➦In 1940... the radio quiz program, “Take It or Leave It”, made its debut on CBS. Host Bob Hawk offered contestants a top prize of just $64. Hawk left in a salary dispute after the first year, and was succeeded by Phil Baker. Despite the tiny prize money by today’s standards the show was a bona fide hit and ran for 12 years, the last two as “The 64 Dollar Question” on NBC Radio. Jack Paar and Eddie Cantor also took a turn or two at being the quizmaster.
Alan Freed and Dick Clark both played important parts in the rise of rock ’n’ roll (Freed embodied the incendiary spirit of the music more than Clark, refusing to play white cover versions of black songs, such as Pat Boone’s “Tutti Frutti”). And though they both denied ever accepting payola, it’s almost impossible to imagine two young, popular jocks not succumbing to a little temptation. Guilty or not, it was Freed who ended up taking the fall for DJs everywhere.
Why did the committee single him out? Freed was abrasive. He consorted with black R&B musicians. He jive talked, smoked constantly and looked like an insomniac. Clark was squeaky clean, Brylcreemed, handsome and polite. At least on the surface. Once the grilling started, Freed’s friends and allies in broadcasting quickly deserted him. He refused—“on principle”—to sign an affidavit saying that he’d never accepted payola. WABC fired him, and he was charged with 26 counts of commercial bribery. Freed escaped with fines and a suspended jail sentence. He died five years later, broke and virtually forgotten.
Previous to the trial, Dick Clark had wisely divested himself of all incriminating connections (he had part ownership in seven indie labels, six publishers, three record distributors and two talent agencies). He got a slap on the wrist by Committee chairman Oren Harris, who called him “a fine young man.” As Clark told Rolling Stone in 1989, the lesson he learned from the payola trial was: “Protect your ass at all times.” Surprisingly candid words from the eternal teenager.
After Freed went down in 1960, Congress amended the Federal Communications Act to outlaw “under-the-table payments and require broadcasters to disclose if airplay for a song has been purchased.” Payola became a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to $10,000 in fines and one year in prison.
➦In 1970…Sportscaster Curt Gowdy received the George Foster Peabody Award for achievement in radio and television.
➦In 1982...the final episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” was telecast (after four seasons and 90 episodes). A new syndicated version of “WKRP” surfaced on September 1991 and ran for two seasons.
➦In 1998...actor/singer & radio-TV host Peter Lind Hayes died at age 82. He and his wife Mary Healey appeared together in latter day radio & early TV, and costarred in the 1960 sitcom Peter Loves Mary. Together they introduced the commercial jingle ‘See the USA in Your Chevrolet’ in 1950, two years before Dinah Shore made it her own.