Widely acknowledged as the man who gave our music the name, "rock 'n' roll," with it, Alan Freed also gave us the gift of the most powerful and long-lasting, unifying force of any single generation in history. He came to New York City from Cleveland and began broadcasting there on 1010 WINS AM radio on September 7, 1954.1  Within weeks, he was the dominant force on radio there, attracting a huge, racially mixed, youthful audience and, although he inspired many imitators, Alan Freed almost single-handedly brought radio back from the near dead.

Known for his rapid-fire delivery, for his endless dedications like those from February 1955 that you should be hearing now (you would think from this that every teenage kid in New York City must have been Italian), and sometimes pounding on a telephone book or ringing a cowbell to keep the beat, Freed continually referred to our then brand new, youth-oriented music as the "Big Beat in Popular Music."  He has always been given the credit he deserves for doing more than anyone to promote and popularize the music that changed the world, music that he truly loved, our music. He did it not so much because of his radio popularity (which was local, of course) but, in part, through his 1957 nationally broadcast, albeit short-lived (it was cancelled days before the national debut of "American Bandstand"2), TV show on the ABC network, "The Big Beat,"  later broadcast locally in New York on WNEW-TV, through his live rock 'n' roll stage shows, some that traveled to other cities and others that attracted lots of tourists in New York City, but mainly through five movies released in 1956-1959, beginning with Rock Around the Clock, in all of which he played himself, the only adult who understood the teenagers and their (no, our) new music.  

It was only much later, though, that he was also widely recognized for his enormous role in what was soon to become known as the civil rights movement in our country. He was not just a hero and champion to the youth of America, both black and white, but he also opened doors to scores, maybe hundreds, of black performers and songwriters who, mainly because of Freed, now had opportunities to share their talents with the world and to make a decent living in the recorded music business. It has been said (by Little Anthony, when interviewed in the 2020 musical documentary, Streetlight Harmonies (click on trailers)) that his best friend, Frankie Lymon, was the Jackie Robinson of popular music. Whether that is so or not, Alan Freed was surely its Branch Rickey, the brave Brooklyn Dodger manager who enabled Jackie Robinson to "break the color line" in 1947 and take his place in major league baseball and civil rights history forever.

Freed was most closely associated with 1010 WINS, which he helped to dominate the New York airwaves beginning in 1954 but was there only 4 years during which time he accomplished almost all he ever would. His career was fraught with legal and other difficulties including a 1958 arrest in Boston for inciting a riot with one of his live rock 'n' roll stage shows (although the charge that was subsequently dropped, it nevertheless resulted in his being fired that year from WINS) and, ultimately, relentless persecution from the so-called "payola" hearings in congress, which caused him to be fired again in 1959 for standing up for his principles in that regard, this time by 770 WABC. (And at the time, the pejoratively-termed "payola" was, in fact,  a perfectly legal, common industry practice, always done openly, until 1960.) But despite all these obstacles, he remained still optimistic when, on November 21, 1959, he said what would be his final New York on-air radio farewell (you can hear it by clicking below) to his loyal music business supporters and fans upon leaving WABC. Freed said, ironically, "This is not goodbye; it's just goodnight, and we'll see you soon."

Sadly and alas, however, it was goodbye. Alan Freed's last appearance on New York TV (WNEW) was six days later on November 27, 1959. The '50s were over. Alan Freed never worked again on New York radio or TV. Tragically, the father of rock 'n' roll music died little more than five years later on January 20, 1965, heartbroken, penniless and alcoholic. He was only 43.

But we had him every night for little more than five years, coincidentally, almost exactly the same period of time that the class of 1960 spent every day together as such. More than anyone else, he helped bind us together forever with our music, and so he was a part of us and, after 50 years have passed, that is why (and how) we remember him and why we honor his memory.

Alan Freed's memory has also been honored, and the importance of his achievements during his all-too-brief career acknowledged, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (an original inductee, 1986), the Radio Hall of Fame (1988) and on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1991).


Click below for more memorable Alan Freed airchecks (audio clips):

 Freed's 1955 negative remarks on WINS about the promotion of the movie, Blackboard Jungle3
 A 1958 interview with Buddy Holly on WNEW-TV. (Prophetically, they discussed flying.)
 Freed's final farewell to his loyal radio fans and other supporters, WABC, November 21, 1959

Click the back button to return to this page.



Reported incorrectly on some other websites as September 6th or 8th


ABC-TV immediately cancelled "The  Big Beat" primarily as a response to southern protests received when Frankie Lymon was caught on camera dancing with a white girl.


At the time, Freed never realized how Blackboard Jungle would rapidly propel rock 'n' roll, and Freed's career, to the position of prominence in the music business that both would soon enjoy while ironically, it simultaneously focused blame for juvenile delinquency squarely on our music.

Murray "the K" Kaufman and his "Swingin' Soiree"

Jocko and his "Rocket Ship Show" "the hottest show on the radio"


Use your BACK button to return to wherever you were.
     (or to repeat the music)

TO 1960Sailors HOME PAGE

Copyright 2000-2021 by Howard B. Levy and 1960 Sailors Association Inc. All rights reserved.