1961-1964 - Kick out the jams
John's first foray as a radio DJ was at Dallas, Texas station WRRR where they failed to give him a penny for his efforts. But money wasn't his manna and he wasn't deterred. Rock 'n' roll had truly arrived Stateside and John Peel was hooked.
With Beatlemania causing mass hysteria amongst American teens, he found the passport to success lay in his Liverpudlian lilt. Despite being educated at a posh boarding school, Peel hammed up his Scouser-isms and it wasn't long before he moved to a full-time disc-jockey placement at Dallas' KLIF.
John said of that period:
"I became a Beatles expert, but of course I hadn't been in Liverpool for years and didn't know anything about them. In those days, though, America was full of DJs who were all called James Bond who pretended to be English and were really Canadian and who were all Ringo's cousin. I don't know why they chose Ringo. So, in the sense that I wasn't called James Bond and I really did come from England, I was almost unique." (NME)
In 1963, John found himself on the frontline of one of the most significant political moments in modern history - the shooting of American President, John F. Kennedy - a story he was very proud of telling. After the assassination, John bluffed his way into the midnight press conference, where Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the murder of Kennedy, by claiming to be a stringer for the Liverpool Echo. A film of the conference exists, showing John in the background, in his own words, "looking like a tourist."
One year later, John moved to Oklahoma City to join one of the city's radio stations, KOMA, where he spent the next 18 months. He married a local girl, Shirley Anne Milburn, with whom he had a stormy relationship. They divorced in 1971, and he rarely discussed the marriage. He also underwent his first name change, dropping the 's' from his surname. He later explained why - "The Americans apparently believed 'Ravenscroft' was too much for any one person to remember."
The metamorphosis from Ravenscroft to Peel was almost complete.
John was paired up with a comedy jock on the breakfast show, but his northern wit was lost on his co-presenter and he was soon shunted off to an evening slot before eventually being given the boot by KOMA.
John said of the experience:
"Since I was the last guy they'd taken on, I was the first they got rid of when the going got rough. So I went off to work in California where I started taking drugs and leading a generally depraved kind of life."
John ended up finding his feet at KMEN radio in San Bernardino, California.