DEAR JERRY: It is well-documented that Memphis dee jay Dewey Phillips is the first dee jay to play an Elvis song on the radio, on WHBQ in July 1954.
Yet I found at least two different accounts as to who played the first Beatles record in the U.S., and I doubt either is correct.
One claim is that a lady who worked for a transatlantic airline brought a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” back from England, and provided it to WWDC (Washington D.C.), where dee jay Carroll James played it in mid-December 1963.
Another story credits New York dee jay Murray the K, who reportedly played “She Loves You” in either late September or early October of '63 on WINS.
I find it hard to believe either of these claims are true, since the Beatles had several big hits in the UK before either of those records came out in the states.
What is your take on this topic?
Arthur J. Donner, Lancaster, Pa.
DEAR ARTHUR: I take the same disbelieving position as you, and here is why:
In early June of '63 a couple of weeks before John and Paul even wrote “She Loves You” many U.S. stations had
“From Me to You” (Vee Jay 522) on their play lists and surveys.
On July 6, “From Me to You” even put the Beatles on a national chart for the first time, as the disc debuted at No. 86 on the Cash Box survey.
Also at No. 86 that week, in a tie for the position, is Del Shannon's cover version of “From Me to You” (Big Top 3152). Del Shannon an established star in America and the Beatles being unknown ended up with the better-selling 1963 release of “From Me to You.”
But even earlier, mid-February to be exact, “Please Please Me” began getting spins by WLS in Chicago, and likely elsewhere. I have a WLS Top 40 Silver Dollar Survey dated March 15, 1963, which shows “Please Please Me” (Vee Jay 498) in its second week on the survey at No. 35. See it here. The reverse side indicates the record debuted the previous week (March 8) at No. 40.
Mention is even made of “Please Please Me” being in its fourth week of play by WLS, indicating they added it to their rotation around the end of February. Also noted is their claim of being the first station in Chicagoland to play this song.
Students of Beatles recording dates may be quick to point out February 25 as the official Vee Jay 498 release date. But that is for commercial issues. Major market stations like WLS usually received promotional copies ahead of retail distribution.
“Please Please Me,” backed with “Ask Me Why,” is the first U.S. release for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
As to whether it first aired on WLS, and if so by whom, we have yet to determine. Their on-air staff at that time included: Gene Taylor, Jim Dunbar, Art Roberts, Clark Weber, Ron Riley, Dick Biondi, Bob Hale, and Joe Kelly.
One of these could be the Dewey Phillips of Beatlemania, and my guess is that Dick Biondi is that man.
Worth noting that same month (February '63) is Capitol's release in Canada of “Love Me Do” backed with “P.S. I Love You” (#72076).
This coupling, the Beatles first for Capitol in North America, did not come out in the U.S. until April 1964, and then on Tollie (9008), a Vee Jay subsidiary.
Regarding the reference you found to WINS, it is likely about them being the first NEW YORK station to play a Beatles record.
IZ ZAT SO? Mistakes on record labels are very, very common, some more significant than others. Here is one in the super significant category:
When first issued, the artist credit line on both sides of Vee Jay 498 (“Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why”) shows the group as the BEATTLES.
Advance promotional copies as well as ones sold in stores have this “TT” flub.
It is somewhat understandable no one caught the error before production began. At this time no one knew of the Beatles, much less how to spell it. I'm surprised it didn't come out as BEETLES, like the insect.
Collectors prize this disc, with prices often being in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.