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C O U R S E 
History of Rock and Roll, Part One
John Covach, University of Rochester
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
1950s: Radio, Records and Disc Jockeys
Notes taken on July 24, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
how did white teenagers get to listen to rhythm and blues in the early 1950s?
country was still very segregated
African-Americans were largely living in separate towns and neighborhoods than whites
for white kids to go into those parts of town was still largely forbidden by their parents
there wasn't a conscious effort to for rhythm and blues labels to reach white teenagers
the answer: radio
the rise of the disc jockey in regional radio
after WWII, the national audience and the technology that went with it started to migrate to television which left a fairly developed radio business of radio but with the national attention taken away
some regional stations decided they would focus on rhythm and blues music which would appeal to the African-American communities
the disc jockey
up until around 1950, playing a record on the radio was considered cheating. Anyone who heard music on the radio would assume it was live, so if you are playing a record, your listeners would think that you are trying to trick them into thinking that you had an orchestra there in your studio that you didn't actually have
but around the 1950s, playing records on the radio simply became a cheap alternative to live music and it was the disc jockey that managed this playing of records and made it a new form of format to deliver music.
no radio stations exclusively used disc jockeys, but they used them more and more
the disc jockey had a large discretion of what to play, so they quickly became very important figures in the development of the early Rock and Roll industry
in 1947, there were about 3000 disc jockeys in the country, mostly white, and many were playing rhythm and blues to the African-American communities
Dewey Phillips (1926-1968)
one of rock 'n' roll's pioneering disk jockeys
Phillips' on-air persona was a speed-crazed hillbilly, with a frantic delivery and entertaining sense of humor
1954: helped launch the career of Elvis Presley by playing "That's alright Mama", first sun records
if you were a young kid tuning in, even if you were not able to get to the neighborhoods where it was played, you could hear it on the radio, and the world of R&B was very alluring: a world of danger, forbidden sexuality, and all the kinds of things that teenagers love
Alan Freed (1921-1965)
most important R&B DJ in championing the cause of early Rock and Roll
known as Moondog, was an American disc jockey
became internationally known for promoting the mix of blues, country, and rhythm and blues music on the radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll
career was destroyed by the payola scandal that hit the broadcasting industry in the early 1960s
became a national celebrity with Moondog Show in 1951
by this time, other DJs were already doing it but he was the one who got most of the attention
his show was on a classical radio station but his show was put on at 11:00 PM "when most respectable people had gone to bed"
most listeners were surprised to find out that Alan Freed was white
Alan Freed starts to put R&B concerts together e.g. at a big theater in Cleveland, and both white and black kids would come, they would have to be segregated and it was seen as a source of worry that this new music was bringing blacks and whites together, seen as a "dangerous influence" and a scandal
September 1954: had so much success in Cleveland that he moved to New York and created the show "The Rock and Roll Party"
this show goes into syndication nationally
did a number of movies
Indie labels
major labels:
Decca, Mercury, RCA, Victor, Columbia, Capital and MGM
they were the only one with the money and resources to quickly and efficiently distribute records nationally
independent labels were small companies who could distribute their music about as far if they could put the records in their trunk and drove to each jukebox provider and radio station you could reach
major labels really didn't want this business since they were making their money in major pop music
since indie labels were small companies who spent their own money to run the business, there was much temptation to accept a "cash gift, bottle of whiskey, or a paid vacation" in return for playing certain records, which turned into the payola scam
the national labels were doing this as well, but the indie labels were very aggressive about it
indie labels began to cross over from the R&B charts (which was largely uninteresting to the major labels as being to small) to the pop charts where the major labels because to notice this new competition