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THE COVERT WAR AGAINST ROCK -- CHAPTER TWO

TIME MACHINE:  THE BIRTH OF TOP 40 RADIO AND ALAN FREED'S NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE (EARLY CIA, AND MOB INFLUENCES ON THE ROCK MUSIC INDUSTRY)

The Mafia was to be enlisted for the covert war against the counterculture, an incarnation of Operation Underworld (the WWII-era alliance between the military and the Mob to sabotage the Italians under Mussolini) on the domestic front, a natural since gangsters already dominated much of the popular music industry "The music business," Albert Goldman acknowledged in 1989, "has always been a dirty business with strong ties to organized crime and a long tradition of corrupting the media. One of the dangers that researchers in this field run is that they will stumble across something that will alarm the crooks, who are paranoid from the jump." Goldman reported that the lesson was driven home when Linda Kuehl, a friend writing a book on the life of Billie Holiday, was killed in Washington, D.C. by a plummet  from the terrace of her hotel room. Goldman phoned police and learned that they had ruled suicide out as the motive (she'd been cleaning her face with cold cream when she fell). He also "learned that she had been running scared because she was getting calls from strangers who kept admonishing her, 'Why don't you just write about the music?"' [1]

In the mid-'60s, CHAOS officials and the Mob both eyed the rising tide of political rock music askance. Each had an incentive for exercising control over the industry. The CIA was in the business of  decimating the New Left and popular music had, in the wink of a half-note, been transformed into a viper pit of long-haired "communards" screaming for revolution and an end to the war in Vietnam.  The Mafia, of course, wanted more constrictive financial control over  the recording industry, the artists it signed, everything from production to distribution.

It's not as though these two powerful entities, the CIA and organized crime, were unknown to the industry. Top 40, the reigning broadcast format in America, owes its very existence to the NSC-CIA-Mafia combination.

In the beginning there was Morris Levy. Morris began his career as an appendage of the Genovese Family and rapidly rose through the ranks. He was enlisted by the Mob as a juke box promoter in the 1940s. His brother was gunned down by business rivals who mistook him for Morris -- who lived to become one of the most feared men in the business. He was the owner of the famous Birdland jazz club in New York City, and a partner, with George Goldner, a seedy record  promoter, for the Rama label (home of R&B doo-wop group The Crows) and a subsidiary, Gee Records (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, The Regents). [2] These labels and further subsidiaries (Roulette, End) pumped out apolitical bubblegum (Tommy James, Little Anthony, The Shangri-Las) through the 1960s.

Gee Records was founded by Levy and Goldner specifically to draw in Alan Freed, then a rising R&B concert promoter in Cleveland (he oversold one concert and thereby incited the first rock 'n' roll riot), to New York. Freed was hired at Gee in the Fall of 1954 to work his promotional genius, and from the gun he and Goldner were close allies. Levy did not entirely trust his new partner, however, and schemed to bring him under control, eventually arranging a meeting in which Alan Freed -- drunk at the time -- was convinced to sell his share of the label to Levy. The Mafioso now had a controlling interest in the company, one of the first to enter the rock 'n' roll market.

John Elroy McCaw, another early kingpin in the genre, was also instrumental in bringing Alan Freed to New York. McCaw was a veteran of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of  the CIA. After the war, McCaw bought a New York radio station, WINS at Seven Central Park West, and geared the station's programming to hockey and basketball games. But by the early 1950s, the station pioneered the very first disk jock format, twenty-five minutes of Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence and other popular crooners of the day, followed by five minutes of news. It soon became clear to the programming directors at WINS that the jock was the radio personality of the future. When Freed arrived in New York, he found himself in the historically unprecedented position of shaping not only the music youth would dance to (under Mafia control), but the medium that delivered it, as well (at a station run by a veteran intelligence agent).

Freed, at a starting salary of $75,000, was expected to boost the ratings, and toward this end he had no use for Perry Como. Rick Sklar, then an apprentice copywriter and producer, reports that when Freed arrived in New York, along with him "came hundreds of 45-RPM singles that he piled helter-skelter in an old five-shelf supply cabinet in our office. That chaotic, uncatalogued collection would become the most influential record library in commercial radio, imitated by stations everywhere. It would change the sound of popular music in America and the world for generations."

The WINS jocks couldn't know that in ten years time the invention of rock radio would inspire a subculture of anti-war activists and  flag-burning bohemians to "tune in." Dissent inevitably died with a drugged whimper. Drugs would enter the equation of music plus youth with the politics of heroin and LSD.  Hallucinogens fragged organized resistance to the war, but they were only one of many dubious contributions the Agency has made to American culture.  Strains of drugged hedonism found their way to Top 40 radio with tambourine men peddling magic swirling trips, pink-eyed adolescents wringing their hands at mother's little helpers. The surf wave of  Top 40 radio was transformed into a spawning ground of counter-cultural self-medication, and with the escalation of the Vietnam War, quasi-Marxist politics infused with strains of mystical idealism.

