American Scandal

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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

Payola - The $50 Handshake | 1

Payola - The $50 Handshake | 1

Tue, 23 Apr 2019 07:05

The delicate system of secret bribes and kickbacks used to transform a mediocre record into a hit -- that’s payola. And on the eve of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s consuming the music industry. As the public catches wind of the corruption, DJ Alan Freed and American Bandstand host Dick Clark will be caught in the crosshairs of the investigations.

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My Emmy Beach May 1959. It's past 2am on the last night of the annual pop music Disjockey Convention and everyone's in high spirits. Disjockey Alan Fried sits alone at a banquet table drinking a bourbon. It's his fourth at the night or maybe his fifth he's lost count. Not that it matters, it's all free, paid for by his friend Morris Levy and Morris's label, Roulette Records. All around him, Fried's fellow DJs are schmoozing and celebrating. And why not? They're in a pastel colored ballroom at the Swanky Americana Hotel, overlooking Miami's famous White Sand beaches. The Count Basie Orchestra plays on a massive bandstand and the liquor is flowing freely. Fried makes his way back to the bar for another round. He should be sharing in the festivities, after all, next to Count Basie he's the most famous person in the room. He practically invented the term rock and roll. He has a hit TV show in New York and a syndicated radio show on WABC. And he hosts concerts and road shows that routinely sell out with big name headliners like Chuck Barry and Jerry Lee Lewis. As he crosses the room, people he's never met call out his name and slap his back. Each time, Fried manages a week's smile. No matter how many bourbons he drinks, he can't shake the worry. Looking around him, he sees wads of cash openly changing hands. This is how the music business works. Record companies pay off DJs with cash, gifts and girls. In return, the DJs play their singles on the radio. In the industry, it's known as Peola. And Alan Fried has taken plenty. But for Fried, Peola is something done on the download behind closed doors. This is way too brazen. But across the room, his friend Morris Levy is all smiles and rock is laughter. Levy couldn't be happier. Since launching Roulette Records less than three years ago, he's already built the label into a powerhouse. Levy is a bear of a man, well over six feet tall, with a gravely voice and hands like Kettersmiths. Half the industry is terrified of him, not because of his size, but because of his alleged mafia connections. But to Fried, he's like a brother. He calls Morris by his Jewish nickname, Moisha. Fried crosses the room to where his friend Morris Levy is holding court at the bar. The two old friends greet each other warmly. Alan, having a good time? Always Moisha. Fried orders another bourbon. Is that six or seven? He and Levy clink glasses. Drink up my man. I've got 2,000 bottles of this stuff. How much did this shindig cost you? 15 gram, but worth every penny. Every DJ in the country is here. Every greedy bastard domain. A lot of dead presidents changing hands here. Haven't these people heard of discretion? Levy shrugs, lights another palm all. Relax, Alan. It's a party. Fried nods and turns his back to the bar. That's when he sees the guy with the no pant. Order from the Miami news, taking it all in. The next day, Fried passes a new stand at the airport. Through the fog of his hangover, a headline jumps out at him. For DJs, booze, broads, and bribes. God, he knew last night was a bad idea. Several record promoters shot their mouths off to this reporter, describing in detail how much they pay off DJs to get their records on the air. He can just imagine what the average person is going to think when they read some of the quotes. Some of them you can buy with an air conditioner, some with money, and some with a girl. We put out one record sung by a kid with no voice and no reputation. We spent $100,000 on promotion. Most of it on entertaining disc jockeys got it into the top 10 in 4 weeks. It's a lousy situation, but I don't see how anything can be done about it. Without the disc jockeys, we're dead. Fried dumps the paper in the nearest trash can. He's read enough. Then he boards his flight back to New York. The story is bad, but it's just some local Miami rag. Hopefully the whole thing will blow over. Fried orders a drink from the stewardess and tries to forget about it. What it won't blow over. By the time Fried lands in New York, all the music trade papers will pick it up. Then it will spread to the mainstream press, the New York Times, and the New York Times. Life magazine. Fried doesn't know it yet, but the pay all a scandal has begun. It will ruin careers, damage, reputations, and forever alter the way the radio industry operates. Right in the middle of the storm is America's most famous rock and roll DJ, Alan Fried. