Alan Freed

From the Ohio Historical Society

Alan Freed was a radio personality and creator of the term “Rock and Roll”.

Alan Freed was born near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1921. His birth name was Albert James Freed. When he was a child, Freed’s family moved to Salem, Ohio. Always interested in music, he played trombone as a teenager in a band called the Sultans of Swing.

Freed was hired by radio station WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1942. He became a sportscaster for WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1943. Two years later, Freed became a disc jockey at WAKR in Akron, Ohio. He remained in Akron until 1949, when he moved to Cleveland to join the staff of WXEL-TV. In 1951, Freed began hosting a rhythm and blues program on WJW radio in Cleveland, using the nickname “Moondog.” His program soon had a large popular following. It was during this period that Freed referred to the music he played as “rock & roll” for the first time. At first, much of his audience was African-American. Soon many other Americans began listening to this new style of music. Freed is credited with hosting the first live rock & roll concert in 1952.

Freed moved to WINS radio in New York City in 1954, and “rock & roll” became a common term across the nation. Freed worked with a number of live “rock & roll” concerts which were broadcast by radio across the country. He also acted in a number of movies with musical themes. In 1957, Freed began hosting a live show on ABC television.

In 1959, Freed was caught up in the broadcasting “payola” scandal. He later admitted that he had accepted bribes from record companies to play their records on the radio. This scandal led to his dismissal from his television and radio jobs.

Freed continued to work as a radio disc jockey in Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Miami. Freed died in Palm Springs, California, on January 20, 1965.

In 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland. Freed was inducted as one of the organization’s original members. He also became a member of the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988. A motion picture about Freed’s contributions to the development of rock & roll called American Hot Wax was produced in 1978.


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