This piece by guest author Bruce Spizer is part of a series of essays to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first American television appearance on CBS's "The Ed Sullivan Show." It culminates with CBS News, 50 Years Later...The Beatles at The Ed Sullivan Theater: Presented by Motown The Musical, a live, interactive multimedia event at The Ed Sullivan Theater on Feb. 9.As strange as it sounds, Beatlemania in America was jump-started by CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, a 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring, Md., and a disc jockey from Washington, D.C.
Disc jockey Carroll James, who had also seen the CBS News Beatles report, arranged to have a copy of their latest British hit single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” delivered to him by a flight attendant who worked for British airline BOAC.
Exactly one week after the CBS News story -- on Dec. 17, 1963 -- James invited Marsha Albert to introduce the song on his radio show. The station’s switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree with eager listeners phoning in to rave.
"I Want to Hold Your Hand” was immediately added to WWDC’s playlist and placed in heavy rotation. Next, disc jockeys in Chicago and St. Louis began playing a tape of the song.
The same pattern was repeated throughout the nation. Boosted by saturation airplay at a time when American teenagers were out of school for the holidays, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was an instant best-seller with over 250,000 copies sold in the first three days. By January 10, 1964, Capitol had sold over one million units.
Vee-Jay and Swan also piled on. These labels had earlier taken The Beatles when Capitol and others would not. They reissued their Beatles records, “Please Please Me” and “She Loves You” -- flops when first issued several months before.
So, by the time the Beatles arrived in New York City on Feb. 7, 1964, they were not only the talk of the town, but of the entire nation.
- More on the Beatles from CBS Local
- Win tickets to the live event at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Feb. 9
The full story of The Beatles' first U.S. visit and how Beatlemania evolved in America can be found in Bruce Spizer’s book "The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America." Bruce has been posting a history of what was going on with The Beatles 50 years ago on his website, www.beatle.net.