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Alan Freed: The Man who Gave Cleveland "Rock and Roll"

By

Alan Freed

Alan Freed

(WABC press photo)
Alan Freed wasn't born in Cleveland, but he left his mark there. A popular radio announcer during the 1950s, Freed coined the term "Rock and Roll" to describe the music he played--songs by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and other similar artists.

Early Life:

Alan Freed was born in 1921 in Windber, PA. His family moved to Salem, Ohio, in Columbiana County when he was young and Freed graduated from Salem High School. Even as a boy, he had an interest in music, playing the trombone in a high school swing band.

After High School, Freed turned to radio and worked for a number of regional stations, including WKST in New Castle (PA), WKBN in Youngstown, and WAKR in Akron.

Alan Freed and Cleveland Radio:

Freed moved to Cleveland in 1950, accepted a position as the afternoon movie host for WXEL-TV (channel 19). Noticing how Cleveland record buyers were enjoying recent R&B releases, Freed, with the backing of record store owner Leo Mintz, launched the "Moondog Rock Roll House Party" in the evenings on WJW-AM radio. The show was a hit.

"Rock and Roll":

Although Freed wasn't the first DJ to play "rock and roll" music, he was the first one to label it as such, as early as 1951. The name stuck.

The Moondog Coronation Ball:

With Leo Mintz, Freed hosted a concert at the Cleveland Arena on March 21, 1952. It is widely believed to be the first "Rock and Roll" concert. Unfortunately, the promoters sold many more tickets than the arena would hold and the concert was shut down by the authorities after just the first song.

Today, the memory of the (good parts) of the Moondog Coronation Ball are kept alive with a concert/party, held in Cleveland each March 21.

After Cleveland:

The Moondog concert fiasco ended Freed's Cleveland radio career. After that he moved to New York City and held positions at WINS and WABC radio.

Scandal:

Freed, like many DJ of the era, got caught up in the "payola" scandal of 1959 and 1960, eventually pleading guilty to two counts of commercial bribery and being fined $300.

Alan Freed's Later Life:

Freed's career never recovered from the payola scandal. He bounced around among radio stations in Santa Monica, Miami, and Palm Springs, but never found a home.

In 1965, Freed died from complications of his alcoholism. He was buried in upstate New York. In 2002, Freed's ashes were moved to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where they are interred in an undisclosed location.

(updated 10-19-12)

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