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Don't wander the I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scandal. Most people don't really think about how a new song gets on the radio. We tend to assume the most popular records the ones that sell the most get requested the most are popular because people like them. That's what they pop in pop music is short for. Popular. And that's what the record industry wants us to think. That's why they maintain things like top 40 charts, which rank songs based on quantifiable numbers like sales and what's called rotation. How often a record gets played on the radio. The more copies a record sells, the more spins it gets, the higher it climbs up the charts. It's a level playing field, one on which anyone with talent and a good song can have a hit. Except it's not a level playing field. Some records have an advantage, a big label backing them with a big marketing budget, and some companies use that budget to bribe DJs to play their songs. The songs become hits not because they're popular, but because their airtime is bought and paid for. The record industry has a term for this practice. It's called peyola. Since 1960, it's been illegal. But that hasn't stopped it from happening. In fact, as music moves from radio to streaming, onto services like Spotify, title and Pandora, many industry observers think it's just as widespread as ever. This is the story of how peyola started, the attempts to end it, and how it shaped the music we hear, and the music we don't. Over this six episode series, we'll meet the DJs and record executives who turned what was once a cottage industry of small under the table payoffs into a multi million dollar criminal enterprise and the prosecutors and reporters who expose them. It all starts in the 1950s with the birth of rock and roll. This is episode one, the $50 hand shake. Cleveland, Ohio, April 1951. Eight years before the peyola story first breaks. Alan Fried signs off from his evening classical music program as he always does. Some music lovers, that's it for me. My name is Alan Fried and you've been listening to the classical music hour on WJWAM850 on your dial. Broadcasting from Cleveland, town, USA. Now stay tuned for these important words from our sponsors. As the last strains of a bronze violin sonata go out over the airwaves, he switches off his microphone and punches in the station ID. He leans back, wearily in his chair, rubbing his temples. He's only been doing this gig for a few months but already he hates it. Just a year ago, Fried's career was going great. He had the top rated show in Akron and was making over $10,000 a year, a good salary for a 28 year old radio DJ in 1950. But he knew his bosses were earning much more than that from advertising and he wasn't seeing any of it. When he tried to quit and take a more lucrative job at a rival station, they invoked a non compete clause in his contract and shut him down completely. For an entire year, he was banned from the airwaves. By the time Fried could get back in the game, he was all but forgotten and broke. He even had to file for bankruptcy. Now, in desperation, he's taking this classical music job, but the pay is lousy, way less than he was making in Akron and his board stiff playing Brahms and Beethoven. On his way out of the studio, he bumps into one of the station's sponsors from a local record shop owner named Leo Mints. Leo's size is freed up and tells him he looks like he could use a drink and free degrees. Fried and Mints head around the corner to an Irish dive bar called Mullins, where Mints orders a Scotch and buys Fried a beer. Fried likes Mints. He's a Lanky Cleveland native who pepper his conversation with Yiddish curse words. He reminds Fried a little of his own father, a Russian Jewish immigrant with a big personality. Alan, I have a business proposal for you. How would you like to host a rhythm and blues show? The station bosses have offered me a late night slot if all sponsors are in pay for the whole thing. Now, Fried likes some rhythm and blues, but he's not a big listener, though anything's better than classical, but he's skeptical of Mints's plan. And his mind, rhythm and blues is part of what the industry calls race records, music by black artists for black audiences. And his station's audience is mostly white. A rhythm and blues? I don't know, Leo. You really think our listeners would go for it? Trust me. In my shop, I get white kids buying those records, too. And no one in Cleveland is playing them on the radio to wide open market. And hey, I'll even pay you a promotional fee on top of your salary. Fried thinks about it as he finishes his beer. The classical music show is a dead end gig. When he really got to lose. Leo, I think you're crazy, but I'd be crazy or not to take your money. So count me in. Four months later, in August 1951, just past 