Nearly 40 years ago, four boys from Liverpool sent American teenagers into hysterics when they arrived at New York's Kennedy airport.
Just a few months later, The Beatles went on a non-stop tour of North America, changing both music and the country forever.
Just one American journalist had the dream job of traveling with the band on every step of the way. Larry Kane, an uptight reporter from Miami, who at the time lamented his "soft news" assignment.
Kane chronicles all the music and the moments in his new book, "Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles' 1964 Tour that Changed the World."
Kane stopped by The Saturday Early Show to discuss his new book.
(Click here to read an except from "Ticket to Ride.")
Larry Kane discussed his book in a phone interview with The Saturday Early Show. The following is a transcript from that interview.
Why did you wait almost 40 years before writing "Ticket to Ride"?
First of all, I had a career. I was very busy covering 19 or 20 political conventions, other things I wanted to cover. [But] no matter where I speak or what I do, the first thing people ask is "What are the Beatles like?"
When was your last contact each band member?
I interviewed Ringo [Starr] two years ago in Atlantic City [and a few other times over the years]. Paul [McCartney] over email [in 2001] and that's about it. George [Harrison], I talked to a year or two before he died.
John [Lennon] and I had a relationship that continued through the '70s. He came to Philadelphia for a charity marathon, something that I'll never forget.
I can't say as an adult we were close friends. They probably respected me the most among the reporters. I was more of a serious news person and I think they enjoyed talking to me.
You toured with the Beatles in the early years, but many people like their later music, which is much different. Which do you prefer?
I like the middle stuff. My favorite album is "Revolver," although "Rubber Soul" isn't too far behind. I thought they were going to be a passing fad. It's truly an amazing phenomenon what happened with them and how it evolved.
What are you currently up to?
I retired from KYW [a CBS radio station in Philadelphia] on December 22nd of last year. Currently I'm a consultant for Comcast Corporation. They have a broadcast network called CN-8 with stations from Boston to D.C.
I write for the Philadelphia Inquirer about once a month. I do radio commentary on KYW news for Infinity. I was an [television] anchor in Philadelphia for 38 years. My first book was called "Larry Kane's Philadelphia." Dan Rather wrote the forward. It was about my life as a broadcast journalist.
Read an except from "Ticket to Ride":
Chapter 1: A Ticket to Ride
LARRY KANE: Is there any particular memory you would like to cherish from this trip?
JOHN LENNON: Well, just the whole thing. It's been fantastic. We will probably never do another tour like it. It could never be the same as this one and it's probably something we will remember the rest of our days. It's just been marvelous.
John Lennon was right: The Beatles never did another tour like the one in 1964. But then again, neither did anyone else. We all know now that the first Beatles tour of America stands as the greatest tour in rock-and-roll history, and that it was an event of great musical and social magnitude. But few know that the tour may never have happened if an earlier visit to America hadn't gone the way it did....
It really all started on February 7, 1964, when the Beatles landed in New York City and were greeted by an unprecedented crowd of more than 3,000 hysterical fans. After making an historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show two days later, and giving their first live stateside performance in Washington, D.C. two days after that, the Beatles headed south for the sunny shores of Miami. That's where I would meet up the band for the first time.
The records show that February 13 was a sunny day in Miami, with outside temperatures in the low eighties. But inside Concourse 3, the National Airlines hub at Miami International Airport, where an estimated 5,000 youngsters had gathered to greet the Beatles, spectators said the temperature was unbearable.
I stood on the asphalt below the concourse, waiting for the Beatles' arrival. Although the crowd was in an eager and anticipatory mood, I was anything but. As news director of WFUN Radio in Miami, my beat was covering the news of the streets, the courthouse, politics, and in 1964, the mass exodus of Cuban refugees to South Florida. The Beatles were not exactly in the front of my mind. In contemporary radio, there were record spinners, or "jocks" as we called them, and there were newsmen. The two groups rarely met, except in the hallway or at the water cooler. Assigning me to cover the Beatles in Miami was the idea of the deejays and the program department. To be honest, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the assignment.
