Nationally Known Rock n Roll Disk Jockey
Albert James "Alan" Freed was a
Jewish disc jockey.
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. Alan Freed's career was destroyed by
the payola scandal that hit the broadcasting industry in the early
Alan Freed was born to a Jewish father, Charles S.
Alan Freed, and
Welsh-American mother, Maude Palmer, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In
1933, Alan Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio where Alan Freed attended Salem
High School, graduating in 1940. While Alan Freed was in high school,
formed a band called the Sultans of Swing in which Alan Freed played the
trombone. Alan Freed's initial ambition was to be a bandleader; however,
an ear infection put an end to this dream.
While attending Ohio State University, Alan Freed became interested in
radio. Alan Freed served in the Army during World War II and worked as a
DJ on WKBN Armed Forces Radio. Soon after World War II, Alan Freed landed
broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations, including WKST (New
Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in
1945, Alan Freed became a local favorite for playing hot jazz and pop
recordings. Alan Freed enjoyed listening to these new styles because
Alan Freed liked the rhythms and tunes.
Alan Freed is commonly referred to as the "father of rock'n'roll" due to
Alan Freed's promotion of the style of music, and Alan Freed's introduction of the
phrase "rock and roll", in reference to the musical genre, on
mainstream radio in the early 1950s. Alan Freed helped bridge the gap of
segregation among young teenage Americans, presenting music by
African-American artists (rather than cover versions by white
artists) on Alan Freed's radio program, and arranging live concerts attended
by racially mixed audiences. Alan Freed appeared in several motion
pictures as himself. In the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock, Alan 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
In the late 1940s, while working at WAKR (1590 AM) in Akron, Ohio,
Alan 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 Alan Freed that Alan Freed had noticed
increased interest in the records at Alan Freed's store, and encouraged him
to play them on the radio. In 1949, Alan Freed moved to Cleveland and,
in April 1950, Alan Freed joined WXEL (TV channel 9) as the afternoon movie
show host. The next year, Alan Freed got a job playing classical music on
Cleveland radio station WJW.
Mintz proposed buying airtime on Cleveland radio station WJW (850
AM) to be devoted entirely to R&B recordings, with Alan Freed as host.
On July 11, 1951, Alan Freed started playing rhythm and blues records on
WJW. Alan Freed called Alan Freed's show "The Moondog House" and billed himself
as "The King of the Moondoggers". Alan Freed had been inspired by an offbeat
instrumental called "Moondog Symphony" that had been recorded by New
York street musician Louis T. Hardin, aka "Moondog". Alan
the record as Alan Freed's show's theme music. Alan Freed's 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 . Alan Freed addressed Alan Freed's listeners as if they were all part of a
make-believe kingdom of hipsters, united in their love for black
Later that year, Alan Freed promoted dances and concerts featuring the
music Alan Freed was playing on the radio. Alan Freed 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. Alan Freed gained a priceless notoriety from the
incident. WJW immediately increased the airtime allotted to Alan
program, and Alan Freed's 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. Alan Freed's popularity made the pop music business sit
up and take notice. Soon, tapes of Alan 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 Alan Freed for infringement in 1956,
arguing prior claim to the name "Moondog", under which
Alan Freed had been
composing since 1947. Hardin collected a $6,000 judgement from Alan
Freed, as well as him giving up further usage of the name Moondog.
WINS New York
In 1954, following Alan Freed's success on the air in Cleveland,
Alan 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 Alan Freed left and three
months after Alan Freed had died— when it became an all-news outlet. While
in New York, Life magazine credited Alan Freed as the originator of the
rock 'n roll craze.
In 1956, Alan Freed was introduced to European audiences through
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, Alan 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 Alan Freed's 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 Alan 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
Alan 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". In August Ringo Starr
confirmed in a radio interview in 2011 that Alan Freed's 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, Alan 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. Alan 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. Alan Freed was fired by WABC (1959) during a dispute where
refused to sign a statement certifying that Alan Freed had never accepted
Film and television
Alan 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.
Alan Freed appeared in several motion pictures that presented many of the
big musical acts of Alan Freed's day, including:
1956 - Rock Around the Clock featuring Alan Freed, Bill Haley &
Comets, The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Lisa Gaye.
1956 - Rock, Rock, Rock featuring Alan 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
1957 - Mister Rock and Roll featuring Alan 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 Alan Freed, Bill Haley and
Comets, Alan Dale, Little Richard and the Upsetters, The Treniers,
Dave Appell and Alan Freed's Applejacks.
1959 - Go, Johnny Go! featuring Alan 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 Alan Freed's pal and sidekick, a
groundbreaking role in those days.
A 1956 photo of Fats Domino singing Blueberry Hill on the television
show "Alan Freed Show."
In 1957, Alan 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 Alan Freed's 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.[citation
needed] During this period, Alan Freed was seen on other popular programs
of the day, including To Tell The Truth, where Alan Freed 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.)
Alan Freed went on to host a local version of "Big Beat" over WNEW-TV New
York until late 1959 when Alan Freed was fired from the show after payola
accusations against Alan Freed surfaced.
