This is an exclusive story written by disc jockey, Joe Mayer, for the 'With a Little Help From my Friends' fanzine. I contacted Pat, who was the editor of WALHFMF and asked for her permission to share this story with you all on this blog. She was very kind in allowing this exclusive to be shared and was confident that Joe (who passed away in the 1990's) would have agreed to share his story with another group of Beatle fans.
The Beatles-September 1964
Hi! This is Emperor Joe Mayer from radio station 1220/WGAR in Cleveland, Ohio.
I was the morning disk jockey at radio station WHK in Cleveland, Ohio in September 1964 when we brought the Fab Four Beatles for their first appearance in the United States. I’d like to share some of my thoughts, remembrances and my feelings of that fantastic era of show business, including “that night” of their performance at Cleveland’s Public Hall.
Before getting into it, I want to preface it all by saying at that time I was just like all their teenage fans. Looking back on it now, I have to say everyone at the radio station was in awe of the Beatles. They had taken England, Germany, Europe and all of the United States by storm! Everyone spoke in hushed tones about the fact that we were bringing in the Beatles—everyone wanted it to happen. We had signed them to a contract, and yet couldn’t, or wouldn’t, believe it until they were here and on stage performing. It was a stroke of genius to be “the” station to be first to bring the Beatles to Cleveland, and I was glad and proud as hell to be a part of it. Nothing could compare to it, not even Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. This was to be the biggest thing ever, and it was! I can honestly say, there never has been anything like it, and never will be.
The signing of the contract and all its details took months and had started in the spring of ’64. Once those formalities with Brian Epstein were worked out, the next big thing was figuring out the details of how to make the tickets to the concert available to the listeners; most importantly on how to do it fairly. Ticket sales, of course, were not a problem. That simply was set up at a certain time, place and on a first come, first served basis. The contest ticket winners were the problem. That was finally solved by putting all the names entered into a computer. The computer simply “spit out” names at random. No set time or space. It was a “cold” way of doing it I guess, but it sure took the element of human frailty and judgment out of it. By that I mean, there was no “hanky-panky”, or dealing to ones friends. It also took the jocks off the hook of being bugged for tickets, free, or otherwise. Reading the above over, I’m sure I’ve over simplified things, but it covers some of the action that took place leading up to the concert at Public Hall.
Promotion in two words was : “No problem.” The Beatles appearance in person, live, created all the excitement, publicity and word of mouth, person to person advertising anyone needed or could ask for. It was a sellout as soon as I announced the Beatles coming concert on my morning show, and there never was any let up!
The Beatles arrival was something else. It was like a scene form an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Their arrival at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport was to be secret. The time and place both leaked out to their fans, but not the exact location. Thousands of fans, curiosity seekers, young and old, radio and television people, and just about anyone that could make it, showed up at the airport and waited. However, they landed about two miles away from the terminal, near the NASA building on the airport grounds. Their landing must have been done by instruments only. When they landed, all of the people from the radio station were in our own cars, plus some Limos for the Beatles were standing by, and when the plane stopped, we pulled out onto the field and formed a fairly good sized semi-circle and turned on the car headlights. The passenger door opened, the steps to the plane came down, and they were here---live! We could hardly believe it. It was fantastic! I still can’t get over it. Here, about three or four miles from my home after all the hullabaloo, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Jack Parr show, the Beatlemania they were here! It was something else. The living end.
Then, the quick caravan trip to the Sheraton-Cleveland hotel on Public Square. I can still feel the moments of happiness, giddiness, elation and yes—silent shock. Public Square was jammed with bodies. Some of the limos and cars went to the front entrance, and were swallowed up with fans. Two of the limos went separately to the back, or service entrance, and there quickly, quietly and as secretly as possible the important stars—the Beatles and Miss Jackie DeShannon were all moved inside the hotel under heavy police guard. If member serves me correctly, there were a few teenagers in the area of the ack entrance looking for ways to sneak into the hotel, but to this day I don’t’ think they really realized who was being moved into the hotel.
