Two weeks ago Richard Harrington looked back at the Beatles' first U.S. concert, which took place at the Washington Coliseum on Feb. 11, 1964. Here, in response, the man who produced that concert tells some of the details only the insiders ever knew.
It began in October 1963 at Radio Station WWDC where I was then vice president for programming. Carroll James, one of our top disc jockeys, began receiving phonograph records from England. They were early Beatles records, and Carroll was astute enough to project that this group of artists would revolutionize the music industry. He worked on me so hard that I finally came around to his way of thinking.
Things began falling into place when William Turner, then East Coast representative for Capitol Records, advised me that his company planned to bring the Beatles to the U.S. in February and that their first concert could be in Washington.
As WWDC radio was reputed to be the hottest station in town, Turner prevailed upon its staff to spearhead the promotional drive. Both of us later met with Harry Lynn, then owner of the Washington Coliseum, and sold him on the idea.
But Harry Lynn, a cautious individual, didn't have full confidence in the Beatles' drawing power, and he wanted to protect his investment. Hence the booking of such high-powered supporting acts as the Righteous Brothers, Jay and the Americans, Tommy Roe, the Chiffons and the Caravelles.
The show was set for Feb. 11, 1964. Lynn, who was a modest man with a buck, took a small ad in The Washington Post announcing the concert. The Coliseum sold out in less than a week. People streamed there near H Street NE as if it was the garden spot of America. They paid for their tickets a month in advance. Even Harry Lynn was impressed.
On Feb. 10, WWDC moved its Remote Satellite Studio into place next to the Coliseum. On-the-scene broadcasts, no less, for the great day . . . tomorrow.
Then, overnight, a snowstorm hit Washington and brought everything to a standstill.
Only one train from New York arrived at Union Station, and the Beatles were on it. It looked like one Jesse James robbed. It was ancient.
Always alert, WWDC Radio had been continually broadcasting the time of arrival. And more than 3,000 fans greeted them there. I arrived in a 1962 Rambler station wagon and parked it at the Railway Express terminal under Union Station.
When the Beatles arrived, they were fearful of bucking that crowd. I whisked them off to my station wagon, asked them to lie down on the floor, and drove them a few blocks to the Coliseum.
So many people attended the Coliseum press conference, and the weather was so bad, that the Beatles didn't want to chance it to get to their hotel, which was the Shoreham.
We hid them in the WWDC Satellite Studio, where they napped on the floor while Carroll James was broadcasting his afternoon program (3 to 7 p.m.).
By that time Harry Lynn and Bill Turner showed up and advised me that the scheduled producer of the show, from General Artists Corp. in New York, would not be able to get down to Washington. They asked me to produce the first Beatles concert in the United States.
I accepted. After all, I once produced the WWDC Christmas Revue for the old folks at the D.C. Home for the Aged at Blue Plains.
The first thing that I noticed was that there was no stage--only a ring used for boxing or wrestling matches. Harry Lynn confirmed this, and ordered the ropes removed--and the mat became the stage for the show, emceed by Carroll James.
Then came the hard part. We were loaded with some of the greatest pop entertainers in America, and everybody wanted to hear and see the Beatles. It was my job to advise Tommy Roe, the Chiffons, Jay and the Americans, the Righteous Brothers and the Caravelles that they were limited to two--count them--two numbers each. If they went to three we would douse the lights. The audience paid to see the Beatles for at least an hour, and that is what they would get.
The next problem was the media. But that was no problem to Harry Lynn. "People that don't pay, don't get in," he said. We arrived at a compromise. The legitimate media would be permitted to sit on the steps, despite the fire marshal.
By that time it was around 6 p.m. and I thought everything was in order. I walked outside and saw an endless line of people standing and freezing in a snowstorm! I still don't know how they got there.
Back to Harry Lynn. "You can't let paying customers freeze to death with tickets in their hands!" I said.
"But the show doesn't start for two hours," he said.
Lynn finally relented and permitted a full house to be seated two hours ahead of time.
The Beatles took the stage at approximately 9 p.m.
The concert was not one continuous scream, as has been reported. Every note was heard. Every lyric was appreciated. A chord was struck between audience and artist. What a thrill!
And what did I get out of the whole deal?
Well, for a couple of weeks my neighbors' kids in Garrett Park, Md., viewed me with new respect. My car--the one the Beatles rode in--became the monument of the block.
But more seriously, I learned that you don't slough off young people.
You listen to them.