Happy Birthday, John Peel! A Salute to the World's Greatest Disc Jockeys
One of the first U.K. disc jockeys to play prog rock and the psychedelic sounds of the burgeoning late '60s English underground, Peel went on to promote punk, indie, alternative, hip-hop, dance, and metal music without regard for what other programmers seemed to favor. He also initiated a program called the Peel Sessions, which offered a preview of material that was recorded exclusively for his show. These sessions were later released on the Strange Fruit record label, an enterprise partially owned and operated by Peel himself. In addition, he founded Dandelion Records, an avenue for his production work and home for some of the more adventurous acts of early '70s British music.
In August 1967, he was recruited by BBC Radio 1, where he initiated the Night Ride program, playing music and interviews with artists from outside the fringes of the pop mainstream. Still, his programming choices often drew him into conflicts with the station's hierarchy, particularly when he began delving further and further into the punk movement that was springing up in the mid- to late '70s.
Indeed, his show and cult of personality became a mecca for many of the younger musicians of the day, and eventually he became a media star whose writings and pronouncements held sway over other tastemakers of the day. Peels' personal favorites tended to be equally esoteric, with the Fall, the White Stripes, the Undertones' anthem "Teenage Kicks," and the ironically dubbed the Misunderstood, an obscure '60s California band that he later managed, all perched at the top of his personal playlist.
Freed, also known by his radio name "Moondog," began as a disc jockey with a stint on WJW in Cleveland and was later propelled into the national spotlight on the nation's biggest powerhouse, WABC. He is credited by most music historians for championing such early rockers as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. Although he helped bring black music to the young white teenaged masses and starred in many of the budding rock 'n' roll movies of the era (chief among them, Rock Around the Clock), Freed's career was tainted after he was charged with accepting payola (a practice common among radio personalities who took cash and other gifts for playing certain records).
It was further damaged when he hosted a television dance show that captured young black singer Franke Lymon dancing with a white teenaged girl (Hairspray, anyone?). He subsequently suffered a humiliating downward spiral and eventually ended up working for a series of smaller stations, including a monthlong tenure on WQAM in Miami. He died a broken man in Palm Springs, California, in January 1965.
The self-proclaimed "Fifth Beatle," the former Murray Kaufman gained fame as a flamboyant showman throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s with his robust rock 'n' roll rants. However, he reached his peak of success after penetrating the Fab Four's inner circle during their initial trip to New York and subsequent American tour. He went on to introduce Bob Dylan when the musician went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 -- "It's not rock, it's not folk, it's Bob Dylan," he said at the time -- and successfully segued into the emerging FM radio realms. Later, Murray introduced a new type of television show that featured numerous pop stars of the day in a video format that prefigured MTV by a good decade and a half. Sadly, he succumbed to cancer in 1982.