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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

HEIRS taps into “attic of memories” of old-time music, radio

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Members of the Harrow Early Immigrant Research Society (HEIRS) kicked-off their long list of 2024 monthly meeting presentations with a walk down memory lane last Thursday afternoon.

  Long time member Ted Steele took the opportunity to tap into his “attic of memories” to talk about music from the 1950s and the radio stations that played those hit tunes, sometimes reluctantly in a time that was evolving into an early rock genre.

  In the mid-1950s, Steele recalled tuning into CKLW to listen to Bud Davies in the afternoon, who played mellow music.

  “It was very cozy,” he said. “You didn’t mind listening to him.”

  Other DJs at the time, he recalled, were more upbeat, but were still playing older music.

  In 1956, he said AM radio was dull, playing ‘40s big bands and show business tunes.

  Musicians and bands like Bill Haley, Fats Domino, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were emerging and changing the music scene, putting pressure on the radio industry to change what it was playing.

  From his memory, Steele said there were signs that music was changing.

He spoke about the popularity of Fats Domino at that time and how he, in 2005, lost the gold-plated records he earned as a result of flooding from Katrina.

  He also spoke of the “doo-wop” groups and their growing popularity. These groups were an extension of the barbershop style.

  Buddy Holly was popular in the mid-1950s. Steele remembers seeing Holly for the first time in concert in 1956. He died in 1959 at just 22-years-old in a plane crash trying to get to a concert in Iowa in bad weather with Richie Valens and JP Richardson, also known as “The Big Bopper.”

  With names like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis growing in popularity, in 1957 Steele said CFCO in Chatham played rock and roll from 7-8pm. Kids tuned into CKLW to listen to their music.

  “CKLW saw a need to fill and they filled it,” Steele said.

  He also spoke of how payola was an issue at the time, as there were DJs accused of taking bribes to push certain songs to make them hits.

  Heading towards the later part of the ‘50s, Steele remembers The Everly Brothers and Bobby Vee gaining popularity on the airwaves.

  At this point, CKLW, he said, was continuing to break records first.

  Steele said he will return to present to HEIRS on music and radio in the 1960s, likely at the April meeting.

  Members of HEIRS typically meet once a month, on the fourth Thursday of the month, at 1:30pm at the Harrow Arena. Often, there is a presentation highlighting interesting historical matters.

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