Friday, March 30, 2012

Who Played The First Beatles Record In America? ... An Update

Is it REALLY the TENTH ANNIVERSARY of our landmark Beatles series? 

Wow!  Funny ... 'cause in some ways it seems SO much longer ... and in others it seems hard to believe that ten years have gone by.

A few weeks back we told you about a posting that FH Reader (and researcher) Randy Price found online, posted by a listener to WIBG in Philadelphia who says he heard "Please Please Me" played in February of 1963 on the station.  That puts us right around the same time frame as our findings for Dick Biondi first airing the song on WLS here in Chicago.
After a couple of months of trying to track this guy down for more details, we FINALLY heard back from Alex McNeil today ... here's a copy of his email ...

Hello Kent -
I just saw the message Randy had sent me on the BSNPubs web site (even though he sent it to me two months ago); he had relayed to you my posting that "Please Please Me" had been played on Philadelphia's WIBG sometime in February, 1963.  Let me add some more info.

First, I'm awfully glad I saved my Top 99 lists!  I use them quite a bit.  I host the Friday edition of "Lost and Found" on WMBR-FM, 88.1, Cambridge MA//  The show runs weekdays from noon to 2, and we play lesser known music of the 60s and 70s, with a different host each day.  The show has been a feature of WMBR (which is owned by MIT) for about 30 years now.  As per the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act, shows are archived for two weeks on the web site.

At the time, the Top 99 lists were compiled weekly, but published biweekly and distributed to record stores.  I believe they were actually delivered to the stores on the "Effective Monday" date of each list, so the Feb. 11 list would have been available on Monday, February 11.  I always enjoyed checking off all the listed songs that I had heard.  Knowing that WIBG would play new records a week or two before listing them, I frequently jotted down the names of new artists or titles on the back of the current survey, and then checked my jottings against the records that would be listed for the first time on the next survey, or sometimes on the one after that.

So, on the back of the February 11 survey, I wrote down about 40 artists or titles, of which "Please Please Me" is the last one, which suggests it was played late in the week of February 18, perhaps Friday, Feb. 22.  [I doubt it would have been played on Sunday, Feb. 24, because WIBG had religious programming until 2 PM, current music from 2-7, then Hy Lit's oldies show from 7 to midnight.]  I wrote down the title, rather than the artist, probably because the artist name was new to me and I didn't recognize it (or possibly because I didn't hear the entire song).  Immediately above "Please Please Me" are such artists as Patti Page, Jay and the Americans (whose "Strangers Tomorrow" made the Feb. 25 Top 99 list), the Dutones ("The Bird" made the Feb. 25 Top 99), Jerry Butler ("You Won't Be Sorry" is on the March 11 Top 99), Earl Grant (whose "Yes Siree" made the Feb. 25 Top 99), and Johnny Thunder ("The Rosey Dance" is on the March 11 Top 99).

"Please Please Me" was again played on WIBG, because I jotted down "The Beattles" on the back of the February 25 list, this time near the top.  That suggests I heard "Please Please Me" again early in the week of February 25.  The "Beattles" are listed just below the Duprees ("Gone with the Wind" made the March 11 Top 99), the Appalachians, and Timi Yuro ("Insult to Injury" is on the March 11 Top 99).

I have to confess I have no specific memory of actually hearing "Please Please Me" at the time, nor do I have a specific memory of hearing "She Loves You" in the fall of 1963, even though I checked it off on the Top 99.  My earliest actual memory of the Beatles is seeing a "The Beatles Are Coming" sticker or promo on the counter of a record store in December, 1963 (sometime before Christmas), asking the clerk "what's that?" and being told "they're a group from England."