In February 1964, jaded and skeptical, I and many others viewed the Beatles as just another quickie phenomenon, a distraction. But that was before I came to fully appreciate the band's music and social impact. It would be convenient and sly to tell you that I knew the Beatles were going to be megastars the minute I heard them, or that from early on I had realized they would be the most significant entertainment force in the twentieth century. But the truth is, I didn't have a clue.
Hollywood reporter Ivor Davis, a traveling companion on the 1964 tour, says now, "I was too young to appreciate it. Who knew the Beatles and their tour of 1964 would be the benchmark for all time? After all, this was just a rock-and-roll group. You could feel the insanity, but you didn't feel the history then. After that experience, almost every other was downhill for me."
Davis, who has interviewed hundreds of stars and is a scion of the Hollywood entertainment beat, was as skeptical as I was in February 1964. After all, it was only rock-and-roll, right? But soon enough we would learn that it was much more. And so on that hot February afternoon, I reluctantly reported on the Beatles' landing at Miami, the final stop of their first visit to America.
National's Flight 11 landed like any other scheduled flight. But the welcome given to its passengers was unlike any other in the history of the Miami airport. For one thing, the crowd in the concourse was so big and restless that their force and fervor caused plate-glass windows to start falling out onto the field where the plane was landing. Dade County sheriff's deputies were hardly prepared, and as the Beatles stepped off the plane, the surging crowd erupted in screams and pressed even harder against the windows. From my position on the asphalt, I looked up and saw arms reaching out of the openings, hands flailing in the air, young women climbing over each other to get one desperate look, and several ambulances positioning themselves on the other side of the tarmac.
I spoke into the tape recorder: "Larry Kane here at Miami International, where the Beatles have invaded South Florida. Thousands of fans have packed the airport." As I spoke, my words were drowned out by the high-pitched roar of the crowd. Then my taping was interrupted by the Beatles' walk down the steps. I ran toward them but was stiff-armed by a private detective who gave me a good jolt. The Beatles hurried into a limo and drove off to Miami Beach.
I ran up the steps and into the concourse. Several girls were hyperventilating on the floor. Others were bloodied from jostling in the close crowd. Some of the girls were crying, but I couldn't tell whether they were tears of happiness or terror. To say that the authorities were not prepared is only half the story; no one was prepared for such madness. In my life and career before and since, I never saw anything quite like that airport welcome.
One of the girls in the concourse, 15-year-old Kristina Monaco, had joined four of her friends and hired a taxi to take them from Palmetto High School in Southwest Miami to the airport. Almost forty years later, I found Kristina still living in the Miami area. Kristina says she has never forgotten the scene in that concourse: "We were all squashed together. You couldn't move your body until the entire group moved. There was no room to breathe. It was like living a fantasy, all of us there, watching them come off that plane. I only caught a glimpse but it was worth it, believe me."
I asked her what had drawn her to the Beatles. "Well, it was right after the assassination of the president. When I heard 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' it was something special, foreign. I connected to it right away. And I was drawn to Paul. I guess it was a hormonal reaction, but it was really strong. We all started wearing British-style pants and things. And they [the Beatles] were special. Eventually I outgrew the hero worship, but then another obsession took over-I was wild about their music." And she says she still is.
To millions of fans across the globe today, the music of Lennon and McCartney, along with the legend of the Beatles, is still vibrant. Despite death and change, time stands still for the Beatles. But in February of '64, I was convinced they were a passing fad and a footnote to history, even as I witnessed the surreal and powerful scene at Miami International.
