Forty years ago the Beatles came to Philadelphia. And nothing would ever be the same.
The Bulletin guy complained to his boss, who then turned around and gave Hyski's boss an earful when they were out on the back nine together. At which point the bossman comes back to the clubhouse, calls up Hyski and tells him he's off the air for a couple of days. No pay.
And on top of that, Hyski's getting static from the local 7-Up guy, one of the station's biggest sponsors, who had been demanding exclusive pouring rights for the concert. Hyski told Mr. 7-Up he didn't need this crap from some glorified soda jerk and cordially invited him to shove it. "You ever heard of water?" said Hyski.
Well, the station brass wanted to suspend him for that too, but Hyski wasn't having it. He was untouchable, and he knew it. He reminded them that he took a bullet for the team back in '58 when the payola shit hit the fan--off the air for a year!--and now he was done taking bullets. He wasn't interested in going on another "vacation." You suspend me again and I resign, he told them, and the Beatles go with me. And that was the end of that, baby.
All summer long, WIBBAGE primes the pump, spinning a steady diet of Beatles wax, and broadcasting Fab Four reports with the urgency of a tornado alert. Ringo might have to have tonsils removed! Paul McCartney is still unmarried! Repeat: Paul McCartney is still unmarried!
Local papers stoke the hype. The Daily News runs a six-part series that asks the pressing questions of the day: "Is There Any Harm in Beatle-mania?" and "The Beatles: Do You Love Them or Do You Hate Them?" The DN even designates a special Beatles editor to handle all the Fab-related mail the paper receives.
In mid-August the Beatles commence their North American tour, an unheard-of 26 dates in 25 cities. Joining them on tour is 21-year-old Larry Kane, a Miami radio newsman who will serve as Brylcreemed Beatles chronicler, breathlessly delivering daily dispatches to a network of radio stations across the country like he's Walter Winchell on the rooftops of London.
In time he'll come to appreciate the Beatles' artistry and realize the historic magnitude of the events he's covering. But at the outset Kane fancies himself a serious journalist on a frivolous assignment. Square as a two-cent stamp, he's deeply skeptical of the four longhaired Liverpudlians, an impression reinforced by his father, who tells him just before leaving for the tour, "Watch out, Larry. Those Beatles are trouble."
Kane's first encounter with John Lennon in a San Francisco hotel room doesn't go so well.
"What's your problem, man?" Lennon asks.
"What do you mean?" replies Kane.
"Why are you dressed like a fag ass, man? What's with that? How old are you?"
"Well, it's better than looking scruffy and messed up like you."
But Lennon's derision melts away when Kane turns around and asks him about Vietnam, a topic Beatles manager Brian Epstein has forbidden the boys to talk about. Kane is surprised by how informed and articulate Lennon is about his objection to the war. Lennon is surprised to hear an American journalist ask him a non-moronic question. After a rocky start, Kane eventually earns the Beatles' respect because, unlike the cynical press corps that greeted the band in every city, he never talks down to them.
The Beatles crisscross the country in a chartered turboprop dubbed "the Electra," touching down in each city long enough to whip the wiggling pubescent throngs into a hysterical lather for 38 minutes before taking off again.
Teenage girls going crazy for idols is as old as Sinatra, and Elvis' swivel-hipped reign only upped the ante. But Kane starts to notice a significant difference. Not only is the decibel level and intensity of the audience reaction off the scale, but the degree to which these kids are willing to buck authority--breaking through barricades, accosting police officers and engaging in all manner of subterfuge, such as dressing up as hotel chambermaids just to get closer to the object of their desire--is unprecedented. As the Day-Glo youthquake of the '60s erupts, it will become apparent that this was a harbinger of things to come.
The news reports of all of this youth gone wild in the streets doesn't go unnoticed by Frank Rizzo, then-deputy commissioner of Philadel-phia's finest. The Big Bambino is gonna make damn sure the same crap doesn't happen on his watch.
When President Johnson came to town to address the graduating class of Swarthmore in the spring of '64, the police held just one meeting to strategize security, and it was open to the press. For Operation Beatle, as it was dubbed, Rizzo holds three closed-door security meetings, using a slide projector to plot out every possible security breach and problem area at Convention Hall. The good news is that the hospital is only 24 seconds away.
Rizzo would soon face down a much bigger problem than unruly teenage girls. In North Philadelphia, tensions between the black community and Rizzo's force are about to explode. On the night of Aug. 28 at the corner of 22nd and Columbia, a black police officer gets into a shoving match with an inebriated black woman. A crowd gathers, and bottles and bricks began raining down as police reinforcements are called in. By 10:30 p.m. the melee on Columbia Avenue has escalated into a full-blown riot. Before dawn Rizzo is on the scene, backed by 600 uniformed policemen.
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino