Sunday, September 18, 2016
THE BILLBOARD BOYS
Who would enter such a contest? Well, now and days plenty of people, everyone is looking for their 15 minutes of fame and we're so used to seeing and taking part in reality type stunts for Youtube, and social media. In fact, I'm surprised this contest has not been recreated for cable television. But back then, it wasn't about becoming famous, it was really about winning that modular home! Allentown was going through a major recession, what we always hear referred to as "The Rust Belt", the demise of Steel producing cities. Unemployment was at an all time high - therefore, a tremendous amount of entries came into the station and a tremendous number of entries from each would be contestant.
The Chosen Competitors:
Dalton Young 22, fresh out of the Army, was entered into the contest by his mom, who I guess did not want her son moving back home.
Mike McKay 31, newly married and out of work for sometime. He figured the only way he'd ever be able to afford a home for his bride was to get one for free. Mackay was the Richard Hatch / Snookie / Big Ang of the three - he thrived on the publicity.
Ron Kistler 24, was the quiet contestant, a man of few words, but big determination.
When the spectators left and the three men settled down for their first night in the chill and nagging rain, the noise of the traffic from the exit ramp off I-22 where they were perched began to invade their consciousness. Overhead military and civilian aircraft ferried down the flight path heading for Allentown Bethlehem Easton airfield, at 800 feet and descending, a Boeing 737 makes enough noise to cause blurred vision. The Billboard lights came on at sunset and stayed on all night, so the yellow domed tents glowed within, no matter what the hour. And the winds blowing off blue mountain into the Lehigh Valley, battered against the billboard, keeping the platform in constant motion. It would be, in more than one way, a very long fall. - Jeff Shear Rolling Stone Magazine
Petka and Taggart do a great job of keeping us glued to the outcome as if it were happening all over again, using interviews with Mike Krajasa, the then VP of Station Owner "McMillionaire" Harold G. Fulmer III and other past WSAN DJ's, Station Managers and employees. Philly's own John DeBella of WMMR is interviewed as his morning show used to call Dalton Young every morning for a weather report, since the contestant was photographed wearing a WMMR T shirt while living on the billboard for WSAN. Marketing/PR people of today would never let such a thing happen. Others interviewed are journalists who covered the story, and of course the remaining contestants themselves and their families. The reminiscence also features the madness of the global media circus, the question of exploitation, the crazy length of time it continued on. In between aptly punctuated with clips of Ronald Reagan sympathizing with the loss of the American Dream.
Billy Joel never met Mike MacKay, Ron Kistler or Dalton Young but his blue collar anthem "Allentown" (1982) coincided perfectly with the Living Billboard competition.
I asked Producer Frank Petka, what drew them to this story 30 years later?
My production partner and writer/director Pat Taggart just happened to read the 30 year anniversary article of the contest in the local paper in that area, "The Morning Call". From there, he reached out to me and the hunt was on to uncover every person and material related to this story that was in existence. Nearly three years later, the film is complete.
#PhillyCalendar 9/25 6:30pm Indie Doc Premiere - THE BILLBOARD BOYS at Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas ArtsQuest Center a SteelStack Film Event.
Tinsel & Tine (Reel & Dine): Philly Film, Food & Events Blog