Jim French rails against rock ‘n roll

C. J.Skreen – Seattle Times, March 1, 1959 – Jim French, who presides over an eminently listenable music-and-chatter show on KIRO radio weekday mornings, is one of those rare members of the disc jockey profession who holds, along with the Federal Communications Commission, that radio is licensed “in the public interest, convenience and necessity.”
In keeping with this unorthodox view, French offers KIRO’s early-morning audience a program of recorded popular music that is a refreshing change–to this listener at least–from the customary diet of incoherent nasal-voice weepers and wailers who have overrun radio and the recording industry in recent years.
The French show, notable for its relaxed, easy-going charm and humor, is aimed at anyone, who enjoys a good melody, sung or played with some attention to the composer’s intent and conception.
French’s aim is to make the grim task of getting up in the morning as painless as possible for listeners. The image he has attempted to create is that of “an unprepossessing sort of guy who enjoys being a part of the household.”
The Pasadena-born disc jockey has been broadcasting since 1943, working radio stations in Southern California, Hawaii and, for the past seven years, Seattle. With 16 years behind the turntable, the personable French has had an opportunity to observe firsthand the fads and fashions of the changing popular music scene. While not posing as a spokesman or expert on the subject, he is articulate and forthright in his view of the radio industry.
French is of the opinion the giveaway program didn’t end with the demise last year of the TV quiz shows. He holds that a vastly bigger giveaway continues unchecked as a large section of the American radio industry patterns its programming to the demands of the single–but highly vocal–element of the listening audience: the teenager.
Radio, contends French, literally is “giving itself away” by orienting its music policies toward that relatively small knot of youngsters who demand the extremes in rock ‘n roll, while virtually ignoring the wants and needs of the larger, more serious-minded percentage of listeners.
French attributes this development to the “formula” programming which evolves in the constant commerce between teenage listener, disc jockey and the recording companies.
A chain reaction is set in motion when a teenager buys a recording or submits a request for music to a radio station. Before it runs its course, it extends from the individual disc jockey to a recording and sheet-music shops, national magazines which tabulate the request-and-sales trends, that juke-box industry and the music-publishing industry. The result, to an increasing degree, is that many radio stations are ignoring their responsibility to serve the mass of listeners, and have abdicated to the teenagers, French contends.
French is equally outspoken in his criticism of the individuals producing the extremes of rock ‘n roll music–compositions which the Seattle radio man regards as unmusical, repetitious, basically “sick” music.
“What I call sick music,” said French, “is churned out by some artists who frequently are still in their teens, themselves. None are child prodigies; few have any real skill in music, let alone talent.”

“The melody line of music making up the bulk of radio’s top 40 seldom varies from the rough blues pattern,” said French. “It gets ‘sick’ I think, when lyrics are added and the singers interpretations are thrown in. The uninspired lyrics of these compositions cover a limited range of topics.
“Most of them speak of love or, at the least, puppy love. Some are sung in such gibberish that clues are needed to get the meaning of the lyric. A few are descriptive of the boredom and futility of school, teachers and the influence of parents.”
The mildest philosophy voiced in today’s best-sellers is that ‘nobody understands me when I say I am in love with the 14-year-old who sits at the desk behind me in school, but what do adults know about love or life, anyway?’ ”
One of last year’s best-selling records, said French, was devoted entirely to the concept that “all parents are heartless clods who only try to stand in the way of the poor misjudged teenager who only wants to marry his girlfriend and then rock ‘n roll all night.”

