Saturday, July 25, 2009

Beatle People: Murray the K

Murray the KMurray Kaufman (February 14, 1922 – February 21, 1982) professionally known as Murray the K, was a famous and influential rock and roll impresario and disc jockey of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. During the early days of Beatlemania, he frequently referred to himself as "the Fifth Beatle."

Early life

Murray Kaufman came from a show business family: his mother, Jean, played piano in vaudeville and wrote music and his aunt was a character actress on the stage and in film. He was a child actor - an extra - in several Hollywood 1930s films. He attended a military boarding school, and later was inducted into the Army where he arranged entertainment for the troops. Following the war, he put together shows in the Catskills' "Borscht Belt," also doing warm-ups for the headline performers.


In the late '40s and early '50s, he worked in public relations and as a song plugger, helping to promote tunes like Bob Merrill's "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window." From there, he worked as a radio producer and co-host at WMCA (and briefly thereafter at WMGM), working with personalities such as Laraine Day on the late night interview program "Day At Night" and with Eva Gabor. At the same time, he was doing promotion for several baseball players, including Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and his radio beginnings may be attributable to his connection with the New York Giants whose manager, Leo Durocher, was the husband of Laraine Day. His work on those shows earned him his own late-night show that often featured his wife as co-host, as was popular at the time. For a while in the 1950s he was president of the National Conference of Disk Jockeys.

Deejay: from AM to FM

Kaufman's big break came in 1958 after he moved to WINS-AM to do the all-night show, which he titled "The Swingin' Soiree." Shortly after his arrival, WINS's high energy star disk jockey, Alan Freed, was indicted for tax evasion and forced off the air. Though Freed's spot was briefly occupied by Bruce Morrow, who later became known as Cousin Brucie, Murray soon was moved into the 7-11PM time period and remained there for the next seven years, always opening his show with Sinatra and making radio history with his innovative segues, jingles, sound effects, antics, and frenetic, creative programming. Jeff Rice, writing in M/C Journal, says that Tom Wolfe calls Murray "the original hysterical disk jockey."

"The Fifth Beatle"

Murray the K reached his peak of popularity in the mid-1960s when, as the top-rated radio host in New York City, he became an early and ardent supporter and friend of The Beatles. When the Beatles came to New York in February, 1964, Murray was the first DJ they welcomed into their circle, having heard about him and his Brooklyn Fox shows from American acts who visited England. Murray did his radio show from their Plaza Hotel room their first night in New York and accompanied them to Washington, D.C. for their first U.S. concert, was backstage at their Ed Sullivan Show premiere, and roomed with Beatles guitarist George Harrison in Miami, broadcasting his shows from there. He came to be referred to as the "Fifth Beatle," a moniker he says he was given either by Harrison during the train ride to the Beatles' first concert in Washington D.C. or by Ringo Starr at a press conference before that concert. WINS (his radio station) picked up on the name and popularized it, billing him as the Fifth Beatle, a moniker he came to regret. He was invited to the set of A Hard Day's Night in England and made several treks to England during 1964, giving WINS listeners more Beatle exclusives.

The move to FM

By the end of 1964, Murray found out that WINS was going to change to an all news format the following year. He resigned on the air in December '64 (breaking news about the sale of the station and the change in format before the station and Group W released it) and did his last show on February 27 prior to the format change that occurred in April 1965. A year later, in 1966, the FCC ruled that AM and FM radio stations could no longer simply simultaneously broadcast the same content, opening the door for Murray to become program director and prime-time DJ on WOR-FM — one of the first FM rock stations, soon airing such DJs as Rosko and Scott Muni in the new FM format. Murray played long album cuts rather than singles, often playing groups of songs by one artist, or thematically linked songs, uninterrupted by commercials. He combined live in-studio interviews with folk-rock — he called it "attitude music" — and all forms of popular music in a free-form format. He played artists like Bob Dylan and Janis Ian, the long album versions of their songs that came to be known as the "FM cuts." Al Aronowitz quotes Murray as saying, about his this formula, "You didn't have to hype the record any more. The music was speaking for itself."


During that time Murray was often a champion of the much-maligned electric Bob Dylan. He introduced him to boos at a huge Forest Hills Tennis Stadium concert in August 1965, saying "It's not rock, it's not folk, it's a new thing called Dylan."

He defended Dylan on a WABC-TV panel:

"Even in his months of seclusion after the motorcycle accident, WABC-TV dedicated a television show to a discussion of what Bob Dylan was really like. When one member of the panel accused Dylan of all but inventing juvenile delinquency, there was only Murray the K to defend him. 'Is Bob Dylan every kid's father?' Murray asked."

Last years in radio

Murray's WOR-FM radio was a cultural phenomenon and commercially successful, but after a year management wanted more commercial appeal and tried to force Murray to use a set playlist; he refused, then had a heart attack. WOR switched to an oldies format and Murray the K left New York radio to host programs in Toronto - on CHUM -and on WHFS in the Washington D.C. area. He returned to New York in 1970 on the weekend show NBC Monitor and as a fill-in morning dj, and then in 1972 moved to a regular evening weekend program on WNBC radio where Don Imus was broadcasting; he was joined there by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a year later. Although it was low-key, Murray's WNBC show featured his own innovative trademark programming style, including telling stories that were illustrated by selected songs, his unique segues, and his pairing cuts by theme or idiosyncratic associations. In early 1975, he was brought on for a brief stint at legendary Long Island alternative rock station WLIR, and his final New York radio show ran later that year on WKTU-FM after which - already in ill health - he moved to Los Angeles.

