2 Birmingham radio hosts started the ‘Ban the Beatles’ movement in 1966

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – With the release of the three-part documentary series “The Beatles: Come BackOne of the most popular and influential bands in history is now back in the news. However, the “Fab Four” weren’t always so popular, especially in Alabama.

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In fact, two radio hosts in Birmingham are credited with an early boycott and album-burning move in 1966 following singer / songwriter John Lennon’s comments.

Earlier in March, Lennon was interviewed in The Evening Standard in London, where, among other things, he spoke about Christianity and his take on its waning influence in the world.

“Christianity will go away,” Lennon said. “It will disappear and shrink. I don’t need to argue about it; I am right and I will be right. We are more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was fine, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. They’re the ones who twist it that spoil it for me.

Birmingham disc jockeys Tommy Charles, left, and WAQY radio station’s Doug Layton snatch and smash material depicting British singing group The Beatles on August 8, 1966. Broadcasters have launched a ‘Ban the Beatles’ campaign after the Beatle John Lennon was quoted as saying his band is more popular than Jesus. Charles objected to the statement as being “absurd and sacrilegious”. (AP Photo)

The comments received little attention at the time until they were reprinted in July in “Datebook,” a magazine for teenagers in America. On July 30, 1966, Tommy Charles and Doug Layton of WAQY in Birmingham announced that they were no longer playing Beatles albums, asking listeners to send in Beatles albums and products for burning as part of a promotion special.

Alvin Benn, a longtime reporter from Alabama who was a reporter for United Press International at the time, heard Charles and Layton’s show that day on his way to work and knew there was a story there.

“‘What is happening?’ I asked, shortly after I got to my office and called (Tommy) Charles, who enjoyed doing stock car shopping, running for Birmingham City Hall and doing televised business presentations, ”wrote Benn in his memoir, “Reporter: Covering civil rights … and the wrongs to Dixie. “” ‘We’re mad at Lennon and going to show him what we think of his comments,’ Tommy told me. The more he spoke, the more I knew this would be something our Atlanta and New York offices would love to achieve.

Benn’s story, “Burn, Beatles, Burn! Would soon be printed in newspapers across the Southeast and across the country. Within a week, six radio stations across Alabama announced that they would no longer broadcast Beatles music.

“If this is a Beatles joke, then it will still have to be changed,” said Bob McKinnon, director of WETU at Wetumpka in an interview with the Alabama Journal published August 4, 1966. “Until then, they” re everything with us. We don’t play them.

Posters, albums and other Beatles memorabilia are burned in a bonfire to protest John Lennon’s claim that the Beatles were now more popular than Jesus, at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, August 12, 1966. ( AP Photo)

It wouldn’t be long before other stations across the country began to burn Beatles albums. One station, WAKY in Louisville, Kentucky, spent a day playing 10 seconds of silence every hour for prayer instead of Beatles music. In Memphis, Mayor William Ingram urged city council to cancel the band’s upcoming concert in town.

“The Beatles will be dead and forgotten, literally and figuratively, in a relatively short time,” Ingram told UPI. “I’m sure more Bibles than Beatles records are sold. “

The backlash was strong enough that Beatles manager Brian Epstein held a press conference ahead of the band’s North American tour to clarify Lennon’s comments.

“What Lennon said and meant was that he was amazed that over the past 50 years the Church of England, and therefore Christ, had suffered a decline in interest,” Epstein said. to UPI in an interview published on August 7, 1966. “He did not want to brag about the fame of The Beatles. He wanted to point out that the Beatles effect seemed to be more immediate on certainly the younger generation. It was not expected. that the article be displayed out of context and in the same way as it did in the magazine.

However, despite all the fires in different parts of the country, the bonfire Charles and Layton had planned ultimately never happened. At the time, Birmingham had a city ordinance banning public bonfires, but Charles said Lennon’s apology at a Chicago concert on August 12, 1966 played a role in their decision not to prosecute. the countryside.

“We have called off our planned destruction of the Beatles records and other items we have collected,” Charles told The Associated Press on August 13, 1966. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to continue the campaign. We have to take his word for it that he’s sorry.

Charles died in 1966 and Layton died in 2015. Layton’s widow, Villeta, said that despite her long career, notably as a color analyst for the Alabama football radio shows from also from 1969, the Beatles ban continued to follow him.

“He would rather not talk about it,” Villeta told AL.com after her husband’s death. “He was rolling his eyes (when we told him about it). It’s something that was said at the time, and it just exploded. “

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