This question continues to be asked…You may know the answer – or think you do.
“Which station was first with top-40 in Seattle? Who committed to the format full time, not just a part time hit parade countdown that some stations did in the late 50s. KAYO? KOL? KJR? KUDY? … My steady radio listening didn’t start until when KJR-KOL-KAYO were battling it out.”
Well, rock music did start out in spurts at Seattle radio stations:
KING 1090 ran a Top Twenty feature, nightly 7:30 until 10:00 as early as 1953.
By the summer of 1954, KOL was devoting some musical programming to Rock ‘n Roll, with a Top Twenty program. KOL was also the home of Seattle baseball, with play-by-play from Leo Lassen.
KING had switched to softer music for its evening program, called “Stardust” filling what had previously been the “Top Twenty” timeslot weeknights. KING’s Top Twenty now ran on Saturday nights only, along with varied programming including network fare such as The Lone Ranger.
KJR featured Rock ‘n Roll music on Wally Nelskog’s “Music Makers” program which was aimed at teens. Other regular programming on KJR included the Morning Devotions, some jazz and middle-of-the-road music.
In 1955, KJR’s Candlelight Serenade ran at the dinner hour, Revolving Bandstand at 9pm, Dance Party at 10pm. Wally Nelskog continued spinning platters on his daily program.
KAYO programs included Voice of China, Hebrew Christian Hour and light musical fare.
KOL disc jockeys played popular music, Leo Lassen reported sports results and a Top Twenty overview ran one hour each morning.
In 1956, KIRO was still relying heavily on CBS Network programs like Amos ‘n Andy, music was middle of the road, as was music on KOMO (NBC) [Katherine Wise gave out recipes daily from the KOMO Kitchen] and KING 1090 [ABC] which had gone to mostly music. Al Cummings was a star at KING, advice for the ladies came from Elizabeth Leonard, Paul Harvey commented on the news and Stan Boreson had a daily musical program.
On KOL, Farm News in the morning and Seattle baseball at night, along with the full day of religious programming on Sunday. The Top Twenty music selections were featured throughout the day.
Sten Paulsen hosted the Scandinavian Hour on religious station KNBX 1050.
KJR played popular music 24 hours now, mostly middle-of-the-road. Dick Stokke was on the air and the news was announced by Lou Gillette and Dick Keplinger.
And KIRO devoted 30 minutes to Rock ‘n Roll at 9pm on Saturday night.
1957 – KJR and KOL are both programming rock and roll. It appears KOL went heavily in at first. So, consider KOL to at least have started heavy rotation of popular teen tunes.
But, how could stations continue to play this cacaphony of shouting, drumming and guitar strumming, under the pressure of all the protests from sane and discriminating music critics?
In the Seattle Times, Lou Guzzo ran a series of “deeply probing” articles concerning “cheap music” that record companies were churning out to meet the demands of young music fans.
About the articles, written by Chicago Daily News music critic Don Henahan, GUZZO said — Most responsible executives in the recording industry, dislike the rock and roll craze and realize much of the music being recorded is of exceedingly poor quality.
But they are in a vicious circle, each saying the other is to blame and none attempting to improve musical tastes.
They have created a mechanical monster they can’t control–and, as usual, they pass the buck to parents to cultivate a better appreciation of music in their offspring.
The most revealing fact is that the recording companies and many disc jockeys have directed their musical onslaught toward the sub teenager, rather than the teenager.
What ultimate effect will the volley of trash have on impressionable youngsters below the teens?
The real tragedy is not so much what the children are hearing but what they are missing. We can’t buy the stale argument that today’s children simply are going through the same exposures to zany pop music that Mom and Dad experienced in their youth.
In their day, Mom and Dad were exposed to “crazy rhythms” only occasionally. Today the youngsters couldn’t escape the Presleys and other rock and rollers if they tried.
Disc jockeys hammer at them day and night. And when the junior set is out of range of the home or automobile radio, it is hammered by the same musical junk wherever jukeboxes operate or records are sold.
Under such conditions it is ridiculous to blame the parents for failing to guide his child’s listening habits. The responsibility falls elsewhere–to the vultures profiting from the whims of sub-teen-agers.
Chicago Daily News music critic, Don Henahan’s – CHEAP MUSIC: Disk maker acknowledges tune polls are rigged –
Here in his own words is how a typical small operator gets his record of a pop tune started toward “popularity.”
Starting from the bottom of the heap in the dollar-crazed business, let’s hear from Mort Hillman, 31, a shouting, arm-waving citizen, who runs his eight-month-old “label” (record company) from a small office in Chicago.
“I’ve been in show business since–I–was six!” Hillman shouted when asked about his background and musical knowledge. “Started out playing a bugle. Then a trumpet. Sure, I know music. I could pass any test these schools give.
“I’m young but I’ve been around a long time!” He bellowed. “So I hate amateurs. They louse up the tune business.”
Interviewing the tough talking entrepreneur is a good way to put the whole pop tune business under a microscope.
For Hillman personifies and sums up much of the business. Not all of it, by a long shot, but a sizable segment.
No one has to talk for Hillman. His own voice is a loud one. Let him tell how he might go about trying to shove his chosen tune to the top of your Hit Parade.
