DEAR JERRY: As an old Beatlemaniac, who is also editor of your column for the Chicago Sun-Times, I can confirm that Dick Biondi was indeed the first at WLS to play “Please Please Me.”
I've written about this before in the Sun-Times, and author Bruce Spizer states the same thing in “The Beatles on Vee Jay” book.
Shortly after breaking the Beatles in Chicago, Dick Biondi moved to KRLA in Los Angeles.
There he was instrumental in their next release, “From Me to You,” making the KRLA Top 40, which in turn propelled the record onto the Cash Box Top 100 survey.
However, most of the country heard Del Shannon's “From Me to You” in mid-1963, and not the Beatles. That includes Chicago, and a Biondi-less WLS.
John Grochowski, Chicago
DEAR BEATLEMANIC: Is it now necessary for you to recuse yourself from editing this week's feature?
Seriously, thank you very much for the input. Many others industry people and listeners alike have added to this ongoing investigation, and most agree about Biondi. Some samples follow:
DEAR JERRY: I grew up listening to WLS and can confirm they played “Please Please Me” in early 1963.
Then in the '70s, I became their Music Director and even saw the same Silver Dollar Surveys you mentioned.
My radio travels include being Program Director of WJMK Chicago, an oldies station known then as Magic 104.3, where Dick Biondi worked from 1984 to 2005.
In February 2003, we dutifully celebrated the 40th anniversary of the playing of the first Beatles record in '63. With Biondi as the only one of the 1963 jocks on our station, we supported his claim as the first in the U.S. to play the Beatles.
But here is a point well worth considering:
At that time WLS began each week's new play list every Friday at 3:00 p.m., after which any of the new songs could be chosen. That leaves six hours before Biondi's show, which aired from nine to midnight.
So, during those six hours plus (we don't know exactly when Dick played it), on Friday, February 22, 1963, did another WLS dee jay play “Please Please Me”?
Regardless, it can stated with certainty that WLS is the first U.S. station to air “Please Please Me” on the afternoon or evening of February 22, 1963.
Jim Smith, Chicago
DEAR JIM: As one who spent 14 years in radio I know exactly what you mean.
Jocks were always anxious for the new records to be added, often digging right into the pile looking for a nugget.
The mystifying six hours between 3:00 p.m. and Biondi's 9:00 show belonged to Clark Weber (3:00 to 6:00) and Ron Riley (6:00 to 9:00).
If WLS added “Please Please Me” around 3:00 p.m., while possible, it seems highly unlikely neither of these gentlemen gave it a spin.
DEAR JERRY: You are correct about WLS and the Beatles.
We lived in a small town in western Kentucky and I listened to Chicago's WLS every evening. One evening in '63, while pressing a shirt, the dee jay introduced a new record “by the Beatles, a group from England causing quite a stir there.” He really made a big deal of it.
Thinking something special was about to happen, I called my sister to come and listen with me. It was the first time we ever heard the Beatles.
I can't recall the jock, but I know that Ron Riley and Dick Biondi were the guys I listened to the most.
Tom Murray, Newburgh, Ind.
DEAR TOM: What a premonition! Something special did indeed happen.
As noted above, Ron Riley apparently had three hours in which to make history. Did he?
DEAR JERRY: I worked with Dick Biondi at WJMK. I was always told that he was the first dee jay in America to play the Beatles.
That is how he was often introduced at public appearances.
Cindy Patrick, Program Director, WJLT-FM 105.3, Evansville, IN
DEAR CINDY: Thanks for writing. Now let's consider another interesting alternative:
DEAR JERRY: Great research about the Beatles in early '63 on WLS.
However, it seems very likely that George Harrison would have provided some of their first recordings to his sister in Benton, Illinois. George is also known to have spent some summers with her.
Therefore, any of their records even those featuring Tony Sheridan could easily have been played on WFRX-AM in West Frankfort, Illinois.
Skipper T. Spence, General Manager, WYIR-FM, Evansville, Ind.
DEAR SKIPPER: Since their debut single, “Love Me Do,” entered the UK charts in October 1962, imagining Harrison rushing a copy of the band's first hit to his sister is quite reasonable.
Whether the local stations played it, or even knew of it, is still an unanswered question.
IZ ZAT SO? On September 4, 1962, the Beatles showed up at EMI's London studio for their first session.
Unknown to many, the first track recorded was “How Do You Do It,” not “Love Me Do.” That came next.
Though they chose not to release “How Do You Do It,” Gerry and the Pacemakers saw its potential. Their version zoomed to No. 1 in Britain and made the U.S. Top 10.