Two hours after their arrival, I met the Beatles for the first time in a sparsely attended news conference at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, their home for a week. When I walked into the room, the four were smoking, drinking Coke and chatting. I asked them about the airport reception. Paul McCartney answered, "We thought no one would be there to greet us. Wasn't it great?" That's the only answer I remember, but I do recall how surprised I was by their physical appearance and demeanor.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr looked like boys. In fact, they were close to boyhood. George was twenty, Ringo twenty-two, John twenty-three, and Paul twenty-one. My age. And their hair startled me. Tame by today's standards, the length of it seemed odd, almost manufactured for effect. But it was real hair all right, as real and genuine as the people I was meeting for the first time. That's what surprised me the most-the difference between my expectation of meeting star entertainers and the actual experience of finding in these young men a naturalness rarely seen in the world of famous people.
When I returned to my radio station in Miami, the jocks were eagerly waiting for the tape of my initial interviews with the Beatles. They played segments of it every hour on the hour for days. We had suddenly become "Your Beatles station in Miami."
The Beatles were on a hastily scheduled first trip to America. Their canny, brilliant manager, Brian Epstein, told me a year later that this inaugural journey had been a "test run," a step designed to chart the waters in America. Epstein said, "We really didn't know what to expect. Would Americans take to the boys? Certainly, I didn't want a failure. So everything had to be right, planned. We had to look good." He wasn't disappointed with the outcome.
In mid-January of '64 the Beatles song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" topped the American charts. Epstein, buoyed by the news, took a dramatic gamble-signing a contract to have his four stars appear on the Ed Sullivan Show on three consecutive Sunday nights. And when the Beatles landed in America on February 7 for the first time, amid thousands of screaming fans, the gamble immediately looked like a good one. Now the Beatles just had to deliver.
Their February concert schedule was limited. They performed live on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th (in New York City) and 16th (broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach), and on tape the 23rd. The final performance was actually taped prior to their first live performance in New York. They also performed in concert at the Coliseum Theater in Washington, D.C. and at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. Miami was mostly a vacation stop for the Beatles, except for dress rehearsals and that live Miami Beach performance on Sunday the 16th.
I attended the evening performance at the Deauville. It was my first time seeing the Beatles perform, and I expected them to sound much different in person. After all, what group could duplicate the intricate sound of a produced recording? What I saw, along with millions of others watching at home, was a brilliant performance, unaccompanied by the embellishments of pre-taped music or the flourishes of extra musicians. It was plain and simple-four band members striking notes of harmony and grace. That twelve-minute segment on Sullivan, combined with the first appearance the week before, drew a television audience of 150 million people. In both performances, the Beatles were electric. For the first time, Americans, always wary of advance billing and over-hyped "phenomena," had seen the artists and heard their rather wholesome sound live and with no technical enhancement. Suddenly, the stereotype of "mop-tops" singing meaningless music vanished. For three Sunday nights, the Beatles owned the American television audience, satisfying their loyal fans beyond all expectation and instantly welcoming millions of new fans.
Sullivan had played a major role in the success of the Beatles' "American gamble" by offering them the platform of prime time television. He would also, a year later, extend a special offer to me as a journalist. In August 1965, Sullivan, on the recommendation of Brian Epstein, hired me to do interviews for a special called "The Beatles at Shea Stadium," produced by Sullivan Productions. I sat in the New York Mets' dugout at Shea as Sullivan, the grand master of live television, watched the Beatles sing for their biggest audience yet. Sullivan sat there beaming. Just days before, I had stood backstage at CBS Studio 50 on Broadway, an old theater, watching the Beatles tape their single 1965 appearance on Sullivan's show. The marriage of Sullivan and the Beatles was a wonderful one. The world superstars benefited from the exposure, and the aging king of prime time resuscitated his program again and again with Beatles magic.
The Beatles, of course, also had a big impact on my own career as a broadcast journalist. It's an unlikely story, and it starts with the simple question: How did a twenty-one year-old radio news director at a small-market station become the only American journalist to travel with the Beatles official party on their first tour of America?
