Alan Freed came to New York radio to stay in September of 1954. He landed the 7 to 8 pm slot on WINS a struggling station going up against WNEW, the kingpin of popular music in the Big Apple. The original show in New York featured his theme song "Blues For The Red Boy" (later reissued under the title Blue Night) by Todd Rhodes on Detroit's Sensation label. Rhodes had a recent R & B hit for the label named "Pot Likker". He played pure rhythm & blues for the hour and the impact was immediate. After the celebrated court case in which he had to drop the name Moondog (claimed by Louis Hardin), his Rock & Roll Party was given an additional hour and was now heard from 7-9 pm Monday to Friday, and a late night Rock & Roll Part #2 from 11pm - 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. It was quite a transition on weekday nights going from the hard rocking Moondog show to the progressive and modern jazz stylings on Lou Fisher's Birdland show. Soon Freed added a Saturday morning popular survey show from 10am to 12 noon. This was an interesting show with some surprising survey results that had to be taken with an open mind. By the second year of his show he had changed his opening theme to "Big Heavy" by Cozy Eggelston & His Combo on the States label out of Chicago. Freed now ruled the roost on New York radio supplanting Martin Block who soon moved from WNEW to WABC for a short time. Rock ruled the airwaves, and Freed was now on for most of the evening hours usually from 7pm - 11pm. Besides the cowbell ringing and telephone book slamming, Freed also talked along with the records. At first I thought they were part of the original recording much like the shouted comments on "Jam Up" for instance. Soon I realized that it was part of Freed's presentation. By 1956 he had mostly stopped this practice that had given his Moondog programs their flavor. In late 1956 Freed changed his opening theme again, this time with the band under his own name on Coral records. The tune was entitled "Right Now Right Now" and featured the blasting tenor sax lead of "Big Al" Sears. The show also featured a closing theme for many broadcasts, Jesse Belvin's soulful "Goodnight My Love" on the Modern label. The show, especially in its early years relied heavily on mailed in requests and dedications. Many were the dedications that told the recipients to 'listen to the words of this song' or put him/her as the subject of the title of the song (Earth Angel, Most Of All, I Love You For Sentimental Reasons, etc.). Freed gave his show a sense of community among the teenagers of the metro area which added to his enormous popularity. On occasion he became the spokesperson for them against the railings of adult society of the time. Very soon he had a hand in a TV show which emulated the well known teen dance format. Within four years of his debut in New York, the end had come. The ways of doing business had caught up with Freed and the payola scandals had hit big time. He was the big fish that everybody wanted caught and they thought with his demise, this offending music would be gone with him. Unfortunately, Freed was the casualty not the music. He remains the original presenter and defender of this music that for more than four decades has been at the forefront of popular tastes among young people. It shows no signs of abating.
Memories of Doctor Jive
Doctor Jive was in reality disc jockey Tommy Smalls. He broadcasted from WWRL, a small AMer from the Queens section of Woodside. The station was easy enough to find-it was all the way at the end of the dial at 1600 ("the high spot on your radio dial"). The show was on from 3-5:30 every afternoon (three-oh-five to five-three-oh) Mon-Fri so it was a great after school listening experience. The opening theme song for the show was "Listen To Doctor Jive" sung by vocal group great Dean Barlowe. Beside the great R & B tunes of the time, Smalls also had a Latin music section on most shows. It was here that many listeners found out about some truly memorable tunes such as "Speakup Mambo" by Al Castellanos, and "Smoke" by Randy Carlos. The show solidly presented all new releases by vocal groups from all over the area and presented rock & roll reviews at area theaters. One very memorable feature of the Dr. Jive show was the huge number of fan clubs that sprung forth supporting the music. Some that I can recall were the Jovial Delinquents, The Cleftone Sweethearts, and The Channel Jivaleers. The show also was heavy with dedications and requests for the music. It was common for a neighborhood vocal groups to get a record released and hear it the next day on the Dr. Jive show. The closing theme for the show was a very unique tune that was sung by a then unknown Tommy Edwards called "Goodbye, Farewell, and So Long." Unfortunately, the same fate that befell Alan Freed also comsumed Tommy Smalls. He was snared in the same payola scandal that did in Freed. And so in one fell swoop, the two major radio voices playing rhythm & blues music on New York radio were stilled. Into this void came Dick Clark who somehow escaped the punishment and banishment that brought down the others. The result was that the music suffered for the next few years until the rise of Motown, Stax/Volt, and the British invasion.
Jocko, head man of the Rocketship Show, was Douglas Henderson originally from Philadelphia. His rapping and rhyming style caught the fancy of many listeners in New York. His show was broadcast over the underpowered station WOV. Most of his listeners had never heard of anyone like Jocko. I was familiar with this style of personality jocks from listening to WNJR in Newark, N.J. which was full of like styled on air personalities. Jocko had no opening theme but instead used a intro that approximated a trip on a rocket ship. It was spiced with such bits of jive as a request to "comb your knowledge box" and "up big baaad rocket" complete with a countdown and sound effects of a blastoff. It was certainly one of the great opens in radio. Jocko played a wide spectrum of R & B records, more so than the later Freed programs, and relied less on the vocal group sounds than Dr. Jive. He had a routine of talking along with the records especially at the start of the sax break, but differed in this regard to Moondog because Jocko's was broadcast at full volume. One of his tag lines was "well allroot ! and VOSA to boot". VOSA being his code word for the Voice Of Sound Advice. Jocko also followed both Freed and Smalls in presenting rock & roll reviews in major area theaters. Jocko was also the host on a teenage dance TV show that was interesting because the majority of teens (but not all) on the show were Black. The other memory I have of his TV show was the presentation of lesser known groups giving them a shot at fame and fortune (I remember The Vanguards, The Metronomes, and The Revelons for instance). The radio show was such a unique presentation that anyone who heard it has great memories of it. They also have great affection for the man who was certainly a true friend and older brother to all that were into this music in the mid 50s. I am still in possession of my Jocko's Fan Club card complete with a picture of Jocko in a ridiculous space helmet. Well he is the one and only -
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