Brooklyn Fox shows

Throughout his New York radio career, Kaufman was renowned for the multi-racial rock 'n' roll shows he produced three or four times a year, usually during the Easter school recess, the week before Labor Day, and between Christmas and New Year at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. Those shows featured the top performers of the era and introduced new acts, such as Dionne Warwick,Chuck Jackson, The Zombies,Little Anthony & The Imperials, the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, Gene Pitney, Ben E. King, the Four Tops, Wayne Newton, Bobby Vinton (who was the leader of the house band when he asked for a chance to perform as a singer), The Lovin' Spoonful, Cream, and The Who, among many others. He was known for promoting original black and Latino artists rather than white covers of their songs, at a time when that was not popular.

Records, television, stage, and syndication

Throughout his radio career, from the 50s through the 70s, Murray also released numerous LP record albums, often compilations of hits by the acts that appeared in his famous Brooklyn Fox shows. These albums frequently had names such as "Murray the K's Blasts from the Past" or "Murray the K's Sing Along with the Original Golden Gassers".

"Me-a-surray" (named after a language Murray invented and used quite often on his 1010 WINS radio show) was a "single" by a girl group called The Delicates, released on the United Artists label. The Delicates were Denise Ferri, Arleen Lanzotti and Peggy Santiglia, known as Murray's "dancing girls". They wrote the song which was arranged by Don Costa. The Delicates also wrote and recorded his "Submarine Race Watcher" theme, used to open and close his radio show. It was during the "twist craze" that Kaufman introduced a song sung by an unidentified artist named, "The Lone Twister". Of course, the artist was Murray.

In the mid-60s, Kaufman also produced and hosted television variety shows featuring rock performers. The best known was a national broadcast entitled It's What's Happening, Baby which was made under the auspices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The show aired on June 28, 1965 and featured performances by many of the popular artists of the day like Jan & Dean, Mary Wells, the Dave Clark Five, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, The Drifters, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers and Little Anthony & the Imperials That show also introduced the first music video-style programming, pre-dating MTV by 15 years.

Another late 1960s television show that Murray the K hosted was called "The Sound is Now"; it included appearances by Phil Ochs and Sonny and Cher, among others.

In the 1960s he created Murray the K's World, a multimedia discotheque at an abandoned airplane hangar in Roosevelt Field, Long Island, where live and recorded music played while slides and film were projected.

During the early 1970s, Murray acted as a special consultant to the stage show Beatlemania, and he toured the country giving interviews on behalf of the show.

In Los Angeles in the late 70s he hosted the syndicated "Soundtrack of the '60s" until ill health forced him to resign and forced the cancellation of "A Salute to Murray the K," a tribute concert slated for Madison Square Garden.


Kaufman was parodied in the film The Rutles - All You Need Is Cash as a radio host named Bill Murray the K, played by actor Bill Murray. Kaufman appeared as a guest star on a 1960s series entitled "Coronet Blue," receiving very good reviews, and also appeared as himself, to not-so-good reviews in I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a film by Academy Award winner Robert Zemeckis.

Family and death

He was married six times and had three sons, Peter (Altschuler), Jeff and Keith. His first wife, Anna May, died in childbirth; second, Toni, married for three years; third, Beverly, three months; Claire, for about nine years in the 1950s. After that he was married to Jackie Hayes - called "Jackie the K" - until about 1973; and finally to actress Jackie Zeman - together for seven years before marrying, the marriage lasted one year.

Kaufman died of cancer a week after his 60th birthday on February 21, 1982.


He shares writing credit with his mother and Bobby Darin for Darin's breakout song, "Splish Splash."

Murray was the author of a 1966 book, Murray the K Tells It Like It Is, Baby.

He is mentioned in the 1980 Ramones song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" as well as "Who Will Save Rock 'n' Roll" by the Dictators.

He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

Recordings made by Murray Kaufman

* 1955 Fraternity F-714 "The Crazy Otto Rag" as by Ludwig Von Kaufman/"Out Of The Bushes" as by Murray Kaufman (made before becoming a DJ at WMCA)
* 1958 Murray Kaufman Part 1/Part 2 (Part 1 is a 1010WINS radio jingle item featuring Murray and the Delicates and his themes; Part 2 is his "Ah, Bey, ah bey, koowi zowa zowa" chant, along with an explanation of its meaning.) The chant was lifted intact from the 1953 film Mogambo
* 1961 Atlantic 2130 "The Lone Twister"/"Twistin' Up A Storm" as by The Lone Twister
* Murray the K's Sing Along with the Original Golden Gassers, 1961


* "Ah Bey!"
* "kooma zowa zowa"
* "It's what's happening, baby!"
* "submarine race watching"
* "blast from the past"
* "Me-a-surray" language, his own version of pig Latin
* the "Swingin' Soiree"
* "golden gassers"
* the Record Review Board
* his hats
* "grand kook"
* "ain't that a kick in the head"
* "dancing girls"
* "play 'em red hot and blue"
* "the grand commodore"


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