JOHN ELROY MCCAW, A SCION OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DURING THE EISENHOWER REGIME AND THE PROPRIETOR OF WINS IN NEW YORK, THE ORIGINATOR OF THE 'HIT PARADE.' FORMAT. MCCAW TOOK OVER THE STATION WITH A MEAGER DOWN PAYMENT, PAID A TOTAL OF  $450.000 FOR IT, AND THE NEXT DECADE SOLD WINS FOR $10 MILLION, THEN A RECORD BUY-OUT  FOR A RADIO STATION

Ironically, "Top 40," the pied piper of rebellion, owes its very existence to McCaw, Alan Freed's boss, the entrepreneurial brains behind "big beat" radio and an old covert warrior at ease in the closed chambers of Washington's national security "elite". "Elroy's government contacts were extensive," writes Sklar. "He had maintained many of his OSS connections  after the war and was quite prob-ably still engaged in government intelligence work during the time that he owned WINS. McCaw associates tell of saying good-bye to him in New York, with plans to meet him in Chicago the next day, only to have McCaw call from Cairo and cancel the meeting ... He was a member of the Advisory Council of the National Security Council, placed there, along with other key industry figures, by his old boss, Air Force General Hap Arnold." [4] Elroy McCaw was the "unauthorized civilian" whose inadvertent admission to an NSC meeting at the White House,  chaired by John F. Kennedy -- who had never met the man and thought him an intruder -- caused a press furor in 1961. (The NSC and General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold commanding general of US Army Air Forces during WWII, both played  significant roles in seeding the prevailing Cold War culture. The NSC was patterned after Hitler's security council, and its jurisdiction was to oversee the CIA by dictate of the National Security Act of 1947. [5] McCaw was therefore instrumental in determining CIA policy.)

The yawping, warbling, mind-numbing repetitions of Top 40 radio were given trial runs first in Omaha, Kansas City and New Orleans. The format was fine-tuned at WINS under McCaw, and the radio industry would never be the same. "WINS hit the air in September of 1957," Sklar recalls, "with sharp jingles, screaming contests and promotions, and Top 40 music. The city had never heard anything like it." The jocks had personalities, an unprecedented development. "News was introduced with ear-splitting sensationalist effects ... A different sound was played each hour. One newscast would be introduced by a woman screaming, another by a fire engine siren, and still another by the sound of machine guns." [6]

The station lured more listeners than any other radio station in New York within a month of breaking out the hit parade format. But corruption thrived behind the DJs mindless bluster, whistles and the latest "Pick Hit of the Week."

Alan Freed, the godfather of hit radio, was scapegoated by Orrin Hatch's House Legislative Oversight subcommittee probe of payola in 1959. He was also very nearly a target of assassination the year before. In 1958, McCaw called Freed into the WINS owner's office and announced his intention to fire him. The DJ was so shocked that he canceled a concert and spent the entire day pleading for his job.  Freed was still in McCaw's office when a rock promoter, enraged by the sudden cancellation, exploded through the rear entrance to the radio station, gun in hand, searching for Freed. Sklar's pregnant wife, Sydelle, and Inga Freed were standing at the Coca-Cola machine.  They immediately bolted into the record library and locked the door behind them. The gunman was unable to find Freed, who was still pleading with McCaw in the latter's office, and stomped out of the station in a cloud of disgust. [7]

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Notes:

1. Albert Goldman, "Rock's Greatest Hitman," Penthouse, September 1989, p 222.

2. Marc Eliot, Rockonomics: The Money Behind the Music, New York. Citadel, 1989, pp 47-48.

3. Rick Sklar, Rocking America: How the Al1-Hit Radio Stations Took Over, New York, St Martin's, 1984, pp 11, 17 and 19.

4. Sklar, p 54 John E. McCaw died in 1969. He sired four sons, including Craig McCaw, who has been as influential in the molding of media and culture as his spook father. McCaw, Jr. entered the cable industry early. A Craig McCaw timeline: 1973: Craig takes over the daily operation of a small cable television operation in Centralia owned by him and his three brothers. 1974: The company enters the radio common carrier (paging) industry. 1982: The company is granted spectrum licenses made available by the FCC. 1986: The company buys out MCI's cellular and paging operations. 1987: Deciding to invest heavily in the emerging wireless industry, the company sells its cable holdings. 1990: McCaw Cellular purchases 52 percent of LIN Broadcasting stock -- LIN owned interests in five of the top ten cellular markets. 1991: McCaw initiates an upgrade of its systems from analog to digital. 1992: The Wireless Data Division contracts with UPS to track packages throughout the US.  1994: McCaw merges with AT&T (Source 1995 AT&T press release).  The latest Forbes Four Hundred report notes that in 1994, the McCaw  family "agreed to invest up to $1.1 billion in Nextel Communications." All four brothers are exceedingly wealthy.  Bruce R McCaw, Forbes reports, is  worth $800 million; Keith W. McCaw, $775 million; John Elroy McCaw, Jr., $750 million.

5. Mae Brussell, "Why is the Senate Watergate Committee Functioning as Part of the Cover-Up," Realist, August 1971, p 22 .After WWII, a Nazi base was established in the Caribbean. The NSC, "patterned from German intelligence, provided the espionage framework inside the White House for our political assassinations as well as the Watergate 'Plumbers' and election manipulations."

6. Sklar, p. 28.

7. Sklar, p 46.

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