Sixties Radio          


 (and its DJs)


by Pat Jacobs

The disc jockey (also called "DJ" or "deejay". This term was first used to describe radio announcers who would introduce and play the popular gramophone records of the day.

These records were called discs by those in the industry and were jockeyed by the announcers, hence the name.) of the late 1950s and early 1960s (I would say even throughout the decade) was an extremely important figure in popular music.

Radio airplay was the main form of promoting a record and many stations allowed the DJ to choose what record was to be played.

The DJ also decided which up-and-coming bands would get radio play (which was essential to selling records, moving up to bigger audiences, and getting better-paying shows.

Repeated playing could yield a hit; many unknowns became stars overnight because a DJ "broke" the record to his listening audience), managed bands, promoted tours and public appearances, were MCs (master of ceremonies) in rock shows, and became friends and advisors to the recording stars. Sometimes their name would share equal billing on the billboard of a show, as announcer and promoter.

Several became pop culture stars in their own right, such as Alan Freed who's credited with coining the term "rock and roll" (I believe this term was previously a sexual euphemism) to describe the new music. A disc jockey from Cleveland, Freed was a definite pioneer in playing and promoting the growing appeal of this music to white teenagers.

The success of his "Moondog's Rock and Roll Party" became SO huge that he moved to New York in 1954 and captured a much larger audience. The program became no. 1; Freed became America's most influential DJ.

"Murray the K" Kaufman, of WINS in New York, became known as "The Fifth Beatle", for his integral part in promoting the Beatles during their first U.S. tour. "Cousin Brucie" Morrow (WABC) was another popular New York DJ. And of course, Dick Clark And there were scores of others; some achieved national status, such as the abovementioned , including Wolfman Jack, Casey Kasem, and Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg.
Others  became regional stars, such as Barney Pitt "Turn ya into peanut butter!"-Chicago), Boots Bell ("Yes, indeedy doody daddy!"), Johnny Kay, and "Smoochie " Causey (Youngstown, OH), Dick Biondi (Chicago), "Jocko" Henderson (Not sure which city), "Porky" Chadwick (Pittsburgh), and "The Real Don Steele" (Los Angeles).

The great power enjoyed by the DJs also encouraged great corruption. The practice of payola developed (this is a contraction of "pay" and "Victrola" (an early record player). in which the DJ was bribed with money, a song publishing share, or other things in order to get a record played.

The U.S. House of Representatives began investigating this and as a result, the Payola Scandal ended the careers of several DJs, including Alan Freed. (Dick Clark emerged unscathed.)

This was one of the factors that led to the reducing of power yielded by the DJs; two others were the advent of top 40 radio, and the gradual consolidation of the radio industry-where often one business controlled several stations.

Top 40 radio is believed to have started around 1954. Station owner Todd Storz and one of his engineers (Gordon McLendon?) were in a bar across from KOWH; they noticed that the same few songs were being played repeatedly on the jukebox. Storz took this idea of a "trimmed Playlist" back to his station and put it into effect, using only pop tunes. It was a huge success and KOWH became no. 1 in Omaha. This format was then used by Storz at all his stations, was picked up by other stations nationwide, and became known as the "top 40".

The next major change to top 40 radio was the "Drake" formula, which consisted of playing more music, less clutter, programming songs at 4 minute intervals, proceeded with the DJ intro and the station jingle (rapid-fire shortened versions), promotions, gags, call-ins and requests, time and weather announcements, and cut back commercials. The news was moved to 20 minutes before and after the hour, allowing for longer music playing time. And a hyper excited DJ.

This is what happened at station KHJ (Los Angeles). In 1965, this formula was applied (Two prominent DJs were brought in, Robert W. Morgan and "The Real Don Steele"). "KHJ Boss Angeles" became one of America's most successful stations. The formula was also used successfully at other stations (but not all; WABC didn't).

Did you know that in the first two decades of radio's existence , the person who played the records and made station announcements was usually just the technician.

At the time, most of the large radio networks relied on live programming, so there was little use for DJs in the 1920s and '30s. But World War II changed all that; as studio musicians were enlisting and being drafted, the vocation of the radio announcer or DJ, evolved. (Martin Block of "Make Believe Ballroom" became radio's first star, reaching a national audience.)

The monopoly of the three radio networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) were broken up in the 1950s, thus allowing many independent stations to go on the air-and they relied on recorded music. As a result, job opportunities opened up.

(There were opportunities, gradually, for black DJs in urban areas at some of these stations as well. And these DJs often created outrageous alter egos for themselves on the air, who were rapidly copied by their white counterparts. Radio station ownership was still 100% white-owned, however.)




"Murray the K" Kaufman, of WINS in New York, became known as "The Fifth Beatle", for his integral part in promoting the Beatles during their first U.S. tour.

Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg

The Beatles and Murray the K interview flyer.


"Cousin Brucie" Morrow (WABC) was another popular New York DJ.

 "KHJ Boss Angeles" became one of America's most successful stations. The formula was also used successfully at other stations.

Sonny and Cher with "the real Don Steele" in 1966

Wolfman Jack

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