“Let’s pick out a good name… Call my tune “Schlops de Bops.” OK?” He seized a cigarette and lighted it quickly.
“Schlops,” he boomed out, “just this week got its first mention in Cash Box, the only magazine that swings any weight with the business. It’s put out for the coin machine operators, the jukebox boys.
(Hillman’s wife works for Cash Box.)
“Okay look at the polls. A disc jockey in Indianapolis lists it at number five, and one in Covington Kentucky lists it at number four.
“How do I go about getting mentions on DJ polls?
“Deals. Sure, you got to deal if you want to get a tune started.
“A disc jockey gets maybe 200 records a week. What does he do, open and play each one? He’d go nuts. I got to get to this guy and put the record in his hands and persuade him to play it.
“Or at least list it in his poll, even if he never plays it.”
Hillman’s telephone rang. He pounced on it and leaned back in his chair, fingering his thick-rimmed glasses and grinning.
“Hi, Doll! No, definitely… I’m not letting you die… No kidding… I’m just now closing a big deal for you in Europe… Yeah… I wouldn’t snow you. HA! Crazy! Bye doll!”
“Girl singer,” he explained, slamming down the telephone so hard the desk rattled.
Picking up the story of “Schlops” he roared off again with:
“Do you think “Schlops” is really number four in Indianapolis? Of course not. Indianapolis never heard of it. But maybe the disk jockey down there is a friend of mine. To do me a favor he’ll list it.”
This is known as “vote-gathering,” and its effects are felt throughout the whole industry. No matter how big or small the label may be, no record-company executive can afford to ignore the rigged polls.
The hope of the small operator like Hillman is that other disc jockeys across the country will notice the skewed listing in Indianapolis and “hop on” the tune. This means he will give it “plays,” and without plays by a DJ no record can hope to crash through, regardless of quality.
Hillman, unlike many close-mouthed persons in the trade, makes no bones about the fact that the whole structure is riddled with “deals,” semi-legal “tie-ins” and outright “payola.”
“But don’t think you’re going to find out anything about this business,” he said, slapping the desk. “You’re wasting your time.”
“Why should they tell the public the truth?
“Even what I tell the industry about “Schlops” sales is ‘hyped’ way up. And they all know it.
“Schlops” isn’t selling big yet. Oh, sure, I have shipped a lot of discs and sold some. But it’s not hot. The point is, how good it’s going is none of your business.”
Hillman mentioned “deals” by which a tune might be pushed along the road to the top. Such as what?
Well, one such deal he could make, he pointed out, would be to get his records better treatment by making a dealer this offer: You take 5000 of my records and you can have 1000 of them free.
“He profits. I profit. That’s a good deal for both of us.
Doesn’t Hillman worry about his label not gaining the respect of the buying public? Doesn’t he care to have his label become one of the respected brand names in the public’s mind?
“Nuts!” He snapped. “The public doesn’t know from nothing about labels. All they ask for when they go into the record store is the tune.
“All I care about is getting known in the industry. I don’t worry about the public.”
Building prestige is often a worthless effort anyway, he indicated, adding:
“Nowadays a name doesn’t do you much good. This is a real crazy market. Look at Eddie Fisher. A while ago he had 10 or 11 smashes in a row. Now he can’t even get arrested. Who knows why?”
Getting arrested, it seems, means making a stir with a new song.
Multiply the Eddie Fisher case by hundreds and you have some idea of the fast-changing stumbling-in-the-dark, seemingly mysterious nature of the pop-tune rat race.
How about payola to help “Schlops” along? Any cold cash in the hands of disk jockeys?
Hillman laughed and said: “Come on. Let’s say I’ve got friends in the business. They do me favors.”
One of the keystones of the whole “hit tune” question is that of sales. Nobody, even in the trade itself, knows what a records sales are. Even approximations are wild guesses. Only the label boss knows, and he shares his secret with no one.
The record industry has no counterpart, unfortunately for the public, to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the independent organization that provides the public with exact monthly figures on the number of copies each newspaper sells.
All that can be stated definitely is that a tune like “All Shook Up” has sold a lot of records. Any published figures are automatically assumed to be subject to question.
An insider with one of the trade publications estimates, for example, that when a tune gets proclaimed as a “million” selling record, it actually may have sold as few as 250,000.
The “million” may be based on hopeful projections of future or unreported sales.
“I could put out a ‘golden’ record (emblematic of one million sales) anytime I wanted to,” Hillman pointed out. “The only thing is, nobody would believe it inside the industry. They don’t believe most of the other ‘golden records’ either, but me they’d laugh at. But if I sell a couple hundred thousand records… ‘
Finding a tune teenagers will buy and getting it played on the radio are the problems that haunt the industry.
It is no wonder then that so much attention is aimed at two big men: one is the disc jockey, who must play the tune to make it popular. The other is the record company’s A & R man (artist and repertoire man), who decides what gets recorded by whom and how.
Payola? Scandal? Just a few years into Rock & Roll radio, and already so much trouble on the horizon. Can the format survive against so much negativity from “responsible executives in the recording industry” and newspaper music critics?
So, which station was the first, full-time, honest to gosh ROCK & ROLL station [as we knew it] in Seattle???