December 1, 2011 at 8:33 am #35
Here’s the entire story in-depth. The “Elvis’ Christmas Album” and the Firing of “KEX Solid 7” disc jockey Al Priddy for playing the cut “White Christmas.” What led up to this? And what happened 30 Years later? Read from Billboard Magazine, The Oregonian & “Behind The Mike” column accounts, pertaining to this history making fib. Add to this, the 1957 Elvis controversy with Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas.” Berlin had heard Elvis’ recording and called it a “profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard.” He ordered his staff in New York to telephone radio stations across the Country, demanding the song and the entire album, banned from radio airwaves.
“Billboard Magazine” Oct 7, 1957: “HUGE ADVANCE ON ELVIS LP” New York — RCA Victor’s deluxe Elvis Presley Christmas Album, which will retail at $4.98, has already chalked up distributor orders far in excess of the label’s planned production of 200,000 copies according to RCA Victor album department chief W.W. Bullock. The Exec terms it “the greatest advance album order in the history of the company. However, Bullock said there are still no plans at present to increase production of the LP tagged “Elvis’ Christmas Album.” The special set spotlights nine 12″ x 12″ four-color photos of Presley, along with a full page of Presley candids. EP versions of the LP will also be made available.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 8, 1957: “Most nauseating news of this or any other season is that Elvis has discovered Christmas. . . his new album of Christmas songs, just out, contains most of the classics, but his rock ‘n roll treatment of White Christmas’ proved just too much for Mel Bailey, KEX Program Director, who banned it from the air as far as KEX is concerned. “We expect to hear many protests from Presley fans but we wouldn’t play this record if we had 10,000 requests,” said Bailey . . . Time magazine called the album “a crime against Christmas . . . all of which should guarantee it’ll be on the top ten overnight.” [Phyllis Lauritz as guest B. Mike]
“Behind The Mike” Nov 19, 1957: “I have just rocked through “White Christmas” with Elvis and the jolly Yuletide season will never seem quite the same. Listen to the “Jailhouse Rock” kid’s rendition of “Silent Night” and you’ll see what I mean. You have no idea what the beat does for “Little Town of Bethlehem.” All these Christmas classics are contained in the latest Presley album, which I understand already has an advance sale of over 200,000 copies.
In addition to the record, the album contains a half dozen full color studies of Elvis face, featuring his latest sulks and pouts. You’d better not look at these just before dinner. Elvis seems to suffer a shortage of wind as he rocks through our Christmas favorites to the sex throbbing of the steel guitar. In “Si-huh-luhnt Night” he gasps for breath every third word. Elvis enunciation has always reminded me of “Mumbles,” the famous Dick Tracy character. This record is no exception. Only these are familiar songs, you at least know what he’s driving at.
Elvis mumbles his way through “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” Only phrase I could understand in this one was “You gonna see me comin’ in a big black Cadillac.” “Oh Lil (pant, pant) Town of Beth-Lem (pant, pant)” says Elvis on another. The Old Groaner’s honeymoon would be ruined if he ever heard what the pelvis has done to his “White Christmas.” “I-He-Hi-He-Hi Dreanin’ of a Wite Kriss-Mush,” he tells us.” [Francis Murphy, B. Mike]
“Behind The Mike” Nov 20, 1957: “While you were in Hollywood the announcement regarding the KEX ban of Elvis Presley’s recording of “White Christmas” was made in your column. Since then we have received a number of listeners calls and letters thanking us for “banning the Presley Christmas Album,” indicating some misunderstanding may exist. “White Christmas” is the only selection contained in the new RCA-Victor “Elvis’ Christmas Album” that KEX will not broadcast. Each of the KEX Solid Seven disc jockeys has been made aware that we are restricting this number and that under no circumstances is this policy to be violated.
As Program Manager of the station I feel Presley’s rendition of “White Christmas” extremely vulgar. It desecrates the Spirit of Christmas and transgresses the composer’s intent, as well as all the Christmas traditions so many of us hold dear. Other numbers in the album are not being restricted. While I don’t personally care for Presley, he is possessed of a certain talent and appeal, and so long as he abides by even average standards of good taste we’ll play his records and let the public decide if they like them. I sincerely hope you’ll convey this information to your readers. — Mel Bailey, Program Manager, KEX.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 21, 1957: “Some reactions arriving on my comments on the Presley Christmas record: That blast was completely uncalled for. I have heard Elvis Christmas Album, in fact I own one, and he does not murder “Silent Night” or “Little Town of Bethlehem.” They are very beautiful, even if you, who probably have no taste whatsoever, don’t think so. Those pictures just happen to be the best ever printed. Why don’t you take another look or get glasses. — Joyce Nunamaker, Milwaukie.” [Francis Murphy, B. Mike, remarks](Please, don’t make me look again. Anything but that!)”
