Albert James "Alan" Freed (December 15, 1921 - January 20, 1965), also known as Moondog, was an American disc jockey. He became internationally known for promoting the mix of blues, country and rhythm and blues music on the radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll. His career was destroyed by the payola scandal that hit the broadcasting industry in the early 1960s.
Freed was born to a Russian-Jewish immigrant father, Charles S. Freed, and Welsh-American mother, Maude Palmer, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In 1933, Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio where Freed attended Salem High School, graduating in 1940. While Freed was in high school, he formed a band called the Sultans of Swing in which he played the trombone. Freed's initial ambition was to be a bandleader; however, an ear infection put an end to this dream.
While attending Ohio State University, Freed became interested in radio. Freed served in the Army during World War II and worked as a DJ on WKBN Armed Forces Radio. Soon after World War II, Freed landed broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations, including WKST (New Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in 1945, he became a local favorite for playing hot jazz and pop recordings. Freed enjoyed listening to these new styles because he liked the rhythms and tunes.
Freed is commonly referred to as the "father of rock'n'roll" due to his promotion of the style of music, and his introduction of the phrase "rock and roll", in reference to the musical genre, on mainstream radio in the early 1950s. He helped bridge the gap of segregation among young teenage Americans, presenting music by African-American artists (rather than cover versions by white artists) on his radio program, and arranging live concerts attended by racially mixed audiences. Freed appeared in several motion pictures as himself. In the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock, Freed tells the audience that "rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat."
In 1945 Alan Freed joined WAKR and became a local favorite, playing hot jazz and pop recordings. The radio Editor for the Akron Beacon Journal followed Freed and his "Request Review" 1 nightly program of dance. When he left the station, the non-compete clause in his contract limited his ability to find work elsewhere, and he was forced to take the graveyard shift at Cleveland's WJW radio where he eventually made history playing the music he called "Rock and Roll."
In the late 1940s, while working at WAKR (1590 AM) in Akron, Ohio, Freed met Cleveland record store owner Leo Mintz. Record Rendezvous was one of Cleveland's largest record stores, who had begun selling rhythm and blues records. Mintz told Freed that he had noticed increased interest in the records at his store, and encouraged him to play them on the radio. In 1951, Freed moved to Cleveland and, in April 1951, he was under a non-compete with WAKR, however through the help of William Shipley the RCA distributor in Northern Ohio, he was released from his non-compete and joined WJW radio on a midnight radio program sponsored by Main Line, the RCA Distributor and Record Rendezvous. Freed used an African-American accent and with a Rhythm and Blues record called "Moondog" as his theme song, broadcast R&B hits into the night,
Mintz proposed buying airtime on Cleveland radio station WJW (850 AM) to be devoted entirely to R&B recordings, with Freed as host. On July 11, 1951, Freed started playing rhythm and blues records on WJW. Freed called his show "The Moondog House" and billed himself as "The King of the Moondoggers". He had been inspired by an offbeat instrumental called "Moondog Symphony" that had been recorded by New York street musician Louis T. Hardin, aka "Moondog". Freed adopted the record as his show's theme music. His on-air manner was energetic, in contrast to many contemporary radio presenters of traditional pop music, who tended to sound more subdued and low-key in manner . He addressed his listeners as if they were all part of a make-believe kingdom of hipsters, united in their love for black music.
Later that year, Freed promoted dances and concerts featuring the music he was playing on the radio. He was one of the organizers of a five-act show called "The Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena. This event is known as the first rock and roll concert. Crowds attended in numbers far beyond the arena's capacity, and the concert was shut down early due to overcrowding and a near-riot. Freed gained a priceless notoriety from the incident. WJW immediately increased the airtime allotted to Freed's program, and his popularity soared.
In those days, Cleveland was considered by the music industry to be a "breakout" city, where national trends first appeared in a regional market. Freed's popularity made the pop music business sit up and take notice. Soon, tapes of Freed's program began to air in the New York City area.
Hardin, the original Moondog, later took a court action suit against the station WINS for damages against Freed for infringement in 1956, arguing prior claim to the name "Moondog", under which he had been composing since 1947. Hardin collected a $6,000 judgement from Freed, as well as him giving up further usage of the name Moondog.
WINS New York:
In 1954, following his success on the air in Cleveland, Freed moved to WINS (1010 AM) in New York City. The station eventually became an around-the-clock Top 40 rock and roll radio station, and would remain so until April 19, 1965--long after Freed left and three months after he had died-- when it became an all-news outlet. While in New York, Life magazine credited Freed as the originator of the rock 'n roll craze.