That night was wild. The halls of the hotel were loaded with guards. They had a job to do, and it was to keep the fans, or kids, away from the Beatles. Somehow, some of the kids managed to make it to the same floor, I believe we were on the seventh floor, but never really made it inside the room. WHK had a separate suite on the same floor, but I know hardly anyone was in it or used it. We all wanted to be with the Beatles. As I said earlier in the article, we, the disk jockeys, were just as star struck as you the fans. So much happened in those hours, it’s almost hard to remember it all.
As I said, I was the morning jock and had to be on the air at six, but I sure didn’t want to miss a thing. I remember the program director, the other jocks, the station manager, and yes, even the Beatles saying I should hit the sack and get some sleep. No way man. I stayed up. I remember lying down on the floor of the suite, but I didn’t get any rest that was as there was just too much going on. Sleep I could get anytime, so I stayed p. The adrenalin was really flowing. The Beatles all had gone to in to freshen up after their flight to Cleveland, and when they walked into the living room of the suite, once again the evening seemed like a dream. We were all introduced around again, since the airport greeting was quick and brief. Food and liquid refreshments were sent up to the room and the conversations and fun began for all of us.
I remember they really knew how to unwind. Man, the drinks were stiff. John was drinking water glass tumblers of scotch at that time. He and I were sitting on the couch, and the others, Paul and George in overstuffed chairs, with Ringo going form chair to floor to chair again. We talked of many things, their flight, Cleveland, music, concerts, our radio station, their backgrounds, their beginnings in Germany, England’s pirate radio stations, other rock groups like the Stones, Dave Clark Five, Billy J. Kramer, Herman’s Hermits, Ed Sullivan and the TV shows, Chuck Berry, Elvis, “birds” and of all things, religion. In fact, John and I got into a heavy discussion about religious thinking and John’s beliefs, and when it’s tired out and the scotch is flowing, one shouldn’t do that. We all discussed their free use of the four letter word. That “word” by the way, is a form of legal abbreviation used in their courts. I can say, we in the United States were considered pretty staid or “prim,” and that that Mother Country, England, is far freer and more broadminded in their thinking. We were (and may still be) really considered very, very conservative in America.
One of our jocks had brought along his camera, and in the middle of the evening took one flash picture. He, like the rest of us, was in awe and wanted to take some casual pictures. NO WAY. That one flash was it. There was some shouting and yelling, and if I remember correctly Paul, George and Ringo got up and left the room (they came back into the room about 10 minutes later). The rule was NO pictures, and that ended that. It’s really a shame that we weren’t allowed to take pictures, not necessarily candid to the point of embarrassment, but casual “posed” pictures, but Brian had said no pictures and they had meant it. It’s probably just as well though, as sometimes candid shots can be misinterpreted or misconstrued. One picture I would like to have though was when the oriental waitresses came up from the Kon-Tiki room in the hotel with some food and beverages. I can tell you; even then John had an eye for the oriental woman. Can’t blame him though, they were really something else too! Anyway, in the wee hours, about four or four-thirty in the morning, Paul, Ringo and George went off to get some sleep. John finally decided to go to sleep at about five in the morning. Me, I had to try and freshen up, leave the Beatles, go on the air at six, hopefully sound good, and hope and pray the four hours on the air would go by fast, and that nothing too exciting would happen until I got back to the room.
Fortunately the four hours went fast. At ten I was off the air and on my way back to the Beatles. It still didn’t seem real. I felt like I was riding on cloud nine. What an upper. There was a press conference scheduled and I didn’t want to miss that. I made it.
While we were waiting for the Beatles to awaken (they slept in late), we kept busy just hanging around the room taking to Brian, the band’s roadies and some of the “groupies” that had been picked up along the way. I hadn’t talked to my wife for many hours, so I decided to call home and report what was happening while they were still sleeping. My wife, Ginny, was happy to know I was still alive and had followed most of the happenings over radio, television and from other phone calls from other people. She was going to the concert that night, along with my brother, Bill, his wife, daughter and two of her girl friends. After the phone call, some of the Beatles (Paul and Ringo) were up and dressed and we all started to sail paper airplanes out of the hotel room to the still thousands of kids hanging around the hotel and public square. John and George joined us later. I wonder if any of the kids realize that some of the airplanes they may have caught and threw away were actually made and thrown by their favorite fab four!
