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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

WEBN: It's Been A Blast

Negative Calorie Cookies from Brute Force Cybernetics... Martin Luther King Kwiks... Jerry Springer’s endorsement of the American Expense Card ("Don’t cross state lines without it")... The "We Are The Fools" parody song...

I had forgotten how many laughs I've had listening to WEBN-FM (102.7) over 40 years while researching my Sunday A&E story on the station's 40th anniversary. WEBN has produced some absolutely brilliant satire, much of it concentrated in the old Fool's Day Parade and then sprinkled over the rest of the year. The head-banging metal music isn't my favorite, but I still punch up WEBN to hear what they're up to... like getting Donald Trump(!) to do promos for the station contest.

From the first day 40 years ago, Frank Wood understood that the best radio comes out of a keyboard (a typewriter, later a computer), not the microphone. He and his father filled the air with commercials for fake stuff from Brute Force Cybernetics, and the legacy continued though Jay Gilbert, Tom Sandman, Joel Moss, Scott Reinhart and other members of the Committee for Aesthetic Public Spectacle, in a studio somewhere between the WEBN Garment District and Frog's Mountain. Maybe in Frog’s Meadow?

My favorite WEBN memories are from the Fool's Day Parade, when it was an all-day event for 20 years or more. I'd make sure I spent part of my day out in the car, so I could listen and laugh… to spots for the Lard Rock Café... Quakers Mate lubricants... former Congressman Buz Lukens, who solicited sex from a minor, rapping the "Child Thing"... Or the Columbia School of Car Salesmen spot with John Nolan and Jeff Wyler... Or all the variations on Tree Frog Beer, which, of course, gets you there faster. One year they did Jacor Beer ("You’ll get higher than the stock ever will").

But the station also has been a creative force in other ways – like the "WEBN Album Projects"... The graffiti billboard campaign with the call letters spray painted over another company's sign... Eddie Fingers offering to father Madonna's baby... Dennis "Wildman" Walker stuck on that downtown billboard for 61 days until the Bengals won a game in 1991... Or buying up all the tickets to the 1984 Police concert at Riverfront Coliseum, and given them away to listeners... Or inspiring rockin' parents. (In 1995, the station received a graduation invitation from a Kentucky girl named "Webn." True story.)

Not everyone was amused, of course, through this four decades of decadence. Like the Mother Teresa endorsement for Tree Frog Beer. (As I recall, it only aired once and was pulled after Catholic groups complained.) Or the furor by mental health advocates over the Robin Wood-Eddie Fingers "padded cell" TV commercials. WEBN pulled the commercials, and later ran an apology spot with GM Dave Macejko. As the camera panned out, you could see he was in a straitjacket too… Soon the cancellation of a TV campaign, and an "'apology spot," became part of the overall media strategy for stations coast to coast..

On WEBN, they like to say, "Portions are pre-recorded; others are given no thought whatsoever." But that was seldom the case. In 2000, they went to great lengths to scam listeners into thinking that a dead guy – a former listener named Gary Willis, who allegedly won $1,000 in a 1970s WEBN contest, and moved to San Francisco – had bequeathed $11,000 to 'EBN to give away to listeners who heard his hacking cough ("coughing up the cash") on the station. They even had a woman from a San Francisco Clear Channel station call my voice mail claiming to be the widow. After I reported that old-time WEBN staffers didn't remember Gary Willis, and that an Atlanta station had done a "coughing up the cash" contest a month earlier, they admitted it was all a hoax, just a way to give away $1,000 each to 11 listeners….

I have so many WEBN memories... the spectacular fireworks... morning host Robin Wood (and her poster for something like the Academy of Broadcasting and Bar Fighting?)... Bob the Producer's eulogies... But enough from me...

What are your favorite memories of WEBN? I can’t wait to read them.... Open a cold Tree Frog Beer and pour out your remembrances on the keyboard...


at 9/01/2007 10:24 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The singular humor that marks the station can be traced to Bo Wood and the creative people he hired.
There would be no station and no Bo legacy were it not for Frank Wood Sr.
From the start, he created and encouraged the extremely independent and creative atmosphere that lured Bo into the radio business.
He was an artist and a visionary--and a wonderfully genuine person.
And he was father of some of the coolest people who ever worked at pulling Cincinnati out of its stodgy past and into the semi-interesting city it is today.

at 9/01/2007 3:22 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't have any memories..but I wish they would release ALL the album projects on CD.I'm sure somewhere besides 5th Floor Recording Studios had the masters...maybe QCA??
Also it would fun to hear all the music soundtracks of the fireworks (WITHOUT the live sounds of the TV broadcast mixed in) since 1977.

at 9/01/2007 8:26 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ty Williams with jazz and Jelly Pudding. Don't get no better.

at 9/02/2007 11:09 AM Anonymous Greg said...

speaking of Jelly Pudding. I've been looking for a Jelly Pudding poster for years now, ever since my mom sucked mine up in her shop vac. Are there any left out there? I keep checking E-bay but no luck so far.

at 9/02/2007 12:03 PM Anonymous Mark said...

