio and his thoughts on this honor.

AJ: Where did you go to college and how did you choose a career in radio?

FJ: I’m one of those rare people who has degrees from [University of] Michigan and Michigan State. I did my undergrad in Ann Arbor and got my master’s in telecommunications in East Lansing. So, on certain days of the year I’m conflicted. I always had an interest in media, but first thought I wanted to go into TV. Then I took the radio class and was smitten. That was it — I knew instantly I had to work in radio.

AJ: How did you get started as a radio consultant and build Jacobs Media?

FJ: My first job was working for a research company that provided surveys for radio stations all over the country. Early on, I traveled and did research and even some consulting, so I was used to the rhythm of the business. After working for WRIF in Detroit, I decided to go out on my own.

AJ: What is Jacobs Media, and how has the business evolved over time?

FJ: Jacobs Media started out as a consulting company for rock stations. I developed the Classic Rock format early on, so for many years I was a consultant for Classic Rock, Rock and Alternative stations. When the technology wave hit in the 1990s, I started seeing other ways I could make a contribution to radio, so we pivoted the company. We still do a lot of radio consulting, but we also do strategic work in the digital space. We’re very deep into new media including podcasting, connected cars, smart speakers like Alexa and the whole audio renaissance. We also do a lot of work in public radio, having worked over the years for a number of stations including NPR.

AJ: Who comprises Jacobs Media?

FJ: Jacobs Media was not originally designed as a family business, but it has evolved that way. My two brothers, Paul and Bill, have worked with me for decades and have made huge contributions. Paul has been especially important in the development of our mobile app company, jacapps, and has been a tremendous guide for me. We’ve had great staffers and visionaries who have helped us grow as a company.

AJ: Who are some of your clients?

FJ: We did research for MTV and VH1 back in the early days. That was very exciting. I also ended up working for a number of Howard Stern stations over the years. That was a fun ride, watching him become a superstar. And yes, I’ve been insulted by Howard Stern.

AJ: How did you react to the Radio Hall of Fame news?

FJ: It was very unexpected and humbling. Most inductees have either been on the air their entire careers or are some of the bigger corporate moguls in radio. It’s very unusual for somebody like me to get into the Hall of Fame. It’s a beautiful honor and I’m very touched. When I got into radio, I wanted to have an impact on the industry I love, and this honor validates that.

AJ: What kind of legacy do you hope to leave in business and to your children?

FJ: I am proud to be thought of in two different ways — pioneering the Classic Rock format has been really exciting and it continues to be successful to this day. But, I would like to be thought of as someone who pushed the radio industry into the future by embracing digital media and new opportunities. I’m a bit of an “agent provocateur.” My father owned his own businesses and always emphasized the value of having a good name and being true to your word, and I’ve tried to live up to that. I also think it’s interesting that both of my kids are involved in media.

AJ: How has Judaism impacted you?

FJ: I grew up in Northwest Detroit and completed Hebrew high school at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. I always enjoyed studying history. In 2006, we made a family trip to Israel. We are now proud members of Temple Israel and feel a part of that community.

AJ: What is your favorite memory of the Detroit music scene?

FJ: Programming WRIF in my hometown was a huge honor, especially given the musical roots of this area. One of the accomplishments I fondly look back on are the series of free local concerts we threw at Hart Plaza. Local music was exploding at that time and it was really exciting to be at the forefront of the Motor City music scene.

AJ: What’s on your turntable?

FJ: Either Steely Dan, the White Stripes or Dire Straits — I’m a huge fan of Donald Fagen, Detroiter Jack White and Mark Knopfler.

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