“You sure had your nerve saying such awful things about Elvis. I’d like to see you make a record! It would probably scare everyone to death. If he wasn’t any good, why would his records sell like they do? — Patti Berge, Gardiner.”
“My aren’t you the bitter one in regard to Elvis Christmas Album! You must be in a rut to think White Christmas must always be sung in a slow, dragging manner. It’s a relief to hear a singer who puts some life into his songs. As for religious songs Elvis does not rock through them as you insinuate. Also, you’d better have your hearing checked if you can’t understand the words in “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” Anyone who can look as handsome as Elvis does when he changes his facial expression to the sultry look has a right to look sultry! Too bad you don’t have the nerve to print our answers to your red hot criticism of Elvis. — Elvis Fan, Portland.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 22, 1957: “Read the letter written to you in Wednesday’s column pertaining to the Elvis Presley Christmas Album. The comments brought to my mind a word I don’t care for, censorship. It is all well and good to offer criticism of material played on the air, but what is this word “restricting?” Should it not be censorship? We at KXL feel the audience, adult and young, is capable of being its own censor. If the listener wishes to hear “White Christmas” on the RCA-Victor Elvis Presley Christmas Album, all that’s needed is to vote for the selection on the KXL Top 30. All the disc jockeys at KXL, namely Don Porter, Bob Liddle, Ross Woodward and myself, have no intention of censoring any selection that the audience wants to hear. We play a classification of music, but we do not censor. Criticism, of course — censorship, never. — Bob McCarl, Program Manager, KXL.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 23, 1957: “Thank you for warning us concerning issuance of the Elvis Presley Christmas Album. I am writing to the Portland Radio Stations to mention that if they should play selections from this album, I’ll no longer listen to the station nor patronize their advertisers. At the same time, my 12-year daughter says she will write threatening a boycott if they DON’T play this album. It will be interesting to see whether they are more interested in her patronage or in mine. — Mrs. John P. Vloyantes, Forest Grove.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 25, 1957: “Elvis Presley’s Christmas Album has driven me to take refuge in Central America until the jolly Yule season has been properly rocked in. So I’m fleeing to the jungles of Guatemala and Yucatan until the Presley craze for “White Christmas” subsides. Phyllis Lauritz will be guest B. Mike for the next three weeks.” [Francis Murphy]
“Behind The Mike” Nov 27, 1957: “Letters continue to pour in over feud ignited last week re banning of Elvis Presley’s “White Christmas” recording, divided just about equally pro and con. . . One thing about old crazy-legs, people either can’t stand him or can’t stand it without him.”
“Behind The Mike” Nov 29, 1957: “A year ago KXL refused to play the junky trash which they now promote, but it wasn’t called censorship, just consideration for its listeners. And regarding Elvis and his Christmas album, isn’t there such a thing as good taste, or is that completely out of date? – Ernestine Schmidlap (former KXL listener).”
“Billboard Magazine” Dec 2, 1957: “Elvis’ Christmas Album” debuts at #23 on the “Best Selling Pop LP’s” chart.
Oregonian article – Dec 3, 1957: “FIRED” [picture of Al Priddy] “AL PRIDDY, DEEJAY BREAKS PRESLEY BAN — Radio station KEX said Monday [Dec 2nd] it has fired Disc Jockey Al Priddy because he played Elvis Presley’s recording of “White Christmas” on the air Sunday [Dec 1st]. Station Manager Mel Bailey said Priddy violated the ban the station put on the Presley recording about three weeks ago. The record was banned, Bailey said, because “it is not in the good taste we ascribe to Christmas music. Presley gives it a rhythm and blues interpretation. It doesn’t seem to me to be in keeping with the intent of the song.” Bailey said he was at home listening to KEX Sunday morning when he heard the record played.
Bailey said he then called Priddy at the station and fired him. Priddy, according to the Associated Press, said “the word was passed around the station we weren’t supposed to play the record. But I figured the listeners were entitled to hear it. We don’t hold back anything else Presley has done. The record is certainly not objectionable,” he said. Priddy said “music is something that belongs to everyone. They should be able to choose what they like, not what one man likes. There should be a little freedom . . .” Priddy, 48 had been with KEX three years. Prior to that he was with radio station KING in Seattle.”
