Not a rock and roller but central to what we do here at KZOK was a man named Edwin Howard Armstrong, an inventor who created the continuous wave transmitter, the regenerative circuit, the superheterodyne circuit, and most important to us, Frequency Modulation broadcasting, or as it’s more commonly known, FM radio. The engineers attending his presentation to the FCC in 1936 were blown away when he played a jazz record on AM radio, then switched to FM. “It was like being in the same room with the musicians”, one reporter said. But Armstrong had gone to work for RCA, who saw the new format as a threat to their AM radio empire, and they lobbied the FCC to create new rules that would minimize FM’s impact. After fighting in court for years, Armstrong had had enough, and jumped to his death from the 13th floor window of his New York City apartment today in 1954 at the age of 63. Many of the pending lawsuits were eventually settled in his favor, and his heirs made out quite nicely, but FM radio would take another couple of decades to catch on. Now it totally dominates, and KZOK can crash puny AM radio stations with our bare hands.
The Beatles were in their second day of shooting a promotional film (not yet called ‘music videos’) for their song Strawberry Fields Forever today in 1967. Oddly they were filming in Kent, England, nowhere near the actual Strawberry Fields in Liverpool, and they were using color cameras exclusively for the U.S. market, as the BBC was still broadcasting in black and white. During a break, John Lennon bought an 1843 circus poster in an antique shop that ended up being almost all of the lyrics to the song Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.
Led Zeppelin played the first of two nights at the Fillmore East in New York City tonight in 1969, on their first American Tour (they’d already played Seattle two days after Christmas, and would be back to destroy the Green Lake Aqua Theater in May). Taking the stage after opening band Porter’s Popular Preachers, they stunned the audience, including headlining band Iron Butterfly, who did not want to follow them.
Blues legend Slim Harpo was recording in London today in 1970 when he died of a heart attack at age 46. Never able to make a full-time living as a musician, Slim’s songs were covered by The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Them. And the riff from his song Shake Your Hips (which the Stones covered on Exile on Main Street) was used by Billy Gibbons in ZZ Top’s La Grange.
The Grateful Dead were arrested for possession of LSD and Barbiturates today in 1970 in New Orleans. Apparently the police had been tipped by Texas mobsters who the band had pissed off somehow. The incident features prominently in their song Truckin’, in the lines “Houston, too close to New Orleans” and “Set up, like a bowling pin”.
David Bowie released part of the intellectual property rights to his songs today in 1997, and put them up for sale, becoming the first rock and roller to offer stock options on Wall Street.
Buffalo Springfield’s drummer Dewy Martin died of natural causes today in 2009 at 68. Moving to the U.S. from his native Canada, he spent time in Nashville playing for Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison before moving to the Pacific Northwest where Mel Taylor of the Ventures hooked him up with a band, and then he relocated to L.A. where he played for The Standells and did studio work for The Monkees before joining Buffalo Springfield.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
Chicago’s brilliant guitarist Terry Kath would be 67 today. He died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot to the head 8 days before his 32nd birthday with the famous last words “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded”.
Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera is 61. He also worked with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore, and with him co-wrote One Slip from Momentary Lapse of Reason.
The Sex Pistols singer John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon is 57. After the Pistols disintergrated in 1978, he started a more experimental band called Public Image Limited. In 2002 he was named to a list of “The 100 Greatest Britons”, and was offered M.B.E. status by the royals, despite making disparaging comments and writing disparaging songs about them for most of his career.