(Credits: Bent Rej)
If I were to ask you when The Beatles debuted on US television, you would probably say on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Undoubtedly, this was the band’s most crucial American broadcast, but technically, it wasn’t their first.
The Beatles took a short break after the first small ripples of Beatlemania in September 1963. John Lennon took his wife, Cynthia, to Paris, and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr went on a short trip to Greece. Meanwhile, George Harrison became the first Beatle to enter the US as he and his older brother Peter flew to visit their sister Louise in Illinois. During the holiday, Harrison would frequent the local record shops under cover of anonymity.
At one point during the trip, Louise purportedly brought Harrison to the WFRX-AM radio station in West Frankfort to request the DJ to play the Beatle’s personal copy of the band’s latest hit single, ‘She Loves You’. Thankfully, the 17-year-old DJ Marcia Schafer agreed to play the song, and here began the British Invasion. Of course, it was going to take a little more than this, and so Louise relentlessly hounded Schafer to play The Beatles’ new hits over the ensuing months.
Shortly after Harrison’s visit, on November 16th, 1963, The Beatles made their somewhat inconsequential debut on US television. Any US fans at the time were in their teens or early 20s and, hence, likely would have missed footage of the Fab Four pop-up in a news bulletin on the news magazine show The Huntley-Brinkley Report that evening.
According to The Trivia Book of The Beatles, reporter Edwin Newman was documenting the rapid spread of Beatlemania across Britain and mainland Europe at the time. Hear audio captured from the bulletin below.
Newman notes the mostly female fans swarming in their masses to secure tickets. Describing a particularly rowdy Beatles concert in Bournemouth, he adds: “Those who study such things say that, at last, the British juvenile has someone immediate to identify with, not some distant American rock and roll hero”.
A few months later, in February 1964, Harrison returned to the US, this time with his three bandmates. “We were very excited just to be on the plane to New York,” McCartney recalled, speaking to Conan O’Brien at the Tribeca Festival in 2023. “But what happened was the pilot’s radio ahead to Idlewild Airport, as it was called then, and they got word back to us that there was a big crowd [waiting for us]”.
“So we kind of half knew what to expect,” McCartney added. “But then it was a really big crowd, and we were just bowled over. It was nice. Immediately after, we did a press conference at the airport, and we knew that whatever they laid on us if there was any sort of insult, we knew we could come back with, ‘Well, we are number one in your country.’”
On February 9th, The Beatles performed their first live show across the Atlantic on The Ed Sullivan Show. The broadcast reached over 70 million people, including the likes of Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons and Nancy Wilson.
Hear audio from The Beatles’ first television appearance in the US below.