“Think I’m kidding?” Said French. “Listen to your radio some afternoon.”
French’s hunch is that the popularity of these outrageously untalented recording artists lies in their very mediocrity. “They can sing, or twang a guitar, approximately as well as the average youngster is capable of doing.
“Therefore, they can become overnight idols, their brief moment of glory perfectly attainable in the eyes of the enraptured kids who buy their records, request them on the radio or stare at their appearances on TV.
“Of course,” continued French, “idolizing recording stars isn’t new. But the idolizing of non-singers, who nevertheless tried to sing, is new.”
French once conducted a quick survey on his show to determine the age group of Elvis Presley fans and found that of those replying, nearly half were married women–presumably individuals who were more mature than the teenagers, whose tastes are expected to vary from month to month.
“I think one housewife’s comment bears quoting,” said French. ” ‘Presley,’ she wrote, ” ‘may not be a very proficient singer, but he sounds exciting. He’s so different!’ ”
“Different he was,” added French, “but within weeks after Presley’s popularity started soaring, dozens of other youngsters were issuing records copying the Presley twang, the Presley shout, the Presley quaver–even down to the Presley inability to pronounce certain basic words correctly.
“From this imitative group of would-be stars, only a handful remain in the record field today. But, as more and more new single records started down the sick-music trail, less and less emphasis was given by disc jockeys to the better music available on a few singles and on most long-playing records.
Presley-doting housewives notwithstanding, French maintains, “broadcasters are devoting so much airtime to the ‘beat music,’ the ‘rock-a-billy’ and rock ‘n roll, that they can’t be serving the more adult tastes on radio.”
By perpetuating this musical farce on the radio, broadcasters may feel they are answering a mandate from a majority of their listeners.
“But,” asks French, “if sick music constitutes the bulk of their musical programming–even at an hour when no school-age youngsters not playing hooky possibly could hear it–whose tastes are they satisfying?”
“When you realize, as I do now,” said French, “that teenagers themselves are by no means unanimous in their enthusiasm for sick music, it must be acknowledged that stations which devote most of their time to playing this music actually are satisfying musical tastes (or lack of it) of only a portion of a minority!”
What seems saddest of all to the Seattle disc jockey is that the phonograph record has become so omnipresent in our lives a youngster may grow up never realizing what music was meant to be: a means of expression capable of relaxing, amusing or inspiring the listener.
“The teenager may lose sight of the fact that music can and should be a pleasant background to our activities–not an irritant in which the beat, the noise and the insipid lyric seems to repeat itself from one monotonous disk to another.”
The outlook isn’t completely dark, however, French finds. “I know that tastes change as we grow older. I feel confident many teenagers who devour the ersatz music of today, one day will reject it along with other interests of their adolescence.”
The major responsibility for the lowest state to which popular music has fallen rests, however, with members of the radio profession, French feels.
“Someone must play program director here and now in the stations where radio programs are filled with the music chosen by juvenile tastes,” concludes French. “Until we in radio decide to use a musical judgment ourselves, we are guilty of taking a mass medium of communication and giving it away to only the vocal few.”

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Author: Jason Remington

QZVX Creator, Admin, & Editor, former broadcaster. ABOUT Jason & QZVX.com | Jason's Airchecks

4 thoughts on “Jim French rails against rock ‘n roll

    1. I don’t know the call letters KTWC.

      I left Phoenix in ’93 and I don’t even remember whether KLFF still existed at that time. The new owners went to the Stardust satellite network at about the time I left there in 1989.

      I told my KLFF listeners that I had given two weeks notice. Apparently someone was listening because, as I left the control room at the end of my shift, OM Dave Hixson met me and told me with his sheepish smirk, “Jamie says you’re fired.”

      Jamie Hastings was the GM. What adult male calls himself Jamie anyhow unless his given name is Pee Wee or Soupy or Clarabell?

      1. KTWC Twice 103.5 was an attempt to bring back beautiful music-and big band. It lasted a year or so (1996?)
        As I recall, KLFFs big band format was revived around the same time with the remaining living personalities back on the air.
        That only lasted so long. I believe that AM station was sold off and may have gone to a religious or Spanish organization.

  1. It sounds like sour grapes, indignation and snobbery.

    The article quotes Jim French as saying, “I know that tastes change as we grow older. I feel confident many teenagers who devour the ersatz music of today, one day will reject it along with other interests of their adolescence.”

    W R O N G ! I’m sitting here right now listening to “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “I Wonder Why”, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, “Muskrat Love”, “Boney Moronie”, “Petite Fleur”, “Dim Dim the Lights”, “Calendar Girl”, “Transfusion”, “Seven Little Girls”, “Blue Monday”, “Sweet Talking Guy”, “Six Days on the Road”, “Little Bitty Pretty One”, “The Great Pretender”, “Party Doll” . . . great songs, great memories.

    It reminds me of Frank Pollock, with whom I worked at KLFF in Phoenix. Frank thought any music that wasn’t big band was garbage and refused to listen to it or even acknowledge its existence.

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