1950s Radio in Color
The Lost Photographs of Deejay Tommy Edwards

Tommy Edwards, a deejay at WERE in Cleveland since 1951, was probably one of the first to introduce Elvis, Scotty and Bill to a northern audience when he booked them for a performance at the Circle Theater in Cleveland in February of 1955.  He had been playing their records on the air since the fall of 1954.  He was the first deejay to provide a weekly music newsletter, the T.E. Newsletter, chronicling the happenings during the week, that was distributed to more than two hundred agency men, music publishers, columnists, and deejays across the country.  He was also an amateur photographer.

Bill Haley and Elvis backstage at Brooklyn High School, OH - Oct. 20, 1955
Photo by Tommy Edwards courtesy Christopher Kennedy

Between 1955 and 1960, Edwards photographed the parade of performers who passed through the WERE-AM radio studio for on-air interviews, shooting more than 1,700 Ektachrome slides.* It was during a return trip to the Cleveland area the following October that included a performance in Bill Randle's elusive "Pied Piper" film project that Tommy took a famous photo of Bill Haley and Elvis backstage.  Tommy also staged many of the early sock hops that took place in the area high schools where he would also project his slides onto a screen to accompany the music.

Pages from 1950s Radio in Color
Photo courtesy Christopher Kennedy

Following his death in 1981 most of the collection vanished and was presumed lost. The few images that remained were often reprinted and rarely credited to Edwards, labeled “Photographer Unknown.” In 2006 Chris Kennedy, musician/songwriter, researcher and authority on Randle's project, discovered the collection during his research into the film.* Many of them he has now presented in a new book, 1950s Radio in Color: The Lost Photographs of Deejay Tommy Edwards (see story).

Elvis backstage at St Michael's Hall in Cleveland, OH (Mary Ann Zurwell and Nancy Piechota on rt.) - Oct. 20, 1955
Photo by Tommy Edwards courtesy Christopher Kennedy

Chris said, the photos are all from Edward's uncropped original 35mm negatives, and there's also photos of Pat Boone and Priscilla Wright, in the WERE studios, on October 20, 1955. The collection is crystal clear and amazing, and the real kicker is, I was lucky enough to also find a complete bound copy of Tommy's "T.E. Newsletter," over 500 pages of detailed information about every week at WERE from 1953 through 1960.

Pages from 1950's Radio in Color
Photo courtesy Christopher Kennedy

The newsletters are the photograph collection's companion piece, so my photo dates are to the month, sometimes to the day. Tommy writes about the Pied Piper filming as well as tracking EP's trajectory through 1955. He left us an awesome documentation and I'm thrilled to be involved in presenting it.

The Big Bopper around the time of his big hit, "Chantilly Lace." - Aug 1958
Photo by Tommy Edwards courtesy Christopher Kennedy

Tommy Edwards’s candid photographs capture the birth of rock ’n’ roll at its flashpoint: Elvis Presley while he was still dangerous; a raw and incomplete Chuck Berry before his star ascended; and some beady-eyed, high-voiced kid named Roy Orbison. 1950s Radio in Color gives Tommy Edwards his due recognition as the deejay responsible for perhaps the most important photographic and written documentation of twentieth-century music ever produced. Featuring over 200 color photographs, this book will transport readers of all ages back in time, allowing them to step into Edwards’s shoes for a moment and to feel the wonder and excitement he must have felt everyday while witnessing a cultural revolution.*

rear cover of 1950s Radio in Color
Photo courtesy Christopher Kennedy

The book is available now at Amazon.com and elsewhere.

page added July 15, 2011

* courtesy  Hypebeast

Tommy Edwards in his workshop going over his slides - 1960
Photo from TV Radio Mirror - Sep. 1960 courtesy FECC/The Fool

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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