April 14, 1956 – Sixty-three years ago today, Alan Freed along with LaVerne Baker, Count Basie and Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers broadcast what was probably the first network Rock n’ Roll radio program nationwide. It premiered only three weeks earlier from CBS, Sponsored by Camel Cigarettes (yes, there was cigarette advertising then, going very strong). It was an attempt to try and put a finger on the pulse of teenage America by broadcasting a program of music made popular in the mainstream by disc jockey Alan Freed.
Although by no means the first or the only, Alan Freed managed to become one of the most visible- and even though his career was largely destroyed a few years later by the notorious Payola Scandal, Freed did more to promote early Rock n’ Roll to the mainstream than almost anyone else at the time.
This episode features Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers who were riding very high on a wave of popularity brought on by their debut release of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”, which was released in January of that year and they perform live here. Also on the show was R&B star LaVern Baker and the ever-popular Count Basie, which gives you an idea that the teenage Rock n’ Roll audience at the time had broader musical taste than one might imagine.
Sadly, CBS Radio dropped Freed’s show after a few months, owing to low ratings and affiliates balking. Although Rock n’ Roll was rapidly becoming a powerhouse in contemporary Popular music, it still had a long way to go convincing the mainstream (i.e. Adult) audience, who made up the bulk of Network radio’s listeners, that Rock n’ Roll was in fact here to stay.
But on this day in 1956 it was the sound of the future.