Thursday, December 31, 2009

500 dollars

I mentioned Al Jarvis and the Make Believe Ballroom once before in passing. His signifigance as an early disc jockey should not be under-rated. In 1932 Al Jarvis began hosting the Make Believe Ballroom. He was a DJ in a time when record labels still sued to prevent airplay. Jarvis was born in 1909 in Canada, to Russian emigrant parents. Little did they know that he would move to Los Angeles, become Americas first DJ and they the very first to succumb to the allure of payola. So far as I know Jarvis never commented on the payola, but did comment on his early DJ status:
"I was hounding the owner-manager to let me air pop records instead of those electrical transcriptions. By using commercial records, I figured, I woudl nto only have a more diversified program, but I could present some of the world's greatest stars. It was the first time on radio, it was the first time any records were played. "
It was a lie of course. But I think it was well meant. The point of his program was not just that he played records but that it w2as him playing them. In his program the DJ was not just a stiff narrator reading copy. So it is only fitting he be the recipient of the first payola.

It cost $500. In 1935 publicist Charlie Emge paid Al Jarvis $500to air Benny Goodman's records. Goodman was on a cross-country tour and Charlie was trying to stir up some advance interest in the swing band before they got to Los Angeles. The cross-country tour was not doing well. But the advance airplay in Los Angeles led to a stay at the Palomar Ballroom. That gig began on August 21 and is considered the beginning of the Swing Era. The Palomar had a capacity crowd that night and the show was broadcast live on the CBS network. More here.

Emge was unstained by the connection. He was just a writer and publicist at the time, and part owner of Tempo Magazine. By 1946 he was the west coast editor for Down Beat magazine.
KELW later became KFWB. In 1946 Al Jarvis crossed the street to KLAC getting paid an amazing quarter million dollars a year. But the rise of Rock n' Roll undid him, and he moved back to KFWB a couple years later. The Pallomar Ballroom was destroyed by a fire in late 1939.