Hope this is of some interest.
Best wishes,
Alex McNeil

Hi Alex!  Great to hear from you!
Many years ago, Forgotten Hits did a search trying to nail down with all certainty as to who was the very first radio station in America to play a Beatles tune. (You can read the whole article on my website:

I've talked numerous time with Sam Lit, Hy's son, regarding WIBG possibly being the first station to play "Please Please Me" in 1963, but we've never been able to nail down conclusively the exact date (and, apparently, these records no longer exist at the station ... I had hoped there might be an old programming log or something that might help us establish the correct time stamp on this.)
If you're thinking that you first heard this song somewhere between the 18th and 22nd of February, 1963, that puts us right around the same time frame as the WLS debut.
As you mentioned in your note (about the station playing the songs BEFORE the new "street sheet" came out), WLS used to do much the same thing ... once a song hit their Top 40 Chart, in addition to showing the record's current chart position, they would also show how many weeks they had been playing it on the station ... so when "Please Please Me" debuted on the charts on March 8th, it showed that WLS had already been playing it for three weeks prior to its hitting the charts.  (The WLS Silver Dollar Survey at that time had a Friday "street date" ... and March 8th WAS a Friday in 1964).  Tracking back three weeks, that would mean that they first started playing the record the week of February 15th (three Fridays prior), which potentially means they could have started airing it ANYtime during that week.
Ron Smith, who worked with Biondi for YEARS over at WJMK, reasoned it to be an even tighter timeframe ...

Since it says on the March 8th survey that it had been played for three weeks, the chances are it had been played since at least the week of February 22. This corresponds with the release date of the song -- February 25, 1963. Vee Jay was headquartered in Chicago and it stands to reason they took a copy on that date or perhaps earlier directly to the station, who probably added it immediately. 

As we know, radio stations always received advance promo copies of songs prior to them being released to the public, the idea being to drum up some interest for the record by radio airplay so that by the time the record actually showed up in the stores, folks would flock in to pick up a copy.  This wasn't the case with "Please Please Me" the first time around, however ... it totally flopped.  Noted Beatles historian Bruce Spizer pulled sales records from Vee Jay, showing that the initial pressing released in February of 1963 (with The Beatles' name misspelled as "The Beattles") only sold 5650 copies during the first six months of 1963 ... hardly an attention-grabber.

I think we're pretty close on the time frame here ... and I feel quite sure that WIBG, big as they were at breaking records nationally, ALSO received an advance copy of this "hot" new single.  But I don't think they would have received it any sooner than WLS did.  Vee Jay would have sent promo copies out to all of their target radio stations at exactly the same time.  (And, being literally right down the street from the WLS studio, they theoretically could have walked over a copy faster than any other station would have received theirs in the mail.)

The question now boils down to the actual first air date ... when was new music added to the play lists of any given station (which we may never officially determine ... this is the tenth anniversary of our series and we're still no closer to cold hard facts than we were ten years ago!).  Yours is an interesting case to say the least.  And as such, at the very least, we may have to officially declare a "tie" until more details show up!  (kk)

Thanks for your reply.  I suppose we'll never know for sure who played 'em first in the USA.  With Vee Jay being in Chicago, it would make sense that WLS would get the record promptly and play it, as they probably had a good relationship with the local labels.  Just as WIBG did with the Philly labels such as Cameo / Parkway, Swan and Jamie.

One (seemingly thorough) internet source says the 2/25/63 release date for PPM is "traditional," and he thinks the actual date was closer to 2/20.  In any case, as you note, promo copies would have been in existence before 2/25.  But I assume Vee Jay would have mailed their promos to Philadelphia (either directly to the station or to a local sales rep), which would mean it got to Philadelphia later than it would have gotten to a Chicago station.
Has anyone ever seen a promo copy of PPM with a radio station date stamp on it?
Also, just because I jotted it down doesn't mean that this was the first time that WIBG played it.  But my best guess is that I made my notation on February 21 or 22, 1963, as I listened to WIBG just about every weekday in the afternoon after school and in the evening if I was doing homework.  But I was less likely to listen on a Friday evening.

I'm surprised it sold as much as 5600 copies.  I've always wondered how many copies were sold of uncharted or low-charting records of that time.

Actually, that's a good idea ... I wonder if anyone has ever happened across a DJ Promo Copy with a date stamp ... now THAT would be enlightening!!!  (kk)

We pass the baton on to Bruce Spizer and Sam Lit ... Bruce, have you EVER seen a "date-stamped" dee-jay promo copy of the first pressing of "Please Please Me".  And Sam ... is there ANY chance in the world that WIBG programming logs still exist from 1963???  All of a sudden, things are getting interesting again!  (kk) 

Hi Kent,
Nice to hear from you. You know my position on this. Vee Jay records had a Philadelphia office and the first Beatles airing in America was on WDAS AM in 1963 by a DJ named Georgie Woods. It was hand delivered to WDAS by Gerry Butler who was also recording for the label at the time
Philadelphia, as you know, was at the epicenter of new music exposure from the dawn of Rock & Roll in 1954 for a multitude of reasons. I don't say these matters of record except to clarify the facts. 
Hy Lit brings the Beatles to Philadelphia:

Sam Lit
President / CEO
Hy Lit Radio Technologies Inc.

