In 1963, the general consensus among recording industry professionals was that British music could not be popular in the States.
In England, a four-man band called the Beatles was generating publicity and sales. The Beatles’ British label, EMI, could not get its American company, Capitol Records, interested in the group … so four Beatles singles (“Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You” and “She Loves You”) were released in the US on smaller record labels like VeeJay, Swan and Tollie. The songs received limited airplay on US radio.
On Dec. 17, 1963, James Carroll, a disc jockey at WWDC in Washington DC, became the first DJ to play the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on American radio. The song had been released in the UK in November and was an immediate hit.
A teenage fan, Marsha Albert, had seen the Beatles on a Dec. 10 news broadcast with Walter Cronkite. She wrote to Carroll and asked him to play the Beatles on his show. Carroll knew a stewardess with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and asked her to bring back one of the group’s records on her next trip to Britain. She did. On Dec. 17, Carroll let Albert introduce “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on his radio show.
The song generated incredible response from WWDC listeners, and was soon played every day (almost every hour). Fans sent tape recordings of the song to DJ’s in Chicago and St. Louis, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” garnered similar popularity when played in those markets.
Capitol Records had plans to release the song in mid-January, but audience demand made them rush production (and increase production from 200,000 units to a million). On Dec. 26, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became the first Beatles record on Capitol Records and the first #1 single for the Fab Four in the US.
Beatlemania had begun and the Beatles would have six #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964.