Capitol records had succeeded in creating excitement over the Beatles, but thus far they had never appeared in the states. When word surfaced they were preparing to make their first concert tour here, I wanted to make sure KQV was the station who presented them to Pittsburghers if they were to include our city in their plans.
One day in early 1964, KQV’s night time jock, Chuck Brinkman, excitedly lurched inside my office door to inform, “the Beatles are coming here and Tim Torme’s the contact.” I had never heard of Mr. Torme but Brinkman provided my introduction.
Our meeting was short and to the point. Knowing that he held all the cards, Torme simply laid out the rules if KQV were to have any chance of presenting the Beatles. Prior to their arrival, he explained, he was planning several other concerts and if KQV wanted to be involved with the Beatles, the station would have to show their appreciation by promoting each of his concerts leading up to the mop tops arrival in Pittsburgh. “Do a good job and you’ll be in the running”, was the only agreement we had. He would place a limited amount of advertising on the station but it would be up to KQV to make his ventures successful. We shook hands in agreement.
I debated for several days on how to explain my obligating the station to my boss John Gibbs. It was verboten for any ABC owned radio station to provide free commercial advertising to anyone. Company policy prevented any advertiser from having an advantage over any other client. I needed to give Torme’s concerts much more attention on the air than he was paying for. How, I worried, could I pull this off.
Finally, one late afternoon I requested a meeting with Mr. Gibbs. As I entered his office and sat down in front of his desk, he smiled, “I hear KQV is going to present the Beatles” he said. “Well I certainly hope so” I replied as I began to sketch in the details. “There’s always a way to make things work out” he interrupted. “How much do you think its worth for KQV to present the Beatles? If they are going to be as big as you say they are, then it should be a valuable promotion for the station”. Rolling his eyes upward, he explained, “lets just have an agreement on file that indicates we traded some radio time for a station promotion”. Brilliant, I thought…as he rose to come from behind his desk to give me a hug. “You did fine my friend”, he said with me smiling to depart his office.
The very first act Tim Torme expected us to promote was an unknown group who would be appearing at West View Park, a local Pittsburgh area amusement center. To the astonishment of the local London records promotion man, KQV began playing a release titled, “Not Fade Away”. He argued another act on his label, the quality pianist Roger Williams, had an album that deserved more air play than the record we were programming. “I didn’t even bring it in, where did you get it”, he asked. I didn’t bother to tell him the Rolling Stones, would soon be appearing in Pittsburgh. We proceeded to promote the upcoming show, but not with much success.
The day Mick and the boys arrived I received a call from London Records in New York City telling me I was welcome at a friendly get together to “meet the boys” that afternoon at the Carlton House in downtown Pittsburgh. I was looking forward to hearing what these English lads knew about my close friend Eddie Cochran. Less than five years after his tragic death in the UK, his mother Alice told me rock artists there had elevated Eddie to sainthood. I wanted to know how much influence Eddie had on these guys…the Rolling Stones…what a silly name I thought. As I was preparing to leave KQV Tim Torme called, “I thought you might want to know, the Rolling Stones are a bit controversial.” “Oh!” I questioned with a grimace, just what I needed to learn on the day of the event. “They’re just a little wild, but knowing your ABC situation, I wanted to give you a heads up,” he said as I was reminded of a conversation I had with John Gibbs who cautioned, “never do anything that could embarrass the company.”
Entering the lobby of the Carlton House, I was reminded, this was the same hotel Eddie Cochran had stayed at a few years earlier when on tour. The nervous London records promotion man greeted me in the lobby, blurting out “I’m surprised you even showed up.” He indicated he was embarrassed, London had long been known for the elevator music of the label’s biggest selling artists Mantovani and Roger Williams. Heretofore the label had never released a rock record.
Heading towards the elevator, he questioned me for more information on the Rolling Stones. Strange I thought, he’s asking me for information about “his” artists. He clearly was not comfortable as he expressed confusion as to why a label like London Records would be involved with such ilk and how his personal reputation could suffer eruptible damage for having to associate himself with the Rolling Stones. Taking the elevator to their floor, I mentioned I had been told they were “controversial”… “God help us”, was his reply. “That’s what the press release from London said too”.
The Stones road manager seemed delighted to see us, explaining he was puzzled over the local press who had shown no interest in their arrival. As he introduced me to each member of the band, I asked Mick Jagger what he knew about Eddie Cochran. A broad smile hogged his face and his eyes lit up to say, “Twenty Flight Rock”, the name of one of Eddie’s hits in England but virtually ignored in the states. I knew we had connected as I explained we could be in the same hotel room Eddie had stayed in just a few short years earlier before the trip to England that claimed his young life. “The cat is royalty man,” Mick said before a frown came upon the face of everyone in the room when the London Records rep asked, “Whose Eddie Cochran?” No one bothered to reply.
Later, as I drove home before heading to the concert, I amused myself thinking how odd it was seeing men in long hair. I wore a crew cut then, little did I know that before this British invasion was over, my own hair would be shoulder length.
That June evening, the air was chilly as I headed for the stage to experience my first Rolling Stones concert. I was disappointed that not more than three hundred kids showed up that night. I was concerned that promoter Torme would not be pleased with such a limited gathering of KQV listeners. I noticed the London Records promotion guy moving through the crowd, “I wonder if they’ll buy albums” he said with a smirk on his face belittling the age of those in attendance. Mick’s strut across the small stage excited the audience, but not the London promotion man, “He’s terrible” was his observation. “Let just say he’s different” was my reply as I remembered just how “different” Elvis and even Eddie had been not that long ago.
Arriving at the office the next morning, Ruthie, Mr. Gibbs’ secretary approached, “John wants to see you,” she said. Grabbing a cup of coffee I headed up the hall to Mr. Gibbs’ office. As I entered he signaled the seriousness by saying “Shut the door, John” as he slid the morning newspaper across his desk asking, “Have you seen this?”
Focusing my eyes on a photo of the Rolling Stones from the night before, I began reading the reporter’s comments on how KQV had introduced Pittsburgh’s teens to some “controversial” rubbish from England…as the writer suggested we had best learn from this mistake.
Gibbs quietly cautioned that this “mistake” would now require extra effort to rebuild the trust and confidence the station had long enjoyed with West View Park, not to mention the trust and confidence of those listeners who suffered by attending the show. Leaning forward across his desk, Gibbs warned in his usual soft gentlemanly way,
“John, don’t ever let something like this happen again.”
My defending the Rolling Stones was futile. After a few telephone calls I learned the reporter hadn’t even attended the concert! He simply sent a photographer with orders to return with a picture, everything else, including the word “controversial”, came from a London Records news release and it achieved exactly what the company wanted, as London Records image of being the ‘Mantovani label’ faded to became a major force distributing much of England’s new rock music
Gibbs made a point how “this terrible newspaper article” would also make its way to headquarters in New York. “You can bet they’ll be on this before the day is over,” he lamented. I tried to discredit the story, but as he rose from his desk signaling our meeting had ended, I returned to my office bewildered, wondering just how much trouble I might be in before this agreement with Tim Torme finally delivered the Beatles for KQV.
Of course, none of us then, with the possible exception of Mick Jagger himself, realized that in time he would be knighted by the Queen of England and still be touring with the Worlds Greatest Rock and Roll Band more than four decades later.