See, and I just thought that you'd be happy to see us finally give Philly its due!!! (lol)  But if you want to drudge up that whole Georgie Woods debate again, I will ... if only for the benefit of all of the new readers on the list who may have missed it the first three or four times we went through this!

Your latest email indicates that Woods played the record in 1963 ... which makes sense.  However, all previous communications (and the link you sent me to the "Legends Of Philadelphia Broadcasting" website claim that he first played "Please Please Me" in 1962 ... and, simply put, the timeline doesn't work ... which is why I was so quick to completely dismiss it.  

According to the "Legends Of Philadelphia Broadcasting" posting,  submitted numerous times in the past as "evidence":

A couple years later, George (Woods) nicknamed a recording artist “The Ice Man” because he was “so cool on stage.” That was Jerry Butler. In 1962, Georgie Woods started playing on WDAS a “new” group called “The Beatles.” The song was “Please, Please Me” on the African-American owned label, Vee-Jay (the same label Butler recorded for).

That "bold" and "matter of fact" statement is what set me off.  Woods COULDN'T have played "Please Please Me" in 1962 ... because it didn't EXIST yet in 1962!!!  New documentation discovered since our series first ran ten years ago now shows that Vee Jay Records released "Please Please Me" here in The States for the very first time on February 7th, 1963 ... so Jerry Butler COULDN'T have "walked over a copy" in 1962 because the pressing simply didn't exist.

When a statement like " first played 'Please Please Me' in 1962 is so BLATANTLY wrong and erroneous, it's difficult to give any credence to any of the other comments that come behind it.

EMI / Parlophone, The Beatles' parent record label, did not release "Please Please Me" in Great Britain until January 11, 1963 ...
This Philadelphia claim asks us to believe that BEFORE the record was even pressed for British distribution ... BEFORE it would have been presented to EMI's U.S. subsidiary, Capitol Records ... and been turned down by them ... before ANY of this happened (during which time EMI quickly scampered around trying to find another U.S. distributor to pick up the release) ... that Vee Jay Records stepped in ... MONTHS before they even had access to the master ... which they didn't receive until the end of January, 1963 ... and pressed up a special promo copy of this as-yet unreleased single, flew it out to Jerry Butler in Philadelphia, and asked him to get somebody on a Philly station to play the record on the air!  The entire concept is PREPOSTEROUS (not to mention ridiculous and pure fabrication!!!  Even a kid in kindergarten could shoot this story full of holes!)
Nor would anybody have been able to tout The Beatles as the latest British sensation at this point ... although they were clearly establishing their following overseas, it wasn't UNTIL "Please Please Me" came out and topped the charts that true Beatlemania erupted.  This was the record that helped MAKE that happen ... so there would have been no way to "pre-sell" the notion that they were the hottest thing happening on the music charts because it simply wasn't true ... because it hadn't happened yet.  It was about to explode ... but that would be late January / early February of 1963 ... and NOT any time in 1962.  (Their first British release, "Love Me Do" was far from a smash, ultimately peaking at #16 on The British Charts.)
Fact is, NOBODY noticed "Please Please Me" the first time around ... it didn't stand out in ANYBODY'S mind ... and it COMPLETELY tanked here in The States.  The point of our article was never to imply who first "discovered" The Beatles here in The States ... but rather to establish, once and for all, DEFINITIVELY, who PLAYED this record first in The States.  Simply put, playing it had NO impact whatsoever in furthering The Beatles' careers at this point ... it is strictly for historical value that we pursued all of this in the first place.
But to boldly claim that ANYBODY ... ANYWHERE ... played this record in 1962 is nothing short of ludicrous insanity!!!  And they REALLY need to amend their website accordingly, lest anyone else see it any perceive it as "fact".  (Then again, maybe that's exactly their intent!!!)  kk