11 o clock at WJW Studios, Alan Fried switches on his microphone and launches into the intro for his new rhythm and blues show. Hello, everybody. Hi, all the night. This is Alan Fried, the old King of the Moon Tigers. And it's time again for another of your favorite rock and roll such as blues in rhythm records or blues. The show is only a month old that Fried's got his pattern down. He calls himself the moon dog. The show is the moon dog house and his listeners are the moon dog kingdom. He calls the music he plays rock and roll, the term he borrowed from blues records. He likes the way the phrase sounds and the way a lot of his favorite R&B records use the verbs rocking and rolling is euphemism for sex. In 1951, when most DJs talk like news announcers and dry, clipped tones, Fried throws emotion and pizzazz into his voice. He wants to match the energy of the music he's playing. He practically yells even when reading ad cut. When it comes to being, there's just no sense to spend extra money when you can just define it. There in brood, tell it to a popular cry. That's what I said and that's what I mean because there in brood. His enthusiasm is infectious as he whoops and shouts over the songs and he quickly draws a loyal audience. And now I'm going to the Netherlands. Make me know it. Alan Fried isn't the first to get carried away by the music. Rhythm and Blues DJs in cities like Chicago and Memphis, mostly African American, have been talking over records since 1948. Later in his career, Fried will be accused of stealing their tricks. But in Cleveland, Fried is a pioneer. The city's first Rhythm and Blues DJ with an ability to appeal to both black and white audiences. Soon the phones at WJW are ringing off the hook with calls from kids of all races with requests for the moon dog. As Fried perfects his wild man routine, Leo Mint sits next to him with a stack of records and tells him what to play. When the show's over, he hands Fried a $50 bill. He calls it a bonus, a little thank you for the fact that at Mint's Rackers shop, R&B records are now flying off the shelves. Alan accepts the money without a second thought. Make sense to him. If he's helping Leo Mint sell records, why shouldn't he get a cut of the action? By 1951, Alan Fried is almost certainly familiar with the term Paola. The term is existed for almost a decade and the practice itself is much older than that, going back to the earliest days of radio in the 20s. And while it's not illegal, it falls into an ethical gray area. Some people think it taints the DJ's role as a taste maker. Listeners feel a strong connection with radio DJs, listening to the same voice night after night builds trust. If the DJ has a secret financial interest in what he's playing, it might violate that trust. Others, especially others in the record industry, view the DJ's role in less precious terms. DJs have to read ad copy and thank their sponsors. Plenty of what they say on the air is paid for. So who cares if some of the records are paid for too? And as far as Alan Fried is concerned, he's just a guy who's in the right place at the right time. In the early 50s, Cleveland is the seventh largest city in the country and record labels use it as a test market, releasing records to radio here first to see which ones perform well. Which means of course, Cleveland is a wash in Paola. Less than two years after launching the Moon Dog House, Alan Fried becomes one of the biggest rhythm and blues DJs in the country. He hosts sold out concerts, record promoters from all over the Midwest drop by WJW Studios to Wu Alan with free records, cash gifts, bottles of scotch. And while the cash payouts are small at this point, $50 hand shakes they're called, they're adding up. As much as Fried loves the extra money, he doesn't want anyone to think that they can dictate what he plays on his show. So he develops his own personal code of honor about Paola. He only accepts payments for records after he's played them, not before. And he never ever plays a record he doesn't like, no matter who's behind it. When a reporter from the Trade Magazine variety questions him about Paola, his response is indignant. He says, if I've helped somebody, I'll accept a nice gift. But I wouldn't take a dime to plug a record. I'd be a fool too. I'd be giving up control of my own program. By 1952, Fried is doing more than just playing records. He's also started to get involved in making them. After a friend introduces him to a local quartet called the Crazy Sounds, Fried decides to become their manager. He changes their name to the Moon Glows. He wants to get the word moon in there somewhere. And when the Moon Glows release their first single, the credited songwriter is Al Lance, an alias of Alan Fried. He explains to the group that this is just his way of collecting royalties on the single as their manager. They still get paid too, and this way they don't have to pay him anything up front. The group, four