Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal


The practice of an independent label or producer paying money to a deejay at a radio station in order to increase the number of appearances on his radio play list was common in the early 1950s. Almost every label, including Sun and Chess, found the extra dollars to “promote” the newest cut on the air. While the practice was somewhat unethical, it was not actually illegal. ASCAP, much more established an organization than BMI in the early ‘50s, forced the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), who oversaw the legal actions of radio and television stations, to bring many of the independent record labels, radio stations and deejays in front of a House Subcommittee designed to investigate anti-trust charges.

While the purpose of the 1959-60 House committee was to investigate possible wrongdoing on every level, the radio deejays received most of the attention. Opponents of rock ‘n’ roll, both in Congress and the ASCAP music industry, reasoned that no deejay would willingly play a musical style as debase and tasteless as rock ‘n’ roll unless he was being paid to do so. Witnesses at the hearings gave testimony that rock ‘n’ roll was simply race music modified to stir the animalistic urges in America’s teens.

Of all the individuals embroiled in the “payola” or “play for pay’ scandal, none was so publicly eviscerated as the man who first named the music rock ‘n’ roll: Alan Freed. Refusing to sign a statement of innocence, Freed was grilled by the committee and humiliated in public. As a result, Freed was arrested in 1960 for accepting $30,000 in bribes. Although two years later he was given a small fine and a suspended prison sentence, by this time his career as a radio deejay and promoter of rock ‘n’ roll was finished. He died a penniless alcoholic in 1965.

In contrast with the tragedy of Alan Freed, the career of his contemporary, Dick Clark skyrocketed. Clark, who was no less payola tainted than Freed, but more clean-cut and marketable to his boss, ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation), divested any financial interest in conflicting companies and contracts (he admitted to having 27 percent interest in the songs and artists he promoted on American Bandstand) and received both the blessing of ABC and the House chairman as “a fine young man”.

The persecution of a few rock ‘n’ roll mavericks was only one of a series of tragedies that threatened to silence the new sound at the end of the 1950s. In 1958 Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army, Little Richard left rock ‘n’ roll and returned to the church, and Jerry Lee Lewis was blacklisted after his marriage to his thirteen-year-old second-cousin was revealed. In 1959 Chuck Berry was arrested and eventually sent to prison for transporting a minor across state lines, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “The Big Bopper” were killed in a plane crash (memorialized in Don MacLean’s song “The Day the Music Died”) and the payola hearings began.

The sound that had so energetically taken off in the early ‘50s seemed to crash and burn in the circumstances of fate and the public criticism that vehemently denounced it. But, like the phoenix, it would rise again.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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