Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alan Freed

Alan Freed was instrumental to the beginning of rock and roll music, helping to promote the music in a series of concerts around the country and in fact the phrase "rock and roll" is attributed to him. He also helped segregate the youth if America by playing music by black artists and featuring groups in his concert series that attracted diverse groups. In the movie Rock, Rock, Rock Freed said that "Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat."
Freed was born December 15, 1921 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  His family moved to Ohio and he graduated from Salem High School in 1940.  While at Ohio State, Freed became interested in radio and when he served in World War II, he worked as a disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio.  Following his service, he worked at WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania, WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio and WAKR in Akron, Ohio.

When Freed got a job in 1960 playing classical music on WJW in Cleveland, Leo Mintz, owner of Record Rendezvous, inquired about purchasing airtime on WJW to be devoted exclusively to playing R&B songs with Freed as the host.  The station management agreed and on July 21, 1951, Freed began his show "The Moondog House". 

The next year, Freed helped organize "The Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena, which is believed to be the first rock and roll concert.  The concerts that Freed organized attracted crowds that far exceeded the capacity of the venues.  WJW increased the air time of Freed's show and his popularity increased dramatically.  Executives in the music business noticed and soon, tapes of Freed's Cleveland show began to air in New York City.

In 1954, Freed got a job offer at WINS and moved to New York as that station became a 24-hour rock and roll station.  Freed introduced himself to European audiences through appearances in movies such as Rock Around the Clock.  He soon began recording a weekly half-hour show called Jamboree that would air on Radio Luxembourg, heard throughout the British Isles and much of Europe.  Radio Luxembourg's signal was strong in Liverpool, and reportedly John Lennon and Paul McCartney were influenced by artists such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry that they would hear on Freed's radio program.  Luxembourg's signal was the only commercial radio station heard in England until 1964. 

Freed worked a brief stint at WABC 770 AM in New York (until 1958), the beginnings of WABC's evolution into becoming one of America's greatest Top 40 stations.  Freed was fired amidst the infamous payola scandal in which he refused to sign a document that he had never accepted payola (money or inducements in return for playing a particular song).  That practice continues to this day in various forms...

Freed appeared in several movies as well such as the aforementioned "Rock, Rock, Rock" and "Rock Around the Clock" starring Bill Haley & the Comets.  He hosted "The Big Beat" on ABC-TV in 1957 or a brief time, and appeared on the show "To Tell the Truth", where he defended rock and roll before the panelists who preferred swing music. 

Freed's career ended when it was confirmed that had had in fact accepted payola.  He also had a conflict of interest, being a songwriter on several songs that allowed him to receive royalties while also promoting those records on his own program.  He worked at some stations after this, such as KDAY-AM in Santa Monica, California and WQAM in Miami, Florida, but those stations did not allow him to promote rock and roll stage shows. 

Freed died in Palm Springs, California in 1965 from problems brought on by alcoholism. 

On January 23, 1986, Freed was among the first group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It had been built in Cleveland to recognize Freed's early involvement there in promoting rock and roll.  Freed was also posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988, and has since been honored in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and by the Grammy Awards with their Trustees Award.

You can find much more about Freed (including a complete biography and tons of invaluable audio clips (including an interview with Buddy Holly and videos of his movies) on the site dedicated to him,

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