young black men, all brand new to the record business, accept Fried's explanation. It seems like a small price to pay in exchange for being associated with the most popular DJ in Cleveland, especially when that DJ starts playing you all the time on the show. But taking a songwriting credit is a trick, free picked it up from his other friends in the business. A lot of DJs, artist managers and label owners claim writing credits, even when they can't play a note of music. When you're a songwriter, you can collect royalties on a song for decades, not just the original version of the song, but any cover versions as well. And a lot of young artists and songwriters, too naive to know what they're giving up, are only too happy to accept this arrangement, not realizing until years or decades later how much income they've given up. In the 1950s, such arrangements are commonplace, and they often favor white DJs or label owners at the expense of black artists. Alan Fried doesn't really consider that aspect of it. To him, he's using his power and influence to help an unknown singing group and getting fairly compensated for it. That's just how the business works. So with his extra income, Fried and his wife move into a nice duplex in Shaker Heights, an upscale suburb of Cleveland. It's a big step up, but it means a longer commute, which is a problem since Fried's spending more and more time at Mullins Irish Bar after work. In April 1953, Alan Fried is driving home from WJW Studios in downtown Cleveland to his home in Shaker Heights. It's well after 2am. He's exhausted and sleepy from a few beers at Mullins. He can barely keep his eyes on the road. Fried falls asleep at the wheel on a dark suburban road and drives head on into a tree. His head goes through the windshield, cutting his face to ribbons. When local police pull him from the twisted wreckage, he's bloody and barely breathing. The ambulance crew that arrives minutes later frantically gives him an adrenaline injection to keep his heart beating. When he finally wakes up in the hospital, days later, a doctor tells him he's lucky to be alive. But Fried can't actually see the doctor. His entire face, including his eyes, is covered in gauze. That's because the doctor explains it took 260 stitches to reattach his shredded skin to his face. Two months later, Fried calls himself out of bed and shuffles into the bathroom. He's been cooped up at home, recovering since the accident and he's restless, eager to get back to work. But the doctors keep saying he needs more time to rest. In the bathroom mirror, he examines his face. He took nearly $12,000 worth of plastic surgery to repair it, more than his annual salary, and it still doesn't look right. One side of his mouth barely moves, and there's a prominent scar running across the bridge of his nose. As a young man, Fried was considered handsome. Now he fits the old music business saw, you've got a great face for radio. His wife Jackie tries to get Fried to go back to bed, but he's through resting. Moving slowly, still an agony from broken ribs and damage internal organs, he begins getting dressed. He needs to get back to the station and back on the air. And it's not just Fried's ego that's driving him back on the airwaves so soon, since those plastic surgery pills. Insurance only covered some of it, while he's still drawing his W.J.W. salary, he's not earning any promotional fees sitting at home. He needs money, fast, and the fastest way to get it are those $50 hand shakes. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, where you woke up in the morgue, where you were seriously injured, miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening, asks our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening, brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus, and if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. New York City, August 1953. Morris Moisha Levy stands under the black awning in front of his jazz club Birdland. He watches the yellow taxis cruise down Broadway and hopes that one of them contains Hal Jackson, the new MC of Birdland's Nightly Live Radio broadcast. It starts in just 20 minutes and where the hell is he? At 36, Levy has already been working in nightclubs for over 20 years. He started as a hat check boy and worked his way up, and he's never ever been dislated. Levy mudders to himself, this is unprofessional, totally unprofessional, and Levy doesn't have time for unprofessional. He opened Birdland in 1949 and quickly established it as one of the city's top jazz clubs. He's proud to tell anyone who asks that Charlie Parker played opening night. Miles Davis and Count Basie soon followed. By 1950, the club was broadcasting its Midnight Show each night on Live Radio. Soon, WABC came calling and the show got nationally syndicated, but a few weeks ago his regular MC announced he was quitting, and Levy needed to find a replacement fast. Hal Jackson, a smooth talking