Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sing-a-long with Mitch Miller

Mitch Miller hated rock n' roll and disliked that radio was often now marketed and programmed for teenagers. He was a curmudgeon, and rather than change himself, he took a chance. In 1958 he stood behind the podium at the first annual disk jockey convention and said that rock n' roll barely qualified as music. Strangely nobody at Columbia Records thought that this was a short-coming for a head of A&R. He ran off Sinatra, passed on Buddy Holly, passed on Elvis... in short, he was a colossal screw up. In his defense I can say that he picked a string of successful pop vocalists in the 60s (Ray Coniff, Johnny Mathis, Guy Mitchell) but he was dead weight by 1970.

But he was a bull-headed screw up. Without flinching he launched a sing-a-long show. In 1953 he started his own program on CBS: Sunday Night with Mitch Miller. It was modeled somewhat after the Landt Trio who had been performing on the NBC Blue Network . It was a throwback to smaller sing-a-long groups and traditional military choruses. It broadcast live from Sardi's. It did very well. But CBS passed on it for TV. NBC went for it, and his TV program took off. Mitch became quite famous and even appeared in print ads for various products.

He did a sing along album. Miller's group was a 25-member all-male chorus. A Minneapolis DJ named Howard Viking played the record to death. The album tied into Mitch Millers radio program and sales took off. By 1961 when his TV show debuted, Mitch had made another 10 sing-a-long albums. They sold over 4 million copies. Mitch needed so much time for his programs and performances he had to cut back on his A&R work.

The radio show ran for three and a half years on NBC. Those sing-a-long records were the best selling catalog in music until the Beatles bumped him from the top spot. His TV program ran for 4 years, and was still rated very highly when it was canceled. To his consternation, the cancellation was over demographics, he skewed to "mature adults" and advertisers were looking to targe tthe youth market...