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Yeah yeah yeah! 50 years later

KISN radio helped usher in Beatlemania in Portland by playing songs, reporting news


by: COURTESY OF GINO ROSSI - Gino Rossi, then KISN radios photographer, took photos of the Beatles at their 1964 Vancouver, British Columbia concert as Beatlemania ripped through North America. A longtime rock 'n' roll photographer, Rossi plans to produce a book.Beatlemania hit the United States in February 1964 and, even before the Internet, cable TV and smartphones, Portland felt the overwhelming impact of The Beatles right away.

The Fab Four of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr changed rock ‘n’ roll music forever, ushering in the British Invasion, making different or foreign suddenly hip and bringing songwriting to another level — a legacy that hits the 50-year mark soon. The Beatles arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City with much fanfare on Feb. 7, 1964, and their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” two nights later drew an estimated TV audience of 73 million people — like Kennedy being shot or man landing on the moon, it was an event in the 1960s that old-timers remember where they were and what they were doing at the time.

A continent away in Portland, “Tiger” Tom Murphy became known as “the Beatle guy” for Portland on KISN 91 AM, the hit station of the time. He anticipated Beatlemania because of the popularity of early releases “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “From Me to You.”

“KISN was playing the hell out of the records,” says Murphy, now retired and living in Los Angeles. “They just hit really, really quick. My personal opinion, music had gotten a little stale, and The Beatles were so different with the hair and suits.

“I thought it was just two guys, because it was just two guys (McCartney, Lennon) singing. Then the buzz started to come from England and the business. It was huge. Kids would come by the (KISN) window, and they’d show me the latest articles in one of the teen magazines. They got an album right away, got the U.S. album “Meet The Beatles.” They were so different, and they were good, and got better as time went on. There’s quite a bit of difference between ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ “

Murphy, as “the Beatles guy,” also would play their songs and report news. “I would say, ‘And, here’s the latest on The Beatles ...,’ like I was in touch with (manager) Brian Epstein or something,” he says. “It lit a fire under the radio station and got a lot of attention for us.”

At one point, Murphy remembers, The Beatles held eight of the top 10 places on the Billboard Top 40 chart.

They were wild times, and they hit the Northwest as The Beatles made tour stops in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle (Seattle Center Coliseum, 14,300 fans) in 1964. There to see them in Vancouver was KISN photographer Gino Rossi, Murphy’s boyhood friend whose career later took off to include hundreds of album covers and magazine shoots.

KISN offered a contest to send listeners to The Beatles concert with deejay “The Real” Don Steele in Vancouver on Aug. 22, 1964, a night after they played Seattle. Rossi remembers it well.

“It was a stadium like (old) Civic Stadium, and as soon as The Beatles hit the stage, the stands emptied,” he says. “They tried to attack the stage. It’s not as crazy as it is today, but it was still pandemonium.”

Fortunately for the photographer, he could be on stage, after being backstage. Rossi says: “I got some (photos) on stage that were fair, and got stuff of George in a hallway that I framed as a portrait.”

The Beatles' second U.S. album.The next year, Rossi stood on stage and shot photos of The Beatles at Memorial Coliseum. Rossi recently had been hired by Roger Hart, another KISN deejay and manager of Paul Revere and the Raiders, to be the Raiders’ photographer.

“I was the only photographer allowed on stage in Portland,” he says. “I couldn’t get all four of them in the composition, but I got some outstanding pictures.”

Rossi plans to produce a book of his most notable photos in the near future. He’s working on the book with Hart’s son, Alex.

Hart, who, along with Murphy and others, now contributes to the online version of KISN (goodguyradio.com), also had his brief fling with The Beatles.

On The Beatles’ first tour in 1964, Derek Taylor served as the group’s press agent, and he enlisted Hart’s help for the band’s concert at Red Rocks, outside Denver. Hart would later meet all four of The Beatles, spending the most time with Harrison, even sharing the story about how his wife wanted to ditch Harrison during a visit to spend more time touring London. “Very nice. Quiet, artsy type,” he describes the late Harrison. “He kept a modest profile.”

During Beatlemania, Hart was making the transition to being engaged full-time with the Raiders, and getting out of the radio business. But, he still felt the impact of The Beatles. (Hart would later hire Taylor as the Raiders’ publicist).

“The Beatles were, interestingly enough, very plugged into the Northwest music scene,” Hart says, denoting the Wailers from Tacoma, Wash., and the Raiders from Portland. “I remember talking with John about it.”

On Beatlemania, Hart adds: “We were absolutely excited about them. We thought it’d be a whole new start to top-40 music and for rock ‘n’ roll after the Kennedy assassination and a break from the sad realities. They caught on. I don’t know if anybody expected them to be as big as it turned out.”

The lyrics made The Beatles, he adds.

“John and Paul were such good songwriters,” Hart says. “George had some moments, Ringo one or two. It was a Paul and John kind of thing. Even today, a symphony orchestra or big band could put together beautiful renditions of anything they wrote. Great music. They were probably better than they knew.”

The Beatles' long music video.Hart also recalls that Paul Revere and the Raiders appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as well, probably made the same money and drew the same screaming fans, but “didn’t make as big of news.”

The Beatles actually played three Ed Sullivan-produced shows, including the epic show at Shea Stadium in 1965 that drew about 56,000 people. The Beatles made such an impact in North America, far bigger than in England and Europe, and “they couldn’t believe the amount of money they were making over here,” Murphy says.

Do The Beatles go down as the biggest and most influential musicians of all-time?

Harrison was quoted once as saying that Elvis had a bigger impact, because he performed solo, and The Beatles had four guys to withstand the insanity.

Murphy says, yes, The Beatles reign as the greatest musical act of all-time.

“Mostly because of the writing,” he says.