Oregonian Editorial – Dec 5, 1957: “BLUE-SUEDE CHRISTMAS — No sympathy is due the disc jockey who was fired out of hand the other day for airing Elvis Presley’s personal version of “White Christmas.” On the face of it this is poetic justice. One only wishes that Mr. Presley himself could be haled before the bar. For his, of course, is the original offense. The disc jockey is no more than an abettor after the act.
But on reflection it must be seen that this is no way to beat the menace of Elvis and his imitators. Reprimanding the jockey merely calls to the Presley record more attention than it deserves. Many there will be who cannot resist the temptation to hear — even to buy — the offending disc. Let the jockeys play it to death — an early one preferably. The radio dial can be turned. Remember, if you will, the just fate of the fellow who wanted Richard to open the door.”
“Billboard Magazine” Dec 9, 1957: “Elvis’ Christmas Album” climbs to #3 on the “Best Selling Pop LP’s” chart.
“Behind The Mike” Dec 14, 1957: “I think the fuss over “White Christmas” deserves consideration from two angles. In the first place since when is “White Christmas” to be regarded as a sacred song? As I recall the lyrics express the wish of a person in Southern California, where it doesn’t snow, to recall childhood memories of a home further North where it did snow on Christmas. Is this what Christmas now means to us? Is this the measure of the depth of the spirit of our Christmas observance?
Secondly I think it is time to stop using Elvis Presley as the whipping boy for our generation’s failure with some of its children, because it obscures the true reasons for that failure. In my day my parents regarded Bring Crosby’s singing as a desecration of true music and expressed horror and disgust over his singing the real Christmas carols. Now he has gained such a high estate that a younger singer is criticized for not using the same reverent moan in singing a trivial popular song. The spirit was taken out of Christmas long before Elvis made his record. And I think maybe the kids have more sense along this line than their parents. — A. Wilman, Portland.”
“Billboard Magazine” Dec 16, 1957: “Elvis’ Christmas Album” hits #1 on the “Best Selling Pop LP’s” chart and stays for 4 weeks.
“Billboard Magazine” Dec 16, 1957: “TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY IS ‘?'” Hollywood — To play or not to play Elvis Presley’s Christmas package — that seemed to be the puzzler for disk jockeys last week. Portland, Ore. disk jockey Al Priddy KEX, chose to air Presley’s “White Christmas” and promptly got fired for it. Station management had banned the playing of the wax, averring that the “treatment of the song was in extremely poor taste.” Conversely, Dick Whittinghill, KMPC, Los Angeles, answered a request to play the Presley album, with “No, I won’t play it. That’s like having Tempest Storm (stripper) give Christmas gifts to my kids.”
“Behind The Mike” Dec 18, 1957: “I am happy to report that nowhere in this sprawling metropolis was I able to purchase Elvis Presley’s Christmas album.” [Phyllis Lauritz as guest B. Mike]
Fast forward this story now, 30 years later….
On Dec 11, 1987 Al Priddy now 78 years old, was interviewed on KGW Radio’s Steve Lloid afternoon show, after Lloid saw Priddy mentioned on a calendar of historical events. Priddy told his story of what happened that night at around 12:30am after he played “White Christmas.” Mel Bailey called and said “You Knothead. You played it. You’re fired.” Priddy had recorded the conversation and played it at the end of his program and then left. Letters of complaint started to roll in and within two weeks Priddy was back on the air. This story was written up in “The Oregonian” by Don Hamilton and appeared the next day.
Now enter former KEX morning man, sweet loveable ol’ Barney Keep who had either read the story. Or it was known by others at KEX and one of them contacted Margie Boule to get her to ask Barney what he knew.
Oregonian article Dec 16, 1987 “A PRIDDY GOOD STORY, WHILE IT LASTED” by Margie Boule. [abridged] “I almost hate to write this column. But then, I hated losing the story, too. It was such a fine story, with all the elements. An event that put Portland on the map. Local newspapers duly reported Priddy’s firing. The wire services picked up the story, which was printed around the globe. Readers everywhere were outraged. Several mail trucks a day delivered what Priddy remembers as “mountains of mail bags and barrels of letters.”