DJ from South Carolina, was the obvious choice. He already had two hit shows on other stations. He's known and well liked in the jazz scene. The looking in his watch, Morris is starting to like him less. He taps his foot impatiently, and then finally he sees a yellow cab trawling down the block. It stops two feet from Levy and the door opens. Out steps Jackson, looking stylish as ever, and a khaki suit and shiny two tone shoes. Levy barked at him in his gravely voice. Nice of you to join us Hal. You know we started midnight, right? Sorry Moisha. Took me a little longer than should have to hail a cab. Levy knows what he means. Even though many radio listeners don't realize it, Hal Jackson is black. And in 1953, a lot of New York taxi drivers won't stop for black men even when they're dressed as sharply as Jackson. Levy sighs and backs off. I forget it. You're here now, so let's do a show. They descend the steep staircase down to the basement club. It's a cramped, low sealing space filled with cigarette smoke. Jackson has to stoop as he steps onto the stage at midnight to begin the show. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Bird High. The jazz corner of the world. My name is Hal Jackson. The home's the loves you the most. They give me great pleasure to welcome to our stage. Mr. Dizzy Gilless. Jackson's delivery is smooth as so, standing in the back of the club, Levy cracks a smile. Hal Jackson is the first black broadcaster ever to host a syndicated show on a major radio network. Morris had to stick his neck out to get him the job, and he's proud that he did. Levy is a complicated man. He truly loves music and he loves supporting the people who make it, regardless of their race. Birdland is one of the first New York night clubs outside of Harlem to be fully integrated. But Levy also has a dark side. It's rumored that some of his business partners have ties to the mafia. To many of the patrons, the large Italian men he employs as bouncers look and act like mobsters. But Levy brushes aside the allegations. He's just from a rough part of the Bronx. He tells them the guys he goes into business with are the guys from the old neighborhood. If some of them know a mobster or two so what? It's not of his business what they do outside the club. When Hal Jackson wraps up his Birdland broadcast, the sun's coming up. He doesn't bother to try and hail a cab. He knows no one will pick up a black man at this hour. Instead he catches the subway back up to Harlem, climbs the stairs to his apartment and collapses into bed. He's exhausted. But he can't rest long. At 4 p.m. he has to be at WNJR Studios in Newark, New Jersey for the first of his three radio jobs. Jackson is the first and only DJ in the New York City area with shows on three different stations. He's proud of this distinction, but it's not entirely by choice. Black DJs, even successful ones, make far less than their white counterparts. Hal has a wife, three kids, and a mother in law to support. When he arrives at the station that afternoon he gets a hero's welcome. Slaps on the back, shouts of congratulations. Many of his colleagues at this all black station heard his broadcast from Birdland last night. They're proud that one of their own has broken through to the national spotlight. The Birdland gig is a huge break for any DJ, but especially for an African American one. Over night, he's become a national radio personality, at a time in history when far more people own radios than televisions. Jackson's desk is covered with letters and cards offering him congratulations. One of the envelopes has a return address from a record promoter who often pitches him records. He opens it and a $20 bill falls out. Such little gifts for common practice, and Jackson accepts them without much thought. He's never promised to play a record in exchange for money. He likes what the promoter is pushing and how plays his records. To him, this $20 is a thank you. It's not a bribe. Because Jackson knows his behavior has to be beyond reproach. As one of New York's most prominent black DJs, everything he says and does is more closely scrutinized than the behavior of white DJs who do the same job. He would never dream of damaging his reputation by accepting pay all. What he figures, there's no harm in a few little gifts here and there. As Jackson is getting ready to head to the studio to do his show, WNJR station manager brings a box of real to real tapes. He tells Jackson he wants his opinion. They want to re broadcast a show by a DJ out of Cleveland who has ratings off the chart. But he says in his lowering voice, the guy is a bit unconventional. Give it a listen and tell me what you think. Jackson is curious and agrees. What's the guy's name? Alan Fried. Listening to the tapes, Jackson likes what he hears and a month later on his recommendation, WNJR re broadcasts Alan Fried's show. Jackson doesn't really see Fried a white DJ as a competition. And hey, if