I was an art director in the late 70's and my best friend (and fellow art director at P&G) and I were beer afficianados, we drank a lot of it. He wondered where he could get some Tree Frog beer after he heard an ad on WEBN on his way home from work one Friday. He stopped at his pony keg and was angry when they laughed at him a bit when he asked for Tree Frog. On Monday he mentioned his frustration. A plot was hatched. One of the packaging design firms made up some fake Tree Frog labels that were pasted to Hudepohl beer cans. We used to frequent a bar called The Rooster, it was down an alley near P&G. The bartender agreed to keep the fake cans for us and when we arrived we ordered Tree Frog Beer which was duly produced from behind the bar. My friend remarked about what good beer Tree Frog was and it was only with our increasing chuckling that he finally figured out he'd been had. He was also fooled by the WEBN parade and only figured out it was a put-on when he heard them announce the "Our Lady of Perpetual Motion" Marching Band.

at 9/02/2007 7:30 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Due to a lack of FM car radios, I can remember I had a portable AM/FM radio about the size of a shoe box I would put next to me on the car seat with the antenna on the dash just so I could listen in the car. Not many car radios with FM when they first came on the air. Thought I was pretty cool.

at 9/02/2007 9:08 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who directed this? I've seen better productions directed by dead people.

Please give the fireworks back to WXIX-where they did it right and technically unchallenged too!

at 9/03/2007 9:32 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll second 3:22's call for re-releasing the Album Projects on CD.

at 9/03/2007 9:52 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two words, "Heiny Wine"! Spelling?

at 9/03/2007 10:46 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Album Projects were the quintessential WEBN - back in the day that we had albums. Who could forget "Bus Full of Nuns Holding Babies", the Tracker Band's "State Highway Patrol", or Fred Steffen's "Fly Away". I, too, would love to have the Album Projects on CD - but until then I'll cherish my old LP's (purchased mostly at the old Swallen's on Red Bank).

To those of us who grew up with WEBN, and Cleveland's WMMS - Home of the Buzzard, today's FM radio seems a bit lean (but I must confess that 102.7 is still present in the minivan.)

at 9/03/2007 11:54 AM Anonymous Full Moon said...

My favorite moment from WEBN was when Bob the Producer fell off the stage at the Aronoff and fell into the orchestra pit. Too funny. Of course he almost died and that made it funnier.

at 9/03/2007 12:54 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were telling our teenage kids about "Bus Full of Nuns" just yesterday. I've been going to the fireworks since 1981, and I remember being late to work every morning because I sat in the stadium parking garage listening to the Joke of the Day ("this one takes place in the coun-TRY!"). But my favorite statement was, "It's Friday. Friday! Friiiiiiiiiiiiiidaaaaaaaayyyyyy!" Nobody could start the weekend better!

at 9/03/2007 3:11 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

September or October, 1967. A friend and I shared an apartment on Filson Place in Mount Adams. Spectacular view from all windows for $60 a month, excluding utilities, which were fairly high due to the leaky windows. An early Towne Properties rental. Ty Williams lived on the first floor, and a guy who played percussion with the symphony in the basement apartment.

One night a guy showed up at a gathering we were having with a friend of his, I think Popeye Maupin. He asked me if we had an FM radio. I said no, just the white plastic one on top of the refrigerator. He said we really should get an FM and listen to this new radio station in town.

That was Frank "Bo" Wood. As they left, we heard him say from the stairwell "I'm hip!" We always thought he was commenting on something hanging on the wall.

at 9/04/2007 9:15 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...


at 9/04/2007 9:47 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a "memories" CD release of the "best of years"? I must be gettting older but the fireworks used to be a much more happening party zone. These young-uns just don't know how to party nowadays.

Loved listening when Robin used to keep the boys in line! Also enjoyed Wildman's stay on the billboard downtown. "It's Friiiiiiiiddddaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy" is the best though. Bob's eulogies should definitely be it's own memories CD. I would love to purchase a CD of all the soundtracks from all the fireworks shows!!!!!!! Bring back my early 80's memories of the fireworks shindigs!!! What a good time they were.

at 9/04/2007 2:05 PM Anonymous Mike W. said...

let's see:

Monday night's, get your 8-Track record ready cause it's the album of the week!

Hamster on a stick!

One year a group of friends and I went to the "Big Parade" in Hyde Park Square. We dressed in nerdy clothes and brought our radios and camped out there for the day pretending like we were watching the parade. Everyone looked as like we were nuts, but it was fun and someone came down and interviewed us.

How about the weekly Sunday night sign-off with the Captain Wendy line: Alla Kazaam one, two, three and poof.

Ty Williams overnight was always my favorite.

Robin Wood before the dawn patrol!

Classical music with Frank Wood on Sunday mornings.

DJ's who didn't sound like they were on speed.

That home grown, family owned radio station feel (unfortunately that is long gone :( ).

at 9/06/2007 5:45 PM Anonymous Larry said...

When I first arrived in Cincinnati in 1985, I would go out drinking on Saturday night, come home, crank up the rock and roll on the stereo on 'EBN and fall asleep and I'd wake up Sunday to the classical music. There is no better hangover cure (even if you'd been drinkin' Hudephol!).

I rank Jay Gilbert as one of the top two radio personalities I've ever heard. I hope he is well.

I also remember a DJ named Fat Man who shared both my birthday and my love of Little Feat. He's sign off saying "I'm physically spent and morally bankrupt.... rollin' out the door to do it some more."

I think the satirical commercials and promos were the best reason to listen to EBN. I still tune in when I come back to town.

I now live in the DC area, but I still have an 'EBN sticker from the days of Drive by shootings on the back of my minivan, it's clear with cracks in it... made to make it appear someone has just shot a hole through the radio station sticker on my car.

at 9/10/2007 11:20 AM Anonymous Mike Fasoldt said...

I spent two and a half years at Walnut Hills with Frank in the late 50's. Neither of his sisters were ever ammused by our antics. When he decided to give up law and work on Price's Mountain in an old house trailer in order to make a radio station work we thought......"how cool!" Some of us stopped by upon occasion to watch him work.
I think some of his greatest stuff was his on going scrap with Frank Weikel in the Enquirer. Bo, I'm sure had Weikel's blood pressure up to 250 most of time in those years.

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