TOP 40 AM 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
Several became pop culture stars in their own right, such as
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.
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
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"
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.)