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The Day the Beatles Hit U.S. Airwaves

Terry Fincher, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

On Dec. 17, 1963, the U.S. still had no idea what was in store. The Beatles had yet to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, where they seemingly overnight changed the landscape of pop music forever. That wouldn’t occur until February 1964. But on a mid-December day in 1963, Carroll James of WWDC in Washington, D.C., played a Beatles record. He wasn’t the first to do so in the U.S., but it was the first time things really caught fire.

According to Beatles Interviews, a DC teenager had mailed in a request to WWDC to hear the Beatles. “I wrote that I thought they would be really popular here, and if [James] could get one of their records, that would really be great,” said Marsha Albert, that insightful teen who made the request.

James got his hands on the band’s new single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which had yet to be issued in the States. The phones lit up and made the song an instant listener favorite. Capitol Records released the single in the U.S. the following week, and it would reach the No. 1 spot in Billboard on Feb. 1, 1964, a place it would occupy for 11 straight weeks.

A month earlier on Nov. 18, the Beatles made their first appearance on U.S. television as part of the Huntley-Brinkley Report, which featured a four-minute segment by reporter Edwin Newman. Three weeks before that, on Oct. 29, the Washington Post ran a story with the headline, “Thousands of Britons ‘Riot’ – Liverpool Sound Stirs Up Frenzy.” Both Time and Newsweek ran their own Beatles stories in mid-November. In other words, the times they were a changin’, and the rest is history.

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