Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Rock 'n' Roll" radio in Houston, 1950

The popularization, if not origination, of the phrase "rock and roll" as a descriptor of a kind of then-contemporary black song is generally credited to Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, whose "Moondog's Rock And Roll Party" debuted on July 11, 1951. If that's the case, why do we find the phrase prominently displayed in this Houston Informer advertisement from February 25, 1950? "Rock 'n' roll with this solid half hour of jam 'n' jive," screams this ad for the new Dr. Daddy-O program, which had debuted February 20th on Houston radio station KTHT.

The "Dr. Daddy-O/Jivin' with Jax" program had started in New Orleans (home of Jax Beer) on WWEZ in June, 1949, when Vernon Winslow became the first black disc jockey in that city. The show was a huge success, giving Jax the idea of franchising the "Dr. Daddy-O" concept to other radio stations in cities where Jax was sold. Thus in Houston, Cesta Ayers (who also recorded for Imperial around this time) became "Dr. Daddy-O." Ayers broadcast from KTHT studios, but also did remote live broadcasts from the Eldorado Ballroom and the Bronze Peacock. No airchecks survive, but we can dream, can't we?

Houston already had at least three black disc jockeys by this time (Lonnie Rochon had started on KNUZ in February, 1948, followed by Vernon Chambers on KCOH later that year; Trummie Cain came along slightly later), and, of course, Dr. Hepcat (Lavada Durst) had started on KVET in Austin that same year. Many more followed on Texas airwaves during 1949-50. We have no idea what Rochon or Chambers sounded like, but we can at least say that Dr. Hepcat preceded (and possibly inspired) New Orleans' Dr. Daddy-O by many months. For all we know, it was Dr. Hepcat or one of the Dr. Daddy-Os who popularized the phrase "rock and roll" in their patter, but not having the phrase as part of their program's name -- as well as being based in Texas -- doubly ensured the now-familiar pattern of historical erasure. If only Jax executives had decided to instead call their show Rockin' with Jax, we might today view the regional origins of the phrase "rock and roll" in a different light.

Below: Lonnie Rochon, "Houston's First 'Sepia' Disc Jockey," at KNUZ, c. 1950.