THE PIED PIPERS OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s by Wes Smith

THE PIED PIPERS OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Portraits of nine of the top radio deejays whose personalties endeared them to millions of listeners during the placid 50's and turbulent 60's. Included in the gallery are Alan ""Moondog"" Freed, Wolfman Jack, Hoss Allen, Jocko Henderson, and Martha Jean ""The Queen"" Steinberg, among others. It's a colorful bunch, and their stories are Irequently outrageous and often surprisingly moving. Taken together, they provide Smith, a Chicago Tribune journalist, plenty of opportunities to examine both the rise of rock 'n' roll and the generational and racial divisions in America at the time. Smith points out, for example, that many white disc jockeys affected black speech patterns, the better to appeal to the black listeners who were the first to espouse the emerging rock 'n' roll. This, as might be expected, did not sit well with black radiomen who were trying to establish a foothold in the industry. He also has interesting things to say about white ""cover"" artists who recorded black music in a style more palatable (i.e., less ""gritty"") to white audiences. Smith goes on to investigate the rampant ""payola"" that plagued the record-and-radio world during the 50's and that eventually led to Congressional hearings and a widespread cleanup. He's equally at home describing the pistolspreachers-and-platters world of Mexican ""Border Radio,"" whose powerful transmitters and their flamboyant owners were not under FCC control. The author's description of Wolfman's gun-slinging exploits south of the Rio Grande reads like a Hollywood ""oater."" Smith writes in a zingy, doo-wop style that is just right for his subject while never overlooking the deeper implications of his story. A solid job, then, handled with honesty and humor.