he can help rhythm and blues reach more of a white audience, so much the better. For Fried back in Cleveland, it's a break he's been waiting for, a toehold in the New York market. And despite WNJR's small signal, Fried's show is an instant hit. Within a year, Alan's left Cleveland and brought his show, now called the Alan Fried Rock and Roll party, to WNS, one of New York City's biggest stations. He's also attracted the attention of Birdland owner Morris Levy, who's branching out into concert promotion, putting on Rock and Roll shows and sock hops at larger theaters around New York. In Levy, Fried sees a kindred spirit, a fellow hustler who loves music, but will also do whatever it takes to get his piece of the pie. Just a few months after Fried comes to New York, Levy becomes his manager. And in January of 1955, the two men decide to put on their first concert together, the Rock and Roll Jubilee Ball. One of the headliners will be Alan Fried's favorite vocal quartet from Cleveland, the Moon Glows. They've just scored their first number one hit, thanks in part to Fried, who plays the song constantly on his New York radio show. Backstage before the concert begins, Fried introduces the group to all his New York friends, fellow DJ Hal Jackson, Birdland owner Morris Levy. Everyone's in a celebratory mood, but Moon Glows leader Harvey Fuqua has something else on his mind. The band is starting to wonder why they still haven't seen any money from their first chart topper. Harvey pulls Fried aside. Hey, Alan, you said sincerely sold 300,000 copies. That's a lot, right? Yeah, it's huge. It's one of the biggest R&B records of the year. You should be proud. I am very proud. But when do we get paid? We haven't seen a dime from that record. Before Harvey Fuqua can say another word, Fried runs out onto stage to start the show. The crowd sees him in roars. Fuqua is frustrated. It's an answer he feels like he gets a lot. Soon, be patient. Meanwhile, he and his bandmates got to eat. He heads back to the green room to do some last minute vocal warmups with the rest of the band. Like a lot of black recording artists of his generation, Fuqua is starting to realize that the music business seems to be rigged against him. New musicians and songwriters, the real people who write the songs, always seem to be the last ones to get paid. Up until now, Alan Fried has acted like he has the moon glow's best interest at heart. But now Fuqua isn't so sure. He tries to put it out of his mind. There's certainly not much he can do about it now. And the moon glows have a show to put on. He'll figure out the situation with their royalties later. That night, even on a bill that includes the drifters in Fat's Domino, the moon glows steal the show. But as they're taking their final bow, the thoughts still nagged Harvey Fuqua. Why are we going to get paid? By January 1956, Alan Fried feels like he owns the town. He's been here just two years, but already he's the top rated DJ in New York, with shows in three different time slots. And now label owners are coming from all over the country to shower him in Peola. One label rep travels all the way up from Texas to give Fried a huge diamond ring. You just made us $400,000. The label rep says it's the least we can do. Around noon on a cold sunny day, Fried strides through the gilded doors of the Brill building in Midtown Manhattan and takes the elevator up to his office. He's got nonstop meetings all afternoon with record promoters, label heads, song publishers, plus some media interviews. After that, he's scheduled to do his regular rock and roll party show at WINS. The Brill building is the nerve center of New York's burgeoning new pop music industry. Every major songwriting team has offices there, along with many of the city's best known labels, artist managers and song publishers. Working on upright pianos, the songwriters churn out new tunes in whatever style is in the current fashion. Rock, duop, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, then take the elevator up a few floors to pitch the songs to labels and music publishers, or cut a demo in one of the building's many small recording studios. As Fried walks down the hall to his office, he hears the muffled tinkling of a dozen pianos, the sound of songwriters searching for the melody of a future hit. It's unusual for a DJ to have an office in the Brill building, but Fried likes being in the center of the action. Plus, these days, he's a songwriter himself. Technically. He's starting to take more cowriting credits on songs in exchange for a green to play them. Even though he hasn't picked up an instrument since high school, he's already amassed over a dozen writing credits, including Mabelie, by guitar player out of St. Louis, named Chuck Berry. After Berry's label agreed to give Alan a writing credit, he played the song nonstop on his show for two hours. Fried's first meeting is with an old friend of Morris Levy's, named