A piece of recorded history. Priddy’s story has been listed in almanacs, yearbooks, encyclopedia’s, Presley biographies and rock ‘n’ roll histories. It was spotted last week by Bill Gallagher, KGW Radio Program Director, in the current edition of Radio & Records, a trade magazine.
All in all, it was a story almost too good to be true. Better strike that “almost.” [Margie phones ol’ Barn] “Is this Barney Keep?” I asked.
“Sure is,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“Barney, you were at KEX back when Al Priddy was fired for playing “White Christmas,” weren’t you?” I asked, knowing full well Barney had worked in front of the KEX mike from the 40’s to the 70’s.
“Yeah . . . I was there.” There was an odd hesitation in Barney’s reply.
“Well, can you remember anything particularly interesting about that firing? Anything folks might not already have heard about it?”
There was a long pause, and then: “I’m not sure I should tell you this.”
Well, far be it from me to encourage that line of thinking.
“You should tell me, Barney.”
“Well, it was my idea.”
“It was your idea to fire him?” I asked, thinking ol’ Barn was going to unburden himself of some long-borne guilt.
“No, the whole thing was my idea. You see, I had read in the trades that this “White Christmas” record of Elvis’ was controversial back East, and there’d been some protests. So I walked into Mel Bailey’s office — I remember walking into his office and suggesting that we ban the record, get Al Priddy to play it, and then fire him on the air. It was a publicity stunt.”
“Did Al Priddy know it was a stunt?”
“Well, I remember Al being in on it. Now, he’s getting pretty old and he might not remember that, but I don’t see how he couldn’t. Im getting old myself [70 years old], and my memory is clear about it. I’m not particularly pround of it, but it was my idea.”
[Margie then calls Al Priddy]
“Al? Somebody who was at KEX back in the 50’s says the whole “White Christmas” incident was a publicity stunt. Is that true?” I held my breath. Say it wasn’t so, Al.
“Well, now,” Al was thinking before he answered. “I can’t tell you whether it was or wasn’t. It could have been, but I don’t recall it that way.”
“Al, did KEX pay you for those weeks you were off the air, before they reinstated you?”
“Yes, they did.”
“And didn’t you think that was odd, that they would fire you, but keep sending you paychecks?”
“Well, you never know about people like that.”
“Did you know all along that Mel Bailey was going to put you back on the air?”
“I suppose you could say I was kept pretty much in the dark.”
Well, if you believe Al was in the dark, he was in there with the rest of the world. Until now. I guess it all just goes to show: You can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people any more than 30 years.”
Fast forward to today, ol’ Barn, Al & Mel have all passed away . . . but the story lives on in the annals of history . . .December 1, 2011 at 9:43 am #2083semoochieParticipant
I’m really surprised I missed this one: Sweet Lovable Ole Publicity Stunt!December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm #2084kennewickmanParticipant
Very nice local radio Christmas Story !!
Ya, I heard of this years ago ..but never that it was a Publicity Stunt !!
But it certainly makes all the sense in the world..Ol’ Barn..pretty smart guy..positive marks for KEX in the rating wars…and I’ll bet the record distributors loved it too..December 4, 2011 at 3:43 am #2085
This has got to be one of the most enduring myths in Radio and Elvis history!December 5, 2011 at 4:12 am #2086Chris_TaylorParticipant
I wish Ted Rogers was still with us. It would have been fun to see what he knew about it. I don’t think he worked at the station at that time, but for sure had to know some inside stuff too.December 5, 2011 at 5:29 am #2087
I’m sure Ted Rogers knew the inside story since he worked so many years with Barney. In fact it could have been Ted that contacted Margie to ask Ol’ Barn, after Al had been written up in The Oregonian.December 5, 2011 at 5:44 am #2088Chris_TaylorParticipant
I may need to contact Ted’s wife and see what she knows.December 5, 2011 at 5:48 am #2089
Now that would be interesting!December 3, 2012 at 6:46 am #2090
I didn’t mention in the story above when Al Priddy returned to KEX. Here is Als’ return ad in “The Oregonian” January 11, 1958 which features a drawing of Al with a night cap on his head and a record in his hand. There’s also a drawing of an owl and a clock at midnight:
“ALL NIGHT AL”
After midnight it’s Portland’s popular all – night d i s c jockey Al Priddy behind the mike spinning your favorite records.
Nightowl listeners hear hourly newscasts, and regular KEX weather, sports and community service features from midnight until dawn on Radio 1190.
1190 KEX (logo)December 4, 2012 at 2:46 am #2091Randy_in_EugeneParticipant
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