In 1956, Freed was introduced to European audiences through his appearances in a succession of "rock and roll" movies such as Rock Around The Clock, Don't Knock the Rock and other titles. That same year, while working for WINS in New York City, Freed began recording a weekly half-hour segment of the Radio Luxembourg show called Jamboree that was aired on Saturday nights at 9:30 P.M., Central European Time. The billing of his segment in the 208 magazine program guide described him as "the remarkable American disc-jockey whose programs in the States cause excitement to the fever pitch." Jamboree with Freed was heard throughout the British Isles and much of Europe via the powerful AM nighttime signal of Radio Luxembourg, and outside of Europe by a simultaneous relay via transmission on shortwave. Due to the strange effect that the ionosphere had on the sky wave signal of Radio Luxembourg, it sometimes was heard poorly in parts of southern England with extreme fading, but sounded like a local station in northern England cities such as Liverpool. The Beatles claim to have been influenced by Black artists such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, both of whom were promoted on Freed's radio shows. After trying other names including "Johnny and the Moondogs" the band was finally known as "The Beatles" after hearing "Alan Freed and The Moondog Show". Ringo Starr confirmed in an August 2011 radio interview that his first exposure to Elvis Presley and Little Richard was through this show. The recordings made by these artists were in turn promoted on sponsored shows paid for by the record labels that were also heard over Radio Luxembourg, which was the only commercial radio station heard in the United Kingdom until 1964.
WABC New York:
After departing from WINS, Freed for a time was employed in New York by WABC (770 AM) around 1958, about two years before it evolved into one of America's great Top 40 stations by launching its "Musicradio" format. At this time, WABC (unlike rocker WINS) was more of a full-service station which began implementing some music programming elements. Freed was employed at the station around the same time as another famous pioneering disc jockey who arose during a different era: Martin Block of WNEW 1130 AM--now WBBR--"Make Believe Ballroom" fame. Freed was fired by WABC (1959) during a dispute where he refused to sign a statement certifying that he had never accepted payola.
Film and television:
Freed also appeared in a number of pioneering rock and roll motion pictures during this period. These films were often welcomed with tremendous enthusiasm by teenagers because they brought visual depictions of their favorite American acts to the big screen, years before music videos would present the same sort of image on the small television screen. One side effect of these movies shown before mass audiences was that they sometimes presented an excuse for thugs to turn a fun event into a riot, in which cinemas in both West Germany and the United Kingdom were trashed.
Freed appeared in several motion pictures that presented many of the big musical acts of his day, including:
1956 - Rock Around the Clock featuring Freed, Bill Haley & His Comets, The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Lisa Gaye.,
1956 - Rock, Rock, Rock featuring Freed, Teddy Randazzo, Tuesday Weld (her first on-screen kiss by Teddy Randazzo), Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Johnny Burnette, LaVern Baker, The Flamingos, The Moonglows. Weld's vocal performance was dubbed by Connie Francis.,
1957 - Mister Rock and Roll featuring Freed, Rocky Graziano and Teddy Randazzo, Lionel Hampton, Ferlin Husky, Frankie Lymon, Little Richard, Brook Benton, Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker, Screamin' Jay Hawkins.,
1957 - Don't Knock the Rock featuring Freed, Bill Haley and His Comets, Alan Dale, Little Richard and the Upsetters, The Treniers, Dave Appell and His Applejacks.,
1959 - Go, Johnny Go! featuring Freed, Jimmy Clanton, Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, The Flamingos, Jackie Wilson, The Cadillacs, Sandy Stewart, Jo Ann Campbell, Harvey Fuqua and The Moonglows. Chuck Berry also played Freed's pal and sidekick, a groundbreaking role in those days.,
In 1957, Freed was given a weekly prime-time TV series, The Big Beat (which predated American Bandstand), on ABC, which was scheduled for a Summer run, with the understanding that if there were enough viewers, the show would continue into the 1957-58 television season. Although the ratings for the first three episodes were strong, the show was suddenly canceled after the fourth episode. During that episode, Frankie Lymon of Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, after performing his number, was seen dancing with a white girl from the studio audience. Reportedly, the incident offended the management of ABC's local affiliates in the southern states, and led to the show's immediate cancellation despite its growing popularity. During this period, Freed was seen on other popular programs of the day, including To Tell The Truth, where he is seen defending the new "rock and roll" sound to the panelists, who were all clearly more comfortable with swing music: Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, and Kitty Carlisle. (This episode was re-broadcast on Game Show Network on February 4 or 5, 2007, and also on April 23, 2007.)
