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Books and Shit

Legendary DJ Alan Freed Received a Strange Form of Payola

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Thu, May 2, 2013 at 3:45 AM

click to enlarge Alan Freed - FLICKR/DAVE ROBINETTE
Henry Stone is one of those legends in the music biz; he ran ventures including the mega-successful, disco-heavy TK Records (responsible for KC & The Sunshine Band and many more), and helped pioneer the way popular music is distributed and promoted. Hint: In all the sleazy ways you can imagine.

In any case, he's now 91, has squandered most of his fortune, and has a billion stories. Many are collected in his new book, The Stone Cold Truth on Payola In The Music Biz, co-written with Miami New Times scribe Jacob Katel. The below excerpt focuses on Alan Freed, the legendary DJ whose career included stints at Los Angeles stations including KDAY, before he was brought down by the '60s era payola scandal.

From The Stone Cold Truth on Payola In The Music Biz, by Henry Stone:

In the mid-to-late '50s there were three big disc jockeys in this country. There was Alan Freed in New York, Dick Clark In Philadelphia, and Bob Green in Miami. These three controlled all the hit records of the independents, and the majors too, 'cause there weren't that many big hits on the majors at that time, it was all the independents.

I had a lot of influence on the Dick Clark and Alan Freed playlists in Philly and New York. See, we had like a network set up for national airplay, and Miami was one of the most important markets in the country because basically I totally controlled it. The best record distributors in the country were the ones who controlled radio in their market.

When you hear the word payola, the name you hear most is Alan Freed, the New York disc jockey who they made the patsy for the whole thing. Freed is the guy who took the fall for everybody. My buddy Morris Levy managed Freed's career up there in New York, told him what to play and when to play it, where to go and what to do.

I directed the career of a disc jockey in Miami by the name of Bob Green. We became real tight. I told him what to play and he played it. And while he was playing all these great records, he became the number one disc jockey down here. I never had to pay Bob to play anything on the radio. He used to like steak and eggs three times a day, that's it. I had all the best records and he was happy to play them because it made him look good to do it. Me and Morris had DJs, and we managed their shit. Bottom line. We took care of it. So when everything went bust with the payola scandal, I got a call from Morris who says, "Henry, can you put Alan Freed up and get him a job in Miami?" So I got him a place here in Morton Towers, on the beach.

Steve Alaimo, the famous singer (and later my VP at TK Productions), had an apartment, so I gave Alan Freed an apartment there and got him a job at the pop radio station WQAM for about a year. And you know, he didn't do as well as he did in New York. He was drinking heavy. I used to send him up a case of Scotch a week. He used to beat the shit out of his wife. Then he moved to Palm Springs and drank himself to death.

When they had the big payola bust, that was a big thing man. They tried to bust Dick Clark too, but he got out of it. He worked his way out. He had a lot of songwriting credits for songs he didn't write registered through his publishing company and record label Swan, but he sold off all his association with it before they could nail him for it. See, as a big disc jockey, having a label and publishing gave him a hell of a reason to play certain records. Cause songwriters get paid every time their records get played on radio, and label guys collect on record sales, which radio play pushes. Dick Clark ended up moving out to Hollywood, and Steve Alaimo went out there and hosted a big show for him called Where The Action Is.

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