Saturday, January 12, 2008
I Can Kick Higher Than You Can
One of my favorite memories is working for WBBY radio in the mid 70's.
This was really a neat place. But when you're 20 years old and have stars in your eyes, you perception is clouded by all the things it wasn't.
When I arrived in February of 1975, the station was playing a hybrid format of oldies and currents. The station, for a small station had a huge record library. For a number of years, the station had focused on being on oldies station, capitalizing on the stations call letters. WBBY was made to stand for We Bring Back Yesterday.
While I didn't consider WBBY my favorite radio station, I did listen to it often prior to working there. I worked at a county club in the late 60's and early 70's and we had a FM stereo in the pro shop. WBBY was one of the stations we listened to. I remember jocks such as Rick Seiler, Diane Townsley (who I believe was the first female disc jockey in the Columbus market), Denny Irwin, Scott Stevens and Joe Gallagher.
WBBY was ahead of it's time. For an FM station, it was actively programmed at a time when most radio operators had no idea what they were going to do with their FM signals. While superior in over the air quality to AM, FM had yet to really make it's mark. Most owners had no idea what to do with their FM signals. FM radios were not widely found in cars during that time and the programming ranged from religion to elevator music to underground. Nationwide's WNCI had also began to develop a following, but at that time I believe the audience between WBBY and WNCI were probably about the same.
WBBY was owned by Bill Bates. Bates, if I recall had retired from the state of Ohio and had worked on radio systems. He applied for an FM license and received it. Bill built the station brick by brick and the tower piece by piece. He was quite proud of his accomplishment as indeed as he should. That little brick house with the radio tower in the backyard was something to be proud of. Bill often told me that when he built the tower as it inched higher he felt closer to God.
One night on the air, the transmitter died. Since Bill was also our engineer, I gave him a call. He came out to the station and determined the problem was a blown rectifier. We had no spare so Bill began calling around to some of his radio chums. He found one that could be used at a station in Newark. He asked if I wanted to ride with him to that station's transmitter site. And as we drove along the highway, we talked about the radio station.
WBBY had began, according to Bill, to experience some financial problems. Being over 30 years ago, I don't remember specifics other than he was wasn't happy with the sales manager and the midday host who doubled as the morning news anchor.
Adding to his frustration, something in the county government, perhaps a real estate tax evaualtion, had agitated him. I think the stress and pressure of situation caused something to snap. Prior to that conversation, Bill was fairly quiet. Not long after he morphed into the person he would be longer remembered. Wild Bill Bates was born. And Wild Bill did everything he could to live up to the reputation of the name.
Bill went from being a very passive person to this very forward and outspoken individual. He became something of a showman under his own terms.
For a man in his 60's at the time, Bill was still quite agile. One of his prized accomplishments was from a standing position, he could kick a leg up and touch the top of a door frame.
He decided to run for Delaware County Commissioner. Because of his physical capabilities, he ran as the "kicking commissioner". He had business cards made up announcing his candidacy with his name, the fact he was running for commissioner and the tag line "The Kicking Commissioner". On the back was a photo of Bill kicking his leg over his head.
I believe he lost the race by a wide margin, but he non-the-less made the attempt.
He also became interested in the dancing sensation of the time, disco. Anyplace Bill could dance, Bill could be found. He had a panel van with a sheet of plywood over the top and he would climb to the top of the van and dance away. Sometimes scantily clad.
He started a Sunday evening radio show called Wild Bill's disco. He would play disco music and rant on about things that came to mind.
When the Wild Bill portion of his personality took over, his wife Marie decided she had had enough. She wanted to end the marriage.
Also waiting in the wings was a Columbus auto dealer who wanted to own broadcast properties in the worst way. The autodealer bought the former Mrs. Bate's shares she obtained in a divorce settlement and began everything he could to push Wild Bill out the door.