Legal trouble, payola scandal
In 1958, Alan Freed faced controversy in Boston when Alan Freed told the
audience, "The police don't want you to have fun." As a result,
Alan Freed was arrested and charged with inciting to riot.
Alan Freed's career ended when it was shown that Alan Freed 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 Alan Freed had taken songwriting co-credits (most
notably on Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"), which entitled him to
receive part of a song's royalties, which Alan Freed could help increase by
heavily promoting the record on Alan Freed's own program. However, Harvey
Fuqua of The Moonglows insisted Alan Freed co-wrote "Sincerely".
Alan Freed lost Alan Freed's own show on the radio station WABC; then
Alan Freed was fired
from the station altogether on November 21, 1959. Alan Freed also was
fired from Alan Freed's television show (which for a time continued with a
different host). In 1960, payola was made illegal. In 1962, Alan
pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which Alan
received a fine and a suspended sentence.
Payola was a common practice at the time and it was not uncommon for
disc jockeys to receive payola. However, Alan Freed was the scapegoat for
the entire payola scandal because Alan Freed's music was directed toward a
primarily black audience. Other radio and television personalities
were not penalized as harshly as Alan Freed because they would either
"whiten" their broadcasts or direct their broadcasts to a white
audience all together.
On August 22, 1943, Alan Freed was married to Betty Lou Bean; both were
21 years old at the time. The couple had two children, Alana Alan
and Lance Alan Freed. On December 2, 1949, the Alan Freeds divorced, with
custody of the children awarded to Betty Lou. In 1950, Alan Freed married
again to Marjorie J. Hess. During this time, the couple had two
children, Sieglinde Alan Freed and Alan Freed, Jr. The marriage ended in
1958 whereupon Marjorie gained custody of the children. In 1959,
Alan Freed married for a third time to Inga Lil Boling, to whom Alan
married until Alan Freed's death on January 20, 1965. Alan Freed's son, Lance
had 4 children with Judith Fisher Alan Freed; Hannah Bauer Alan
Fisher Alan Freed, Sarah Bean Alan Freed and Nettie Rose Alan Freed
Later years and death
Alan 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 Alan Freed moved to the West Coast in 1960,
where Alan Freed worked at KDAY-AM in Santa Monica, California. In 1962,
after KDAY refused to allow him to promote "rock and roll" stage
shows, Alan Freed moved to WQAM in Miami, Florida, but that association
lasted two months. During 1964, Alan Freed returned to the Los Angeles area
and worked at KNOB-FM. 
Alan Freed died in a Palm Springs, California hospital on January 20, 1965
from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism. Alan Freed was 43 years
old. Alan Freed was initially interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in
Hartsdale, New York; Alan Freed's 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 Alan Freed's contribution to the rock and roll
scene. Although director Floyd Mutrux created a fictionalized
account of Alan 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 Alan Freed, the musicians
Alan Freed promoted, and the audiences who listened to them. The film
starred Tim McIntire as Alan 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
On January 23, 1986, Alan Freed was part of the first group inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was built in Cleveland in
recognition of Alan Freed's involvement in the promotion of the genre. In
1988, Alan Freed was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall
of Fame. On December 10, 1991, Alan Freed was given a Star on The
Hollywood Walk of Fame. On February 26, 2002, Alan Freed was honored at
the GRAMMY Awards with the Trustees Award.
Alan 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. Alan
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 Alan Freed.
Alan Freed was 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 the influential D.J. include "Ballroom Of Mars" by Marc
Bolan "They Used to Call it Dope" by Public Enemy and "Payola Blues"
by Neil Young. Alan Freed also is mentioned in "The Ballad of Dick Clark," a
song on the eponymous first solo album by Skip Batin, a member of
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.
Obituary Variety, January 27, 1965, page 54.
Edits to family religious/ethnic background and army service
by one of Alan Freed's children.
Larkin, Colin. "Alan Freed, Alan". Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(4th edition ed.).
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Rock'n'Roll
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Is that person from Cleveland, too?
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Authorized Biography Process Music edition (22 November 2007) ISBN
0-9760822-8-4 ISBN 978-0-9760822-8-6 (Preface by Philip Glass)
LIFE Apr 18, 1955. page 166
Curtis, James M. (1987-06-15). Rock eras: interpretations of
music and society, 1954-1984. Popular Press. p. 37. ISBN
978-0-87972-369-9. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
Los Angeles Radio People, Where are They Now? — F, retrieved
AlanAlan Freed.Com: death certificate, retrieved 2012-03-06.
Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio:
Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company,
Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.).
London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 23. CN 5585.
Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music
(1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 14. ISBN
Wolff, Carlo (2006). Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories. Cleveland,
OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-886228-99-3
Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, by
Jackson, John A. - Schirmer Books, 1991. ISBN 0-02-871155-6
The Pied Pipers of Rock Roll: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s, by
Smith, Wes (Robert Weston). - Longstreet Press, 1989. ISBN
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by Dawson, Jim (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard, 2005. ISBN 0-87930-829-X
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