During this period of time, when they had gotten up and we were all getting ready for the press conference, is when the Beatles individually became members of “Emperor Joe’s Commandos.” There were “Emperors” in most of the major radio markets in the United States. It was started by a jock out in Los Angeles by the name of Bob Hudson, and later was franchised to the number one rock jock in different markets. In Cleveland, that was me, so WHK had printed up very official looking membership cards and certificates. In a fun-filled ceremony, I presented one to George, John, Paul and Ringo individually. It caused a good many laughs and comments from the guys.
One other thing that comes to mind is the thousands of plush toys that had been given to me personally, both at the radio station and at my home, to give to the Beatles. Actually, I think I had two carloads (station wagons) full, that I had seen to it that they were delivered to their hotel room and dressing room at public hall. Some of the larger and more unusual ones I made sure were sent to their room. They got quite a kick out of them but they really couldn’t take them with them. It’s a shame too, because some were very large and expensive plush toys that the kids had bought for them. I’m sure they did take three or four with them, but I really don’t’ know which ones.
Back to the press conference. We, the WHK jocks went down to the special room set up for the conference. It was a very limited audience that would be attending. They were the very lucky kids from school newspapers, plus the writers form Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio’s daily and weekly newspapers. We went in first, and after that seemed an eternity, once again in walked the Beatles. Cameras (permitted) appeared everywhere, and some quick posed and un-posed shots were taken. There were some professional photographers there too and some pictures did appear in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press. I know sat in each of the Beatles chairs, and pictures were being take, but I have never seen any of those. Some of the pictures of the press conference appeared on the front page of the Plain Dealer, and there with the Beatles was Emperor Joe! Man, oh man, I sure was proud. I saw a copy of that picture at the recent Ohio Beatle Convention and it sure brought back a flood of great memories. The conference was all too short for all of us, even though it lasted quite a while. There was a good deal of kidding amongst the Beatles throughout the question and answer period, mostly about “birds” and Paul’s good looks. Let me tell you, he was more handsome in person than even his pictures. Ringo was like a friendly, loveable puppy; George was the quiet, serious one and John was the one-line comedian with a touch of cynicism even then. To me then, and now, I think George has the most individual longevity as a musician. He really is talented. Paul was a very close second, followed by John and then Ringo. That’s strictly a personal opinion, and I’m sure open for debate.
Following the press conference, we all wound our way through the crowd, with police escorts, and went back to the room. Somewhere in here I’m sure we ate, but for the life of me I couldn’t’ tell you if we did or didn’t. It still was like a dream to all of us. Food and beverages came and went, and the Beatles finally took some time for themselves and rested up for the concert. The excitement and tension continued to mount. We all knew the lineup for the night. I was to introduce Jackie DeShannon, the only girl traveling (officially) with them, and then bring on The Beatles. God, I was getting nervous.
It was a warm fall night; school had started, and all the fall colors were everywhere. I remember peeking out at the audience from behind the huge stage curtains, the colors were fantastic and the place was jammed. My wife commented later on that form her seat in the balcony above the stage, “it was like looking at a sea of scattered, fallen leaves of red, yellow, deep greens and golden hues.” There was a great deal of noise, talk, hysterical girls screaming, crying and occasionally becoming ill all over everything just form the sheer tension and excitement.
I know there was a stand-up comedian on the bill that night, but I can’t recall who he was. In fact, I doubt whether many people could. Then I introduced Jackie Deshannon. She was good—great---but again, everyone was on pins and needles waiting for the Beatles. She finished her encore and received a great ovation. Then while we waited for the Beatles roadies to get everything together they lowered a huge sign that said, “WHK PRESENTS…THE BEATLES,” we had to go out front of stage and try to fill time. We showed some of the items kids had sent in, and one of the biggies at the time was a very, very long gum wrapper chain that was given to the Beatles. No one wanted to hear us. No one really cared. They wanted the Beatles. Then the chanting began, and the tension mounted even further. There was a line of Cleveland Policemen in front of the stage. I remember watching them from the wings while the comedian was on, and when Jackie was singing. Most of them were intent on watching the show too. The policemen were big men to their children, and to their neighborhood children, because they were guarding the Beatles. They enjoyed the glamor you could tell, but they sure weren’t thrilled with the crowd control responsibility.
Trying to control that audience, and getting them somewhat quiet was no easy job. In fact, it never really happened. It became a shouting match, and all you could do was hope that you’d be heard over the mikes and the big public hall sound system. Rhythmical clapping…chanting…”We want the Beatles. We Want the Beatles…” Screaming. “Paul I love you” “George George!” “Ringo!” “John!” “We want the Beatles, we want the Beatles.” It just kept building to a feverish pitch. Somewhere amongst all this noise was a fraction of a second and I screamed, “Ladies and Gentlemen—The Beatles!!!”
What a helluva feeling. The curtains parted, the gigantic sign, the fantastic sound of the Beatles. It all was here! God it was great. I want to tell you I have never felt the likes of it before, and probably never will again. As I have said so many, many times since that night, I honestly could feel a concussion of air from all the shouting, screaming, yelling and applause. I actually could feel the thrust of the pressure of air, it was just fantastic. From then on, the public hall looked like thousands and thousands of fireflies popping all over the place. Flash cubes flashed all over the hall from the highest places right down in the front row.
They played, they flirted, John did some crazy dance steps, Paul winks, the cameras kept winking back, and the excitement built to such a high emotional pitch that some of the fans could no longer contain themselves, and I saw the line of policemen in the front begin to crumble as the audience surged forward towards the stage. And then the show was stopped by a Captain Blackwell of the Cleveland Police Department. He was made. He was upset and I think he was also scared. I saw it, and it was frightening. It was a sea of kids fighting, rushing, pushing, shoving, anything to get to touch their idols. If this kept up, someone would get hurt. I, along with some of the other jocks, were literally thrown out on stage to try and help the police restore order. John had some words (heated) with Captain Blackwell and the Captain threatened to close the show. I kept thinking, this would be a helluva way to end, after all the pressure and tension, the worry and the months of anticipation. I, along with everyone else, including some of the policemen kept repeating the Captains threat of closing the show. I think the police caught good deal of abuse that night, and many nights and concert to follow, but I can’t help feel it was bordering on being dangerous to the point of someone or many being injured. And more important than anything, I did not want the concert stopped. I wanted to see the Beatles as much as most of the kids in the audience. I ended up pleading with anyone that could hear me to quiet down or the show would be stopped. I was yelling into the mike. I was beginning to lose my voice. Then finally some semblance of order and quiet (certainly not total) was restored, and the show was underway. God it was good.
In the back of my mind as I write this, I can still hear the bass guitar, the drums, the harmony, the drive, the throb, the reverberation. I can still hear the Beatles. What a night.
Damn, it seemed over to quick. The shouting for more, the encores and suddenly, it was all over. The curtain closed, the roadies began dismantling the equipment, and there I was, emotionally drained and yet high, wandering around the barren stage trying to pick up the pieces of the biggest night in my life. I looked for anything. Broken guitar strings, broken drum sticks, picks, anything. Anything to help keep that night of nights alive. It sure was a gas.
Gosh it felt empty. Kids and people were still milling around both on the main floor and up in the balcony seats. The sounds of the Beatles kept ringing in my ears, the chanting, the encores, and the shouts for more. But they had gone off the stage and into a waiting van that whisked them back to the hotel and then quickly off to the airport and to another chanting, Beatle crazed mob in another city.
It was all over. My wife, Ginny, said she just sat there stunned, and then like the others; she simply put her head down and cried. It was that kind of night for everyone. Thanks God for letting us be a part of it.