by Allen Deck
September 27, 2011
Dave Fulton’s new film marvelously captures this critical time of mass communications and social upheaval. His is a microcosmic video examination of what would be happening all over the county in radio at that time. Funny thing about time. Decade’s trends don’t really break neatly at the count of ten. What we recall as the 50s really stretched well into the early 60s and those wacky late 60s have never really ended for some. They gave way to a cultural revolution on such a myriad of levels they’re all as yet to be counted and accounted for. It was the time when the majority demographic of post-war American youth, what would later be called ‘baby boomers’, that big goofy dead-goat-lump in the middle of our long squirming population boa constrictor shook itself free, stood up its back-legs and shouted “ROCK AND ROLL!” And to them it was to be presented – and extolled – and damned – and exploited.
WIFE came to town in ’63 like an aerial bomb in a sacred moment of silence. Right along with a dead JFK, Sylvia Lykens and The Beatles, WIFE came to town with hot jingles, white-hatted interchangeable Good Guys, lotsa contests, endless promotions, and it all happened FAST!!! Records were less than 3 minutes, jocks shut up after 30 seconds, say it, play it, play the jingle, pump the contest. Top 40 had come to town. Their signal was wimpy but their voice was loud. Employees knew flop sweat from the pressure inside that Window on the World. WIFE radio printed money at a staggering pace. Don Burden would drive this and his other radio machines pedal-to-the-metal until he went off the FCC cliff. It would take a while and it was gonna be a helluva trip.
Meanwhile up the way at the beautiful two-story brick on North Illinois heads were spinning. WIBC had been top ‘o’ the Radioland heap for years. They were knocked on their axis in less time than it takes to read this. WIFE had delivered a KO punch like that Clay kid down in Louisville. WIBC had without dispute one of the finest most relied upon newsrooms in the country under the iron direction of Fred Heckman. They weren’t the good guys. They were the disaster go-to guys. See smoke. Tune to WIBC. That was the mindset of Hoosiers. But suddenly the city was spending night and day with your WIFE (or so said the billboard out by the airport).
Somebody kicked the plug out. Somebody forgot to start the tape. Somebody screwed up and WIBC’s all-but-forgotten FM didn’t hang wallpaper for several hours – and nobody called! Nobody outside the building cared. It was what every fledgling deejay has always suspected, there really was no one out there!
“Hell, it’s 1968. If nobody’s listening” thought The Mothership “Let’s mess with WIFE!
The crowded dials of the Big Three cities had ventured into the unknown steamy swamps of FM already, why not Naptown? Relishing a disparaging term for our fair burg, hiring bargain basement tireless creative young announcers, embracing a venue few had direct access to, WIBC-FM was suddenly no more and WNAP was born to the strains of Inna-Gadda-da-Vida. Then came King Freak and Michael T, John G, Big John, Booger, Buster, Major Tom Lewis, your best friend for life, Mr. Below, the Smash, and Rex Rona. WNAP set the beat and stole WIFE’s lunch with the illusion of underground radio and the 25th Hour and constant concerts and the Original Morning Team. Theirs was the Fantasy Festival and the Free Fair and all the Raft Races and eventually that smiling Buzzard who would devour the hapless Good Guys.
Dave Fulton has told the story. He’s told it well. He’s tracked down the glimpses, the bites, the archives and most of all, the survivors. At least those who’d talk. And from these separate strings and threads and skeins, he’s woven a fascinating tale. There’s a bit of tweaking happening just now.
When can you see it? Like my friends down in Jamaica say “Soon come.”