Freed went on to host a local version of "Big Beat" over WNEW-TV New York until late 1959 when he was fired from the show after payola accusations against Freed surfaced.
Legal trouble, payola scandal:
In 1958, Freed faced controversy in Boston when he told the audience, "The police don't want you to have fun." As a result, Freed was arrested and charged with inciting to riot.
Freed's career ended when it was shown that he had accepted payola (payments from record companies to play specific records), a practice that was highly controversial at the time. There was also a conflict of interest, that he had taken songwriting co-credits (most notably on Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"), which entitled him to receive part of a song's royalties, which he could help increase by heavily promoting the record on his own program. However, Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows insisted Freed co-wrote "Sincerely".
Freed lost his own show on the radio station WABC; then he was fired from the station altogether on November 21, 1959. He also was fired from his television show (which for a time continued with a different host). In 1960, payola was made illegal. In 1962, Freed pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which he received a fine and a suspended sentence.
On August 22, 1943, Freed was married to Betty Lou Bean; both were 21 years old at the time. The couple had two children. A daughter; Alana Freed (deceased) and a son; Lance Freed. On December 2, 1949, the couple was divorced, with custody of the children awarded to Betty Lou Bean Freed (deceased). In 1950, Freed married again to Marjorie J. Hess (deceased). During this time, the couple had two children, Sieglinde Freed and Alan Freed, Jr. The marriage ended in 1958. In 1959, Freed married for a third time to Inga Lil Boling (deceased), to whom he stayed married until his death on January 20, 1965.
Later years and death:
Freed's punishment from the payola scandal was not severe. However, the side effects of negative publicity were such that no prestigious station would employ him, and he moved to the West Coast in 1960, where he worked at KDAY/1580 in Santa Monica, California. In 1962, after KDAY refused to allow him to promote "rock and roll" stage shows, Freed moved to WQAM in Miami, Florida, but that association lasted two months. During 1964, he returned to the Los Angeles area and worked at KNOB/97.9.
He died in a Palm Springs, California hospital on January 20, 1965 from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism. He was 43 years old. Freed was initially interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; his ashes were later moved to their present location in Cleveland, Ohio at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 21, 2002.
In 1978, a motion picture entitled American Hot Wax was released, which was inspired by Freed's contribution to the rock and roll scene. Although director Floyd Mutrux created a fictionalized account of Freed's last days in New York radio by utilizing real-life elements outside of their actual chronology, the film does accurately convey the fond relationship between Freed, the musicians he promoted, and the audiences who listened to them. The film starred Tim McIntire as Freed. Several notable personalities who would later become well-known celebrities starred in the movie, including Jay Leno and Fran Drescher. The film included cameo appearances by Chuck Berry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frankie Ford and Jerry Lee Lewis, performing in the recording studio and concert sequences.
On January 23, 1986, Freed was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was built in Cleveland in recognition of Freed's involvement in the promotion of the genre. In 1988, he was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. On December 10, 1991, Freed was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On February 26, 2002, Freed was honored at the Grammy Awards with the Trustees Award.
Freed was used as a character in Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes as an evil version of himself, who enthusiastically announces the names of deceased rock 'n' roll legends in You Know They Got a Hell of a Band as part of an upcoming concert to perform. He was portrayed by Mitchell Butel in the television adaptation on the Nightmares & Dreamscapes mini-series. The Cleveland Cavaliers' mascot Moondog is named in honor of Freed.
Freed is also mentioned in The Ramones' song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" as one of the band's idols in rock and roll ("Do you remember Murray the K/Alan Freed/and high energy?). Others to mention Freed include "Ballrooms of Mars" by Marc Bolan, "They Used to Call it Dope" by Public Enemy, "Payola Blues" by Neil Young, "Done Too Soon" by Neil Diamond, and "The Ballad of Dick Clark" by Skip Battin, a member of the Byrds. Archival samples of his broadcast are featured in Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks." "The King Of Rock n' Roll" is a song about Freed from Cashman & West on their 1973 ABC album Moondog Serenade.
Rock 'n' roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm. It's the rhythm that gets to the kids -- they're starved of music they can dance to, after all those years of crooners.
--NME - February 1956
Let's face it--rock 'n' roll is bigger than all of us.