New York DJ Murray "the K" became famous for his association with the Beatles and for spearheading a popular series of rock 'n' roll shows showcasing some of the 1960s' best musical talent.
Murray Kaufman was born on Valentine's Day, 1922, in New York. The only child's mother and aunt were vaudevillians who provided the show business connection for Kaufman to appear as an extra in several Hollywood movies of the '30s.
He attended a military boarding school as an adolescent and coordinated entertainment for the troops during his stint in the Army. Once back to civilian life, Kaufman organized shows for resort hotels in New York's Catskill Mountains.
In Manhattan, Kaufman held jobs in advertising and music promotion and hyped songs for singer Bob Merrill, including "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" In 1953, Kaufman began producing late-night radio interview shows hosted by personalities of the era such as Eva Gabor and Virginia Graham.
Kaufman soon graduated to hosting a nightly show of his own, which was frequently co-hosted by his wife, on WMCA Radio. During this period, Kaufman was named president of the National Conference of Disk Jockeys, which aimed to improve the image of broadcasters who catered to a young listening audience. "American Bandstand" host Dick Clark was a member of the conference's executive board.
In the late '50s, as overnight host of WINS' "Swinging Soiree," Kaufman built a youth following, with his enthusiastic demeanor and his embrace of rock. He soon replaced famed prime-time DJ Alan Freed, who was accused of accepting payola. Because of WINS' 50,000-watt clear channeling, Kaufman was often heard as far from New York as Toronto and Washington, D.C.
A born showman, Murray capitalized on his key time slot by broadcasting from the streets, subways and Air Force jets. He also hosted the day's biggest rock bands at movie theaters and served as master of ceremonies for the four-times-a-year rock 'n' roll shows at Brooklyn's Fox Theatre. Kaufman courted controversy at the time by showcasing many black and Latino artists.
Kaufman's popularity reached its zenith when he became the unofficial U.S. spokesperson for the Beatles during their initial visits to the States. The DJ had been recommended to Beatles manager Brian Epstein by U.S. recording artists who toured with the the group in England, saying that hooking the Fab Four up with Kaufman would help them break into New York and the rest of the country.
The Beatles allowed Murray "the K" to broadcast from their hotel rooms and many of their first shows at various U.S. venues, including New York's Carnegie Hall, as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (RealAudio excerpt) shot to #1 in the U.S. Kaufman even appeared in the Beatles' 1965 film "Help!"
The U.S. government enlisted Kaufman to host a national radio program ("It's What's Happening, Baby") aimed at informing inner-city youth about jobs.
In an abandoned airplane hangar at Long Island's Roosevelt Field, Kaufman created "Murray the K's World," a multimedia discotheque that combined live and recorded music with projected slides and film.
In the mid-'60s, in New York, Kaufman also hosted a series of all-day shows that provided U.S. debuts for groups such as the Who and Cream.
As the top-40 radio format (which Kaufman felt was too restrictive) took over, WINS switched to an all-talk format. Kaufman moved to the FM dial, where he helped originate progressive rock radio at WOR by playing album cuts, including many by Bob Dylan. Within a year, the station switched to oldies, and Kaufman angered radio execs by springing their decision on the public before its official announcement.
In the early '70s, Kaufman hosted a national show on NBC Monitor Radio. At around the same time, he began his battle with cancer. In 1975 he quit his last job in radio, at WKTU-FM, to serve as consultant to the Broadway hit "Beatlemania."
Kaufman then moved to the West Coast to be with his sixth wife, "General Hospital" star Jackie Zeman. There, he hosted the syndicated "Soundtrack to the '60s," which was heard in markets as distant as Australia.
Having succumbed to cancer, Kaufman died in Los Angeles on February 21, 1982. Aside from his Beatles connection, he will be remembered in radio annals as the man who brought wild sound effects including screeching car brakes and bugle calls to the air, invigorating a flagging genre in the process.
"The fifth Beatle" (a term also later applied for different reasons to producer George Martin, Yoko Ono and others) was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, part of Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications, on Oct. 19, 1997.
Other birthdays on Monday: Eric Andersen, 57; Vic Briggs (Animals), 55; Roger Fisher (ex-Heart), 50; Ice-T, 41; and Tim Buckley 19471975.