High Weiss. Like Morris Levy, Weiss is a tough talking Bronx native who's been hustling in the record business for over a decade. He's also one of the city's most notorious distributors of Peiola. High Weiss likes to boast that he invented the $50 handshake. Fried's office is tiny. He doesn't actually spend much time there. He just needs a place in the city where he can make deals with Hano's radio station boss as looking over shoulder. To keep up his songwriters facade, he's jammed an old upright piano into the corner. Next to a desk, it takes up most of the room. High Weiss arrives wearing a dark trench coat and tweed three piece suit, like a banker, Fried thinks. And he's bigger than he looks under that suit. And he sits in one of the offices, two rolling eams chairs. He can barely fit between the armrests. Thank for agreeing to see me, Mr. Fried. Please call me Alan. Any friend of Morris is a friend of mine. What can I do for you? Oh, it's not for me, it's for a friend. He's got this Dewa back, the Core Deuts, all female, nice girls. Sure, yeah. I got that new single, the wedding. Played it a few times. Yeah, we appreciate that. But my friend would like you to play it more. He thinks it's a hit. I don't care what he thinks. I'm sure Morris told you I only play what I like. My services aren't for sale, Mr. Weiss. Weiss reaches into his jacket pocket. No, of course not. All we ask is a little consideration. Fried's expecting to get another $50 handshake. But instead, Weiss takes out a check. He places it in front of Fried. It's made out to him for $5,000. Morris says you're building a new house. Might need a little help with a down payment. Consider this alone. Take your time on paying it back. Weiss leans back in his chair and gives Fried a wink. Fried knows what this means. This isn't alone. It's a bribe. Alan studies the check. To take it is risky. It's by far the biggest amount of payola he's ever seen and cashing a check will create a paper trail. But Weiss is right. He does need the money. The new house he's got as Ion is a 16 room mansion in Connecticut with a private beach. He needs to come up with $35,000 for a down payment. And this five grand will be just enough to get him there. Alan stands up and shakes Weiss's hand. Well, thank you very much for the loan Mr Weiss. Tell your friend I'd be happy to help the cordettes in any way I can. And whatever else I can do to help you and your brother of course. I hear you've got a label. We do. Yeah. I'll have some singles delivered. I think you'll like what we're doing. Oh I'm sure I will. And just like that, Alan Fried accepts his first payola check. It won't be his last. When Fried's payola demands were smaller, his connections could pay him off and cash. But as his influence grows and he starts asking for four, five, seven hundred dollars a month, kind of money record labels don't have just lying around. They write checks. Fried doesn't care if there's a paper trail. The way he sees it, he's entitled to the money. And he's not doing anything illegal. This is just how the record business works. But the more payola checks Fried caches, the more he's making himself visible to people who aren't on the receiving end of business as usual. And when state and federal investigators start looking into the practice of payola, which to them is commercial bribery and therefore criminal, one name will come up more than any other. Alan Fried. In June 1957, Jerry Wexler enters the lobby of the Brill building, clancing around suspiciously, hoping no one recognizes him. The 40 year old Wexler, known as Wex, is a pretty widely recognized figure, not just because of his imposing physique and jug handle ears. Once an army veteran turn music journalist, he's now a record executive and widely credited with inventing the term rhythm and blues to describe black popular music. Since joining the R&B label Atlantic Records, he's overseeing the release of landmark singles by Ray Charles, the drifters, and Big Joe Turner. His name is synonymous around New York with quality music. And yet here he is, pacing the lobby of the Brill building with an envelope full of cash. Wex's boss, Ommet Erdogan, sent him here to pay off Alan Fried. He said it's the only way Atlantic can keep producing hits. Over the past three years, Erdogan has spent thousands of dollars on Fried. He even paid for the DJ's swimming pool. But Wex thinks it's a waste of money. In the last few months, Fried has hardly ever played Atlantic artists. Fried steps off the elevator, attracting attention as usual in his loud plaid jacket. People stop to stare at the famous DJ as he strides across the lobby to Wexler. And with this moment, it's wishing the ground could just swallow him up. How's things, Wex? Fine, Alan. Let's get this over with. Wex doesn't want to be seen going up to Fried's office, so they duck into a cloakroom off the lobby where he pulls a folded paper back and it was jacket. He contains $600 in cash. He hands it to Alan. Look, Alan, I'm not going to lie to you. Things are a little tight at the label right now. Maybe you could give us a break and let us skip next month's payment. I'd love to, Wex, but I can't do that. I'd be taking the bread out of my children's mouths. Fine, Alan. How are your kids liking that swimming pool, by the way? I hope they thank their uncle, Amit, every time they jump in. You tell Amit if he doesn't like it, he can bring us a men truck and fill in the pool. I'll play Atlantic artists when I'm good and ready. Alan strides out of the cloakroom with a paper bag filled with cash under his arm. Wex is stunned by the DJ's arrogance and finding himself in this position. Just a few years ago, as reporter for Billboard magazine, Wex wrote a series of articles criticizing the industry for this very thing. Now here he is, handing out bags of cash to DJs himself. It's humiliating. And what's worse, no one seems to care. Peola is more rampant than ever. Wex exits through the Braille building's front doors and out onto the hot Manhattan pavement. From a passing car, he hears the song that's been blaring out of radios in New York all summer. Elvis Presley's All Shook Up. It's a great song, he thinks. But Jerry Wexler knows better than anyone how many great songs never make it onto radio at all. He finds himself wondering whether Elvis is label paid to make All Shook Up a hit and figures that, of course, they did. By now, every song on the radio has at least some pay all the behind it. Jerry Wexler Jerry Wexler isn't the only one listening to All Shook Up and wondering how much it costs to get on the radio. Just a few miles away in Greenwich Village, a 45 year old composer named Burton Lane is in his manager's office, demanding to know how it's possible that a no talent hick like Elvis Presley can get on the radio. When Lane's own beautiful compositions are getting no play, Lane's manager throws up his hands. Radio's all about the teenage market these days, he tells him, I can't get your kind of music played anymore. No one can. For Lane, this struggle to get his catchy melodies heard is unfamiliar territory. He wrote his first hit song for a Broadway review when he was just 21 years old. Back then, before the Brill building, the center of the pop music industry was a New York street called Tinpan Alley and Lane was one of that scene's go to songwriters, right alongside Irving Berlin and Lane's mentor George Gershwin. There Lane helped discover Judy Garland and wrote hit songs for Broadway musicals and Hollywood blockbusters. Just a few years ago in the 1951 film Royal Wedding, Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling to a Burton Lane tune. But since then, Lane feels like he can't even get arrested in this town. He hasn't had hit song in years and his last movie musical bond. Doesn't make any sense to him. How could the public's taste change so fast? Lane's heard his managers excuse before. The entire old explanation about teenagers and their beloved rock and roll music taking over their airwaves. But he's also heard rumors that the whole thing is a sham. Built on greedy DJs taking bribes and payoffs from a bunch of crooked fly by night record promoters. He's starting to suspect that together, they're conspiring to voice mediocre music on an unsuspecting public and leave the real talents, talents like him, out in the cold. Up until now, Lane hasn't been able to do anything about it. But earlier this year, his peers in the old guard music industry elected him president of a trade group called the American Guild of Authors and Composers. Now, a fed up Burton Lane is going to enlist the guild to help him to find out more about the cozy relationships between these new rock and roll record labels and the DJs who spin their product. And he's going to take what he learns to the highest levels of government. He's going to demand that they finally take action to stop Peola by extension, he hopes, to put an end to this awful rock and roll. From Wondry, this is episode one of six of Peola for American Scandal. On the next episode, as the public's concern over Peola grows, Alan Fried becomes the target of a congressional investigation. But his greatest rival, a DJ turned television star with a squeaky clean image named Dick Clark, will find himself in just as much trouble as Fried. If you'd like to learn more about Peola, we recommend the book Big Beat Heat, Alan Fried and the early years of rock and roll by John A. Jackson. This episode contains reenactments and traumatized detail. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our johnmitizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited and exekied produced by me Lindsey Graham for airship, sound designed by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Andy Herman, edited by Casey Minor. Exekied producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman and her nonlopus for Wondry.