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The ingenious way Elvis Presley even made money off his haters

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This is an encore episode that aired originally on January 25, 2014.

When Elvis Presley hit the airwaves in 1954, rock and roll as we know it discovered its first bookend.

His original five singles on the Sun label, were regional hits in the Southern U.S., but his impact was beginning to send tremors throughout the music industry.

In November of 1955, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips ran into financial difficulties and sold Elvis’s contract to RCA Records for $35,000 – which was the largest sum paid for a singer up until that time.

In March of the following year, a cigar-chomping ex-carnival promoter named Colonel Tom Parker signed Presley to a management contract. It would be a partnership that would last until Presley’s death 21 years later.

Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. (YouTube) While Colonel Parker instantly understood his young singer was becoming the hottest act around, he also figured his popularity might last two years, at most.

So Parker was determined to ride that short wave for all it was worth by marketing Presley in ways no other manager had ever dreamed of.

With his new RCA contract, Elvis insisted on recording a song inspired by the suicide of a lonely man who jumps from a hotel window.

It was called Heartbreak Hotel. The record company was completely against it, saying nobody would be interested in a song that morbid.

Elvis was unfazed, and recorded it anyway. The song topped Billboard’s charts for seven weeks, going to number one on the country & western and R&B charts, and became Elvis’s first million selling record.

Seeing that national success, Colonel Tom Parker started to plan an extensive marketing campaign to make his boy the number one attraction in North America.

All the while, Elvis harboured a secret desire to be a movie star. It is believed that this was Elvis’s real goal in life.

Presley bought his first guitar at just 11 years old. (Getty Images) So in 1956, Presley made his first movie, titled Love Me Tender.

The film was a huge hit, and there were one million advanced sales for the title song – a first for a single in music history.

Sensing a marketing opportunity that no music manager had every considered before, Colonel Parker signed a deal with a Beverly Hills movie merchandiser for $40,000.

The goal was to turn Elvis into a brand.

It was a revolutionary strategy, as it was the first all-out merchandising campaign ever aimed at the teen market.

In just a few months, over 50 different Elvis-themed products were produced, from charm bracelets and necklaces, to scarves, teddy bear perfume, Topps bubble gum cards, and sneakers… to record players, hats, and lipsticks in “Heartbreak Pink” and “Hound Dog Orange”  – sold with the slogan, “Keep Me Always On Your Lips.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that by the end of 1957, Elvis merchandise had grossed over $22 million dollars.

By 1962, Colonel Parker’s share of that booty would become an eye-popping 50%.

A whole other market. (thatericalper) His most ingenious product, though, was “I Hate Elvis” buttons. The Colonel even made money from people who despised his hip-swivelling star.

When Elvis went into the army for a two-year posting in 1958, this sustained merchandise marketing helped keep his image alive. When he returned in 1960, it was as if Elvis hadn’t skipped a beat.

The nearly 50 year-old Colonel Tom Parker had not only promoted the first major rock and roll star in history, he had designed the first-ever blueprint for marketing rock and roll that included not just the music, but movies, TV shows, concerts and hundreds of products.


For more stories from Under The Influence, click or tap on the “Listen” tab to hear the full episode.

You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.


Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio – a 1969 Airstream trailer that’s been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O’Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search for the hashtag: #Terstream.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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