Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wild Bill's Siege

It was early on a Tuesday morning, December, 1977 just outside the town limits of Sunbury, OH. A small brick building with a tall radio tower just behind it was about to become the focal point of the days news.

Everything seemed fine in the pre-dawn of the morning. The signal of the station was broadcasting it's regular programming. The tranmission from the tall tower seemed, well normal. There was no sense that this December day at WBBY-FM would be newsworthy.

Most people in the area were just waking up. Certainly, thoughts of the upcoming Christmas holiday would be on their minds.

Silver Bells or some other holiday classic was probably being played by one radio station or the other including this one. It was only 12 days before Santa's bounty would be found under trees across the area.

Coffee pots were coming alive and warm showers were inviting residents to get ready for the work day. The commute to work would begin in earnest in the next hour or so.

Yet just outside that small brick building, a wily elderly gentleman had already began his day. He had plotted his mission. And for the next 10 hours, he had Sheriff's deputies, lawyers, the court system and most of the Columbus media covering or dealing with his exploits.

Just days before, a restraining order had been issued against him. He was the majority stockholder of the radio station housed inside the small brick building. He also built the building and tower from the ground up. Brick by brick and tower section by tower section.

But the restraining order demanded that he was not to enter the premises or be associated with the operation of the station. The same station, business and premises he had built with his own hands.

The December 9th Columbus Dispatch noted in a column the restraining order named 14 counts that said in part that the elderly gentleman had "brought ridicule and disgrace" upon the station. It further stated the elderly gentleman "has made obscene gestures, made jokes in very poor taste, disrupted businesses, insulted customers of various establishments and refused to leave when asked".

Judge Henry Shaw of the Delaware County Common Pleas Court had issued the restraining order against William "Wild Bill" Bates at the request of the other shareholders of the company. Ironically, the shareholders involved included Ken Bates, the son of elder Bates, secretary-treasurer of the corporation and manager.

Wild Bill's son Ken also brought forward on his own "nine complaints against his father". Among them was a claim that Wild Bill had "made remarks in a broadcast about the judiciary of Delaware County and other officials of Delaware County which caused embarrassment to the station". All made during the elder Bates radio show called "Wild Bills Disco".

That restraining order had never been delivered. Wild Bill had gone into hiding. Waiting for the smoke to clear. Although he remained in touch with various Columbus media outlets, the restraining order servers were unable to find him.

Wild Bill determined that the smoke had cleared enough to allow him to surface at the radio station on December 13th.

At about 5:45am, Bill's where abouts slowly became known to others when the news director of the station arrived and noticed Will Bill. Knowing that a memo a few days earlier had been distributed among employees saying the elder Bates was not to be on the property, she quickly notified the Sheriff's Office.

When law enforcement personnel arrived, Will Bill took cover and barricaded himself in his son's office. He held deputies at bay with a baseball bat. After a legnthy standoff period, deputies decided to use mace to flush him out.

Wild Bill in turn broke out windows to allow for fresh air. He then scooted around inside the building and took the station briefly off the air. He shouted obscenities and finally after 10 hours was persuaded by his attorney to lose the battle to win the war and fight again another day.

The photo shows Bates leaving the station with his legal representative. Wild Bill is the man on the left.

It took time for the whole ordeal to unravel. Wild Bill eventually lost his radio station and his family never realized the promises of the forces that worked in the shadows behind the scenes to oust the elder Bates through their hands.

It's sad. No one won. The behind the scenes forces of this action eventually gained control of WBBY only later to lose it in an FCC decision over candor to the agency.

The station was off the air for almost a decade.

I worked for Wild Bill and noted some of my experience here

Wild Bill continued on with his dancing and public appearances. Anywhere that he could gain an audience. He passed away at the age of 91 on March 20, 2003.

Probably dancing until his last breath.

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