Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Before Ed Sullivan, The Beatles Went Viral

As strange as it sounds, Beatlemania in America was jump-started by CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, a 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring, Maryland, and a disc jockey from Washington, D.C., according to author Bruce Spizer in a piece for the CBS website.

Cronkite’s decision to broadcast a report on The Beatles December 10,1963, triggered a domino effect causing Beatlemania to explode in America.

Watching CBS News that evening  was 15-year-old Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, Maryland.  She saw The Beatles performing “She Loves You” in Britain.  She loved it, writing a letter (no social media back then!) to her favorite radio station – Washington’s WWDC -- asking why can’t we have this music in America?

Disc jockey Carroll James, who had also seen the CBS News Beatles report, arranged to have a copy of their latest British hit single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” delivered to him by a flight attendant who worked for British airline BOAC.

Exactly one week after the CBS News story -- on December 17, 1963 -- James invited Marsha Albert  to introduce the song on his radio  show.  The station’s switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree with eager listeners phoning in to rave.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand” was immediately added to WWDC’s playlist and placed in heavy rotation. Next, disc jockeys in Chicago and St. Louis began playing a tape of the song.

Although Capitol Records was initially upset with this unauthorized playing of the song, it quickly realized it had a major hit on its hands. The song’s U.S. release date moved from January 13, 1964, to the day after Christmas 1963.  New York City’s  WMCA immediately picked it up, with rivals WABC and WINS following – all three stations placing the song in heavy rotation.

The same pattern was repeated throughout the nation.  Boosted by saturation airplay at a time when American teenagers were out of school for the holidays, “I Want  To Hold Your Hand” was an instant best-seller with over 250,000 copies sold in the first three days.  By January 10, 1964, Capitol had sold over one million units.

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