an old vintage radio

Learn About the Fascinating Era of the Superstar Radio Disc Jockeys

Today, people have a lot of ways to listen to their favorite songs. It can be through different paid apps that can be downloaded on their computers, tablets, and smartphones, which will enable you to stream countless songs from different artists and bands. But before, people can only listen to their favorite songs in very limited ways. One of those is by tuning in to the radio. Aside from listening to music, tuning in to the radio before is popular due to the radio DJs.

Unlike before, pop music on the radio today has very little in the way of presentation from air talent or DJs. A good pop music radio personality today is measured in a totally different way. If they get the job done, they’re labeled good to great. But back then, when personality pop radio was king, saying that they get the job done was kind of an insult. If you’re curious why then read on and learn about the fascinating era of the superstar radio disc jockeys.

The Popularity of Radio Disc Jockeys in the 1950s to 1970s

an old vintage radio

The history of radio disc jockeys includes the time when gramophone records were first conveyed by experimental radio broadcasters to present-day radio personalities who host shows highlighting different recorded music. For a number of decades starting in the 1930s, the terms “disc jockey,” “deejay,” “jock,” or “DJ” were exclusively used to describe on-air personalities who played selections of popular recorded music on radio stations. The term first appeared in print in a 1941 issue of Variety Magazine. It combined “disc,” which refers to phonograph disc records and “jockey,” which denotes the DJs way of riding the audio gain or interchangeably riding a song to success and popularity.

The growth of the radio disc jockey as a celebrity separate from the radio station started in the postwar period. During the days before stations took control of the playlists, the DJ usually followed their personal tastes when it comes to choosing music. They also played a role in exposing rock and roll artists to large, national audiences.

Radio DJs established a style of fast-talking patter to bookend three-minute pop songs from approximately 1955 to 1975, closing in the “golden age” of Top 40 radio. Radio DJs played separate songs or music tracks while voicing announcements, comments, jokes, introductions, and commercials between each song or short series of songs.

It was during the 1950s to 1970s when radio DJs wielded significant influence on popular music due to their ability to present new music to the radio audience and promote or control which songs would be given airtime or promotion.

This was an age when all evening radio was live. In many places today, it can be voice-tracked, especially in medium and smaller markets, and some large markets contain voice-tracking between 6pm and 6am.

Differences of DJs Before and Today

What do you think are the differences between pop radio personalities or DJs from the 1950s to 1970s to the talents today? Well, here are some of the things that we’ve observed:

  • Radio DJs before have their own personality between the music. They were not reading Hollywood gossip all the time, and they have their own takes on things at the very moment they are on air. This means that they are very spontaneous back then.
  • Radio DJs back then could read a live commercial between songs, complete with background music, and still be entertaining. In fact, they can leave the audience wanting more. Today not may radio DJs can read a live commercial without flubbing the words.
  • Radio DJs before could work the format between music and commercials and be part of it all.
  • Radio DJs before could talk and entertain between songs. There were fewer music sweeps or songs that play in a row back then. It means that DJs were as important as the music and station jingles. They were part of the presentation.
  • Radio DJs back then organized shows, while DJs today do shifts.
  • Pop radio DJs before were true stars, and they were bigger than life.

The Kings of the Radio

person listening to the radio

As mentioned earlier, back in the 50s to 70s, radio disc jockeys were true stars. With this, here are some of the most popular and all-time great DJs back then:

  • Alan Freed

Alan Freed, perhaps, is the first legend of the genre, “King of the Moondoggers.” He is also commonly referred to as the “father of rock and roll.” He got the credits for attaching the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” as a euphemism for sex, to the cross R&B/country and western music that he played, first in Cleveland and then in New York. However, the payola scandal of the late 50s ruined his career. He died at the age of 43 in 1965.

  • Hy Lit

Hy Lit was a leading Philadelphia DJ at a time when Philly, the birthplace of “American Bandstand,” was the center of the rock ‘n’ roll world. He was a big name well into the 70s. You can also hear his intro on the Marah album called “Kids in Philly.”

  • Bruce Morrow

WABC Musicradio77 in New York was the home of many legendary DJs. Among those, the most famous probably is “Cousin Brucie” or Bruce Morrow. He was the master of the evening shift back then. He’s still active as a host of an oldies show for SiriusXM satellite radio. He’s also in the National Radio Hall of Fame.

  • Jocko Henderson

Jocko Henderson was known as the “Ace from Outer Space.” He’s a pioneering African-American DJ known for his rhythmic tapping and buttery baritone. He’s also tireless enough to do mornings in New York and afternoons in Philadelphia.

  • Wolfman Jack

Wolfman Jack became really popular due to his appearance in the 1973 film titled “American Graffiti.” He first became known for being on “border blasters,” which are Mexico-based AM stations that have a powerful signal that could be heard up to Canada. Later on, he became known as a TV personality, hosting “The Midnight Special” on NBC.

  • Robert W. Morgan

Robert Morgan was probably the most famous of “Boss Radio” KHJ’s lineup of stars in Los Angeles. He had a top-rated morning show in town throughout the late 60s. He remained one of the most dominant personalities after the AM Top 40 era ended.

  • Tom Donahue

Tom Donahue or also known as “Big Daddy,” was originally a Top 40 personality. He was among the first ones to see the possibilities of the FM band. KPMX, his station in San Francisco, is considered to be the first “free-form” radio station in the US. It is the kind of station that would play the long album cuts and non-hits that suddenly earned a following.

  • Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem, former Los Angeles DJ, might be the most popular voice because of “American Top 40,” which was the national countdown show that he created in 1970 and hosted for more than three decades. Aside from being a DJ, Casey Kasem was also the voice of “Scooby-Doo’s” Shaggy and as well as the NBC television network for a certain period.

These were some of the most popular, or shall we say superstar disc jockeys from the 1950s to 1970s. Most of those who grew up during this era can surely name their favorite DJ. And usually, they came from the evening hours. Do you remember any DJ from the 50s to the 70s?