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The wrecking ball.

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A story about an April Fools’ joke might seem a couple days late and a couple dollars short at this point in time.

But this story isn’t so much about April Fools’ as it is about gullibility and impermanence, both of which are eternal.

So come back with me (he said, grabbing your sleeve, rendering escape impossible) to an April morning many years ago.

It is Monday, April 1, 1985. I am in the sixth grade, not quite twelve years old. And I am listening to Dr. John Potter, the morning DJ on WMJQ 92.5 — Rochester’s less popular hits station — as he makes his listeners an unusual offer.

The offer involves Holleder Memorial Stadium, a 20,000-seat brickpile in the city proper that has hosted high school football, pro soccer, and even a few Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills exhibition games.

The stadium is not even 40 years old in the spring of ’85 but has been edging toward irrelevance for a while. High school football doesn’t draw 20,000 people any more. The NFL no longer comes to town. And two professional soccer teams, both calling Holleder home, have folded in the preceding five years.

The city fathers have even taken to allowing rock concerts there, a common last step for sports facilities gone to seed. (Holleder is one of four venues in Rochester to host a Grateful Dead concert, and the only one of the four I will never set foot in.)

But even the stadium’s availability to longhaired hordes is not enough to keep it alive; the neighbors are touchy, and there are other, more attractive concert venues in the city and region. In the spring of 1985, the announcement comes: Holleder Stadium is to be torn down.

And so here’s Dr. John Potter on April Fools’ Day 1985, loud-hailing a freebie offer to anyone who will listen: To a few lucky callers, he’s giving away tickets to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium on April 18 (or whatever the demolition date was; it matters not.)

He plays it straight, as though the Wrecking Ball were a band rather than an implement of industrial deconstruction. He throws in a few embellishments here and there, of the sort you’d imagine — along the lines of, “Yeah, I hear this show is really gonna tear the place down.”

And sure enough, the calls come on air, several of them, all unsuspecting: “They some kind of hard-rock band? … Sure, I’d like to go. Thanks, Dr. John!”

And by the time I am required to leave for school, Dr. John Potter has distributed his full stash of tickets — maybe even front-row — to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium.

I was credulous (as indeed I still am, too often), and it does not occur to preteen me that the callers could be plants, in on the joke. It is possible that I, not they, were the gullible ones.

On the other hand, I can believe even as a jaded adult that, in a city the size of Rochester, there are people who (a) don’t follow local news that closely and (b) are only too glad to accept tickets from their favorite morning jock, even if they don’t recognize the name of the “band.” (Dr. John Potter, like David Bowie’s mythical DJ, had believers believing him.)

Time moved forward. What happened after that?

Holleder Stadium departed this earth as scheduled a few weeks later. A high-tech park occupies the site now. If you stopped a random sampling of Rochesterians on the street tomorrow, I wonder if one in 10 could tell you where the stadium used to be.

According to the FCC, WMJQ didn’t outlast the stadium by all that long. The station at 92.5 became WLRY in October 1986, then WBEE the following February. The call letters remain WBEE; it’s now a very popular country station.

I have no idea what happened to Dr. John Potter, but the most recent online citation I can find for a radio DJ by that name dates to the early 1990s. If he’s still in the radio business, neither he nor his station seems particularly active in promoting him.

He might have taken a new on-air identity. Or, given the state of the radio business since 1985, it’s also possible that he left the industry, went back to school and got a job doing night-shift tech support. (If he’s reading, he’s welcome to set me straight in the comments.)

The moral of the story, I guess: Years come and go; places come and go; entertainments come and go; people who position themselves as beloved daily companions also come and go; and only the suspicion that one has been hoodwinked lasts.

Good night.

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One response »

  1. Officially, those of us in radio will tell you that we love our listeners, that they make everything possible, that everything we do is for them. Unofficially, we are often astounded by their gullibility, greed, etc. I worked in a city where people by the dozen fell for the stealth bomber fly-by joke (tell people it’s coming, get them to park their cars on the side of some busy street and look up at the sky at some appointed time, then tell them the plane was invisible) more than once. The prank in which people were told to take their phones off the hook so the phone company could blow air through to clean the lines fooled lots of people too. (If you leave your phone on the hook, it might explode, see.) Most people listen with one ear most of the time anyhow. They don’t pay attention. Also, lots of people don’t do critical thinking well.

    And they want stuff for free even if they don’t know what it is. Most radio jocks have had the following conversation: “You’re caller #10, you win!” “Great! What did I win?” And some of them are unsatisfied with even a gift. One of my stations gave away a ski vacation in Colorado–airfare, hotel, ski equipment, the whole thing. The winner was upset that he had to drive himself 10 miles to the airport to make the trip.

    So yeah, we love our listeners. But some of them are idiots. Same as the general population, I guess.

    Reply

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