There was a time when we learned about new music and trends not from MTV, not from Spotify or iTunes, not from satellite radio – but from the disc jockeys coming over the humble airwaves. In those days, Murray the K was one of the greats.
Born Murray Kaufman, he brought new music to the teens of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. He got his big break taking over for another legendary DJ, Alan Freed, at New York City's WINS-AM, but a hot evening time slot wasn't all he had in common with Freed. Both men embraced popular music in all its forms, by all its singers – black and white – and presented racially integrated concerts at a time when segregation was still the norm.
Integration wasn't the only way Murray the K was forward-thinking. As the times changed, so did the music – and Kaufman was on top of each new style. Starting as one of the first supporters of The Beatles (and often calling himself "The Fifth Beatle"), he moved on to champion folk rock and to become one of the first FM DJs to play full album versions of long songs by artists like Bob Dylan instead of the shortened singles common on AM radio.
In addition to looking forward, Murray the K also indulged the American appetite for fondly remembering the past. He released compilation albums packed with golden oldies – even in the 1960s and '70s, when the oldies weren't yet all that old. In the '70s, he was part of the '50s revival craze that brought us Happy Days, Grease, Sha Na Na, and a rediscovered love for sock hops. Make sure you stick around until the five-minute mark on this clip to see Murray and his friends dance the pony, the twist, and more.
Kaufman died 30 years ago today, just as MTV was beginning to make its mark as the new arbiter of taste. The era of the nationally-famous radio disc jockey has come to an end, but Murray the K remains one of its stars.
Written by Linnea Crowther