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Alan Freed or "Moondog" was a notable DJ. He coined the phrase "Rock and Roll". He once said: "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." Freed promoted dances and concerts featuring the music he was playing on the radio. Freed’s popularity made the pop music business sit up and take notice. Life magazine credited Freed as the originator of the rock ‘n roll craze.
Freed had his share of controversy. Freed, during a "Rock and Roll" show in Boston told the audience, "The police don’t want you to have fun." As a result, Freed was arrested and charged with inciting to riot. 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.
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.
Freed lost his own show on the radio station WABC; then he was fired from the station altogether. 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.
Although the punishment handed down to Freed was not severe, 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-AM in Santa Monica, CA.. In 1962, after KDAY refused to allow him to promote "rock and roll" stage shows, Freed moved to WQAM in Miami, FL., but that association lasted two months.
He died in a Palm Springs, CA. hospital in 1965 from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism. He was 43 years old.
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