Why Today’s Date Answers The Question: Who Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll Its Name?
"It's Only Rock 'N' Roll", "I Love Rock 'N' Roll", "Rock and Roll All Nite", "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution". Singers have sung it, music fans have said it more times than we can count but just where did that phrase "Rock and Roll" come from? The answer to that questions starts with the date: December 15th, 1922.
On that day 96 years ago Albert James Freed was born in Windber, Pennsylvania. Though I never knew, met or even heard this man on the radio, I wouldn't have the job I have if it wasn't for this man. Here is the story of Alan Freed and the birth of Rock and Roll radio:
As a teen Freed set his sights on becoming a bandleader but after suffering an ear infection he was left without a dream...but not for long. As one door closed, another opened and this particular door led him straight into a radio studio. While in the US Army during World War II Freed worked as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio. After World War II, he scored broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio including WKST (New Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH).
When Freed left the station it would seem as the next step was going to be a big leap upwards but a non-compete clause in his contract limited his ability to find work elsewhere. As a result he was forced to take a graveyard shift at Cleveland's WJW radio. It was in that graveyard, however, that Freed gave life to a brand new form of music, one he called "Rock and Roll."
Unlike the subdued, low-key DJs of the time Freed was full of energy. He was unlike anything kids had heard before on the radio. It was here that he began popularizing a phrase that he used to fit to the high-octane, get-up-and-dance music he played. He called it "Rock and Roll".
ALAN FREED'S RADIO AIRCHECK WJW CLEVELAND 1954:
Following his success on the air in Cleveland, Freed packed up his Rock and Roll records and headed for The Big Apple. He landed a gig at 1010 AM WINS in New York City. Freed had hit the big time and soon after he was given a weekly primetime TV series, "The Big Beat", on ABC in July of 1957. That same year Paramount Pictures released a film about Freed appropriately titled "Mister Rock and Roll".
MISTER ROCK AND ROLL (PARAMOUNT 1957) TRAILER:
It seemed as if the sky was the limit for Freed until late 1959 when he was fired from the show after payola accusations against him surfaced. While most DJs of the time were taking money in exchange for playing records Freed was the biggest target and paid the ultimate price. At the age of 37 Freed's career had suddenly come to a record-scratching halt.
Because of the negative publicity from the payola scandal no respectable station would employ Freed so he moved to the West Coast in 1960 where he managed to get an on-air slot at KDAY/1580 in Santa Monica, California but it wasn't for long. After a brief two-month stint at WQAM in Miami, Florida, Freed returned to the Los Angeles area and worked at KNOB/97.9 in 1964. He just wanted to be on the radio playing the music he loved to the fans he loved just as much. Sadly that phase of his career wouldn't last much longer either. Freed died in a Palm Springs, California, hospital on January 20, 1965, from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism; he was just 43 years old. He is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
Thought Freed's career and life ended on a sad note he would have his proper comeback. On January 23, 1986, Freed was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In 1988, he was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. On December 10, 1991, Freed was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Just like Rock and Roll, the spirit of Alan Freed will never die...
SONGS WHERE ALAN FREED IS MENTIONED:
"Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" - The Ramones
"The King of Rock 'n Roll" - Terry Cashman and Tommy West
"Ballrooms of Mars" - Marc Bolan
"They Used to Call it Dope" - Public Enemy
"Payola Blues" - Neil Young
"Done Too Soon" - Neil Diamond
"The Ballad of Dick Clark" - Skip Battin of the Byrds
"This Is Not Goodbye, Just Goodnight" - Kill Your Idols