It is a remarkable tale of fate mixed with some personal enterprise, and bares a lesson that anyone in the news business understands: No news story waits to find you; if you want to be in the game, you have to just stand up and play. The irony is that I did not want to be involved with what I considered a fad-I was just doing my job.
Weeks after the Beatles' trip to Miami in February 1964, word leaked out that the group would launch the biggest tour in history come August. There was a tentative concert date set for Jacksonville, Florida. WFUN Radio's program director, a young and sophisticated deejay named Dick Starr, urged me to secure an interview with the Beatles at the Jacksonville venue, the closest location to Miami.
I wrote a letter to Brian Epstein and included some letters written to our station by devoted Beatles fans. The letter simply outlined the reasons why I was requesting this one-time interview: fans' dedication, the impact of the Beatles, and the role of radio in supporting the Beatles' music. To my shock and utter disbelief, I received the following letter, dated July 10, 1964:
Dear Mr. Kane,
The Beatles would be pleased to have you join us in our traveling press party during the tour commencing August 19 in San Francisco.
The sum of $2500.00 will cover hotel, ground transportation and other services.
Derek Taylor, our press secretary, will be in touch regarding further arrangements.
We look forward to seeing you on the journey across America,
I had asked for one interview. In return, I was invited to travel with the band and be granted unimaginable access! Station management was flabbergasted at our good fortune, though there was the concern of money; after all, WFUN was tiny. Dick Starr solved that problem by signing up forty-plus stations in a network that would pay to receive reports I would feed to WFUN. Suddenly, it was a go. A most unusual assignment had been placed in my lap.
I was nervous and conflicted about the assignment. I knew little about entertainment and, from a professional point of view, cared even less. "Why not send a jock?" I said. But Starr and higher management wanted a newsperson. They wanted me. There was no turning back. I had to say yes. And with some reluctance, I did.
My immediate task was to prepare myself for a journey that no one had ever taken. And in early August, I received the following letter from the secretary to Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press secretary.
Dear Mr. Kane,
Further to our telephone conversation of last week, I have the pleasure of confirming the arrangements for the charter flight with the Beatles during the American tour.
The plane will depart from San Francisco on August 20th. The cost of the seat will be 350 pounds [approximately $1,250] for the whole trip. I am enclosing a list of hotels. I hope this covers everything.
With best wishes for a very good trip.
Secretary to Derek Taylor
Much later, I would discover that a standard business card I had enclosed in my letter to Epstein was the reason for my good luck. The card listed our station, WFUN, and six other stations owned by our group. The six others were mostly gospel and rhythm-and-blues stations designed to appeal to an African-American audience, yet Brian Epstein was none the wiser. Because of the design of the card, Epstein was under the false impression that I was the news boss of seven stations! Duly impressed, he invited me to join the Beatles' official party.
As I said, in the life of a reporter, you can't get the story unless you're willing to ask for it. But you might get more than you bargained for. The die was cast. I would leave behind the streets of Miami for thirty-three days and make a journey across North America. Untold adventure awaited me, I was sure.
I left Miami for San Francisco on August 19, 1964, with anxiety and apprehension. I came back with an unexpectedly rich education, a self-styled master's degree in contemporary culture. This trip would also take me to the outer limits of human behavior at a time when American life was changing. I would see things and experience events that seemed shocking at the time. Yes, there is sex, drugs, and a lot of rock-and-roll in this story. But there is also revelation threaded throughout about the way we were and the world we lived in.
It was 1964. America was about to slide into an abyss of war and division. The times would test us. But first, the Beatles and the generation of Americans who adored them would join in a relationship, a love affair between entertainers and fans that would last into the next century.
And back there, in the beginning, before we all realized the power of their presence and the impact of their music, this naïve but curious reporter got the gift of a generation-I had a ticket to ride.
The above excerpt from "Ticket to Ride" is reprinted with permission from the Running Press Book Publishers.
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.