T i p - o f - t h e - M o n t h - ( A r c h i v e )


DJ History: The First-Wave of Club DJ Growth, 1943-1969
DJ Rob Wegner

January 2003

At this time of economic uncertainty in our industry, an understanding of the past should help to shed light on our future. In this regard, if you were to take a step back and look at the history of the Club DJ, you will discover that our industry has experienced three significant waves of economic growth. The first-wave appears between 1943 and 1969; the second-wave between 1974 and 1982; and the third-wave roughly between 1985 and 2001. In this first-part of a three-part series, I will address the rise and fall of each period and the potential implications for the future.

Let me set a few general rules about this discussion: First, when a wave ends, this doesn't mean that the DJ scene ends. Instead, the total number of (mostly mainstream) nightclubs and DJ's drops to an all-time low. Second, this is not a comprehensive history of the club disc jockey.

The Pre-DJ History Period (1877-1943)

Thomas Edison invents the phonograph in 1877 and the history of recorded sound begins. While one can argue that Reginald A. Fessenden became the first "Broadcast" DJ by broadcasting Christmas music in 1906 near Boston, Massachusetts, we don't see the first "Club DJ" emerge until 1943. In fact, the first Club DJ's weren't humans. A popular dance in the early-1900's called "juking" resulted in the popularity of coin-operated jukeboxes (invented in 1889). A "juke-joint" became known as a place for dancing/drinking to jukebox music during the 1920's.

The First-Wave (1943-1969)

Jimmy Savile launched the world's first DJ dance party in 1943 by playing jazz in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherd's in Otley, England. Savile saw 210 people attend his first night. As Savile was breaking ground in the UK, we begin to see clubs opening in France and other parts of Europe immediately after World War II. Many of these discotheques (French word for record library) either couldn't afford live bands or wanted authentic American music. Thus, they relied on records to entertain their clientele. According to Dick Clark, "the first disco was probably a little dive that couldn't afford a band." However, some DJ historians believe that the first disco was the "Whiskey-A-Go-Go" in Paris (1947).

During the 1950's, American radio DJ's would appear live and assume the role of a human jukebox at "sock hops" and/or "platter parties." These DJ's would usually play 45's on one turntable while talking between songs. In some cases, a live drummer was hired to play beats between songs to maintain the dance floor. In 1955, Bob Casey, a well-known sock-hop DJ, introduced the first two-turntable system in order to have continuous music. At roughly the same time, European clubs were importing American rock-n-roll records, which contributed to the growth of discotheques.

Nightclubs and discotheques continued to grow into the mid-1960's. However, by 1968, the number of dance clubs started to decline. In 1969, Francis Grasso (though not the inventor of the beat-mix) popularized beat-matching for an extended period of time at New York's Sanctuary nightclub. That same year, most American discos either closed or were transformed into clubs featuring live bands.

There seems to be several reasons why the first-wave came to an end. First, the sound and lighting of the 1960's disco environment was not sophisticated enough to maintain interest. Second, the Vietnam War changed popular music in favor of socially conscious/protest rock and folk music. The early-1970's was a period of social, political, and economic uncertainty, and many people weren't in the mood to dance.

Conclusion About the First-Wave

This wave is the longest (of the three) because it took many years for our profession to develop. It is bookmarked at the beginning by Jimmy Savile (opening the world's first DJ dance party), and at the end by Francis Grasso's introduction of extended beat matching 26 years later. As you will notice, a significant DJ innovation seems to take place at both ends of each wave. For example, the next wave (1974-1982) begins with the introduction of the first Technics 1200's, the first 12" single record, turntablism, and hip hop.

Next Month: The Second-Wave of Club DJ Growth (1974-1982)

Industry News

* The second edition of Stacy Zemon's The Mobile DJ Handbook will be released soon. A review of the book will appear on Disc Jockey 101 in a forthcoming Tip of the Month.

* "Oh no ... Robotnick" the new CD by legendary DJ Alexander Robotnick has been released (Click Here for more info). For those interested in rare Robotnick tracks, Click Here.

* The Florida Academy of Mobile Entertainment has two seminars tentatively scheduled for January in the Tampa Bay area (Saturday Jan 4th from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM; Saturday Jan 25th from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM). Location: The Sandler Sales Institute (4100 Kennedy Blvd, Suite 300, Tampa, Florida 33609). Seating is limited to the first 25 DJ's to register. Cost per seminar is $249.00 with a 10% discount to members of any national or local DJ organization. If anyone signs up for the Sandler Sales institute sales training course, a 15% discount will be applied.

FAME will also be doing a seminar in February at the Mobile Beat DJ Expo in Las Vegas along with Larry Rodkin of Florida on Sales and Marketing Tips.

* There's increasing evidence of the healing powers of music (brain function). Based on a patient's specific problem, scientists are working on musically based prescriptions as a form of healing. See BAH Music Institute

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