February 12, 2017

The Beatles' first American concert

Sam Smith - Fifty four years ago on February 11, the Beatles played their first American concert to an audience of 9000 at the Washington DC Coliseum. WWDC, where I had been a news reporter several years earlier, played a major role in this as I have written:

"Between about a dozen commercials every half hour, WWDC played its songlist, inserting more traditional music after every third or fourth current hit. Although such programming clearly pleased the audience, surveys confirmed what some observers suspected, namely that the new radio was appealing to an easily influenced but small segment of the population: the record-buying teenager. Stations thus were not only deceiving themselves but their advertisers since sponsors were trying to sell things a teenager would never buy. Someone described radio at the time as 'a bunch of 12-year-olds trying to keep up with a 14-year-old audience.'"

Three years after I left the station that description fell apart. As Beatles Again explains:
|||| 15-year-old Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, MD, viewed The Beatles performing "She Loves You" on the CBS news and like what she saw and heard. Marsh wrote a letter to her favorite radio station, WWDC, referring to The Beatles' appearance on the news and asking, "Why can't we have this music in America?" DJ Carroll James, who also had seen The Beatles on the news, arranged to have a copy of the group's latest British single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand", delivered to him by the BOAC airline.

On Dec. 17, 1963, exactly one week after the CBS broadcast, James had Marsha Albert come down to the station to introduce the song on his radio show.. . According to James, the station's switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree with eager listeners phoning in to praise the song. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was immediately added to WWDC's playlist and placed in heavy rotation.

It didn't take long for Capitol to learn that a Washington station had jumped the gun by playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" four weeks prior to its scheduled release date of Jan. 13, 1964. Capitol telephoned WWDC and requested that the single be pulled off the air, but the station refused. Capitol then hired New York entertainment attorney Walter Hofer, who represented Epstein, The Beatles and the song's publisher, to contact the station and demand that WWDC "cease and desist" playing the song. According to Hofer, James told him, "Look, you can't stop me from playing it. The record is a hit. It's a major thing."

Realizing that they could not stop WWDC from playing the record and believing that this was an isolated incident that would not spread elsewhere, Capitol decided to press a few thousand copies of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to send to the Washington area. |||||
More on radio in those days

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