Alan Freed in 1954 ©JCMarion
The year 1954 was certainly a watershed year in the history of American popular music. This was the year when the sound of Rhythm & Blues moved into the country's mainstream and White teenagers across the land began to listen and dance to the "big beat'. The prime mover in this conversion was disc jockey Alan Freed. The Ohio based "Moondog" had been getting much attention because of his growing popularity in crossing racial and cultural lines in providing the sounds that would displace the ballad singing crooners and the big band leftovers as the nation's favorites.
1954 for Freed started out the year fresh from a very successful Christmas night show in Akron Ohio that featured the Dominos. His radio show based at Cleveland's WJW and was also heard via tape on Newark New Jersey's WNJR. His many dances and in person shows in the northern Ohio area continue to attract record breaking crowds, and it is widely reported that at least one third of the audience at these shows are White teenagers proving the crossover appeal of the performers and their music. In the spring Freed announces his first show to be held in the east. The so called "Coronation Ball" will be held in Newark, N.J. and feature The Clovers, Harptones, and Charles Brown. Another R & B show in Akron is a big draw. The stars were The Moonglows and Charles Brown. Two half hour segments of the show were broadcast live on WJW radio. (Do any airchecks of these broadcasts exist ?).
Moondog made good and presented his first live show in the east on May 1 in Newark's Sussex Avenue Armory. The show starred Buddy Johnson's orchestra and previously announced vocal groups. Over ten thousand people showed, the majority being teenagers, and about one fifth of the crowd was White. Once again this breakdown in crowd demographics foretold the wave of the future. Later on in May, it was announced that executives of New York radio station WINS were holding talks with Freed hoping to lure him from his base in Cleveland. On Memorial Day, it was announced that Freed planned to hold a Jubilee Under the Stars in Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The stadium would be able to handle crowds in excess of thirty thousand, and the talent lineup would include The Clovers, Dominos, and Orioles, along with the bands of Count Basie and Buddy Johnson.
A late June "Moondog Birthday Ball" was held in Akron, headlined by Joe Turner, Fay Adams, Al Savage, and the Five Keys. Once again a capacity crowd was on hand. At the same time it was revealed that plans for a mammoth show in Brooklyn's Ebbets Field had been canceled and a deal with station WINS in New York was nearing completion. Freed turned promoter for the Rhythm & Blues Show which criss crossed the Midwest and South throughout August and September. The show featured The Drifters, Counts, Spaniels, and Fay Adams. WINS announced that Alan Freed will start his show on that station on September 7, and plans were formulated to syndicate the show to a number of markets throughout the country.
After a month on the air on WINS on a late night schedule (11pm-2am), he was given an additional hour earlier in the evening from 7-8pm. A controversy erupted in the Black press initiated by the Pittsburgh Courier, claiming that the syndication of Freed's show would tend to put Black djs who played R & B records out of work. Freed is hit with a one hundred thousand dollar lawsuit by street musician Lewis Hardin over the rights to the name "Moondog". One month after presenting the Freed show in the 7-8pm hour, another hour was added due to tremendous audience response. The show is now on from 7-9 every night.
Freed is enjoined from using the name "Moondog" in any professional manner by a court order issued the Monday after Thanksgiving Day. He had stopped using the name after an injunction was issued the previous month. Because of the tremendous popularity of his radio show, Freed announces plans for his first show in New York which is planned for mid January at St. Nicholas Arena in Harlem. The talent lineup will include Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, Harptones, Clovers, Moonglows, Joe Turner, and Fats Domino. Negotiations are continuing to widen the markets for the syndication of the Freed radio show to additional markets in the South and the Midwest. The year ends with the Alan Freed radio show the number one rated program for its early evening time slot, and the ratings are reflected in the rise of WINS among all stations in the New York City area.
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