The billboard boys
In 1982, the recession reached its maximum, and the unemployment rate was the highest since the Great Depression. In the Lehigh Valley, unemployment was about 12%. Steel company Bethlehem Steel, thanks to which the region has been held for decades, has experienced difficulties. AMAN's WSAN radio station, which switched from country to nostalgia, was losing out its fight against more popular FM stations.
The time has come to compete in endurance, like dance marathons and sitting on the poles of the period of the Great Depression. When the WSAN launched a competition in September 1982, in which three people were supposed to live on a billboard on MacArthur Road at the entrance to Route 22 and in which the winner was to receive a mobile home, the radio station did not even suspect that this competition would last for almost nine months and will be the topic of national and international news.
“It has become an international symbol of difficult times, that the situation was so difficult that people had to live on a billboard,” said Pat Taggart, director of the new documentary about the competition called “The Billboard Boys”.This documentary has nothing to do with the billboard movie, which was filmed by filmmaker Zekom Zelker of Forks Township. This film was also inspired by the real “inhabitants” of the billboard.
Taggart, a film director from Collegeville (Montgomery County, Maryland, USA), was still a little boy during this competition. At Christmas 2013, Taggart's mother-in-law, who lives in the city of Bethlehem (a city in the Lehigh and Northampton counties in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania in the United States), read the 30-year anniversary of this competition in the Morning Call newspaper, and he became interested in this topic .
Taggart shot short films, but never filmed documentaries. It seemed to him that he needed to be told about this important event. He and producer Frank Petka decided to make a film with little or no money. The premiere of the documentary "The Billboard Boys" was held last fall. It was attended by many members of this film.
Taggart attributes Petke to the search for all people interviewed in the film, including billboard “residents” who are still alive, as well as the former wife of one of the deceased participants of the competition, employees of the WSAN radio station, local authorities and reporters. writing about this event.The interview was taken and filmed by Taggart himself.
The interview was also given by the then program director of WSAN, according to which most of the projects of the morning radio were crazy competitions. The finished documentary was made up of interviews that exceeded 8 hours and over 100 old photos and videos, some of which were cut from videotapes saved by Sue Kistler, wife of Ron Kistler, one of those who lived on the billboard. The film also includes a video of the first meeting of Kistler and his colleagues Dalton Young 30 years after the memorable event, it was organized by Taggart.
“They live just a few minutes from each other,” said Taggart. - We were pleased when they met. They really liked it. They drank beer and shared details that only they could know. ”
The film begins with the announcement of Harold Fulmer III, the owner of WSAN, the competition "You will enjoy living with us." The sponsor of this promotion was the company Love Homes, which promised a modular house worth $ 18,000 to the one who lives the longest on a 2.5-sized platform for 14.5 meters.
Young, who recently returned from the army, sent 1,000 applications for participation. Unemployed Kistler sent 4004 applications. However, these numbers turn pale compared to the number of applications of Mike Mackay, who with the help of his wife Linda sent 47,000 applications. This trinity was chosen from 600 thousand applications. On September 20, 1982, they climbed onto a 25-foot platform near Route 22. They slept in folding beds in tents equipped with telephone lines, traveling toilets and heaters.
First, the news about this competition reached Philadelphia when Young was photographed in a T-shirt with the abbreviation WMMR, meaning the name of an American radio station, which then began to call him daily during the morning transfer. On December 9, 1982, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the first page titled "Why Three Adult Men Live on a Billboard." This article has attracted national and international attention. It was followed by publications in publications such as People and Rolling Stone. This event was casually mentioned in the Phil Donahue show. Soon the men who lived on the billboard began to call from France, Germany and Australia.
All three men were determined to sit out each other, and after weeks, and then months,local authorities and the organizers of the competition have already begun to think about how to finish it. On the 184th day, Young was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer and left the race. On the 200th day, Kistler and McKay descended from the platform to testify at the trial, but then they returned to her again. Finally, after 261 days, on January 7, 1983, when both men were promised to donate houses, cars, and holidays, they descended from the platform. Young was fined and received a suspended sentence. McKay died of heart problems in 2006. Being the only married participant in the competition, he divorced after him. Taggart considers MacKay a tragic figure in this story.
At the same time, according to Taggart, Kistler was the winner. He and his girlfriend Sue got married, had a daughter and lived in a donated house. Then they moved to a larger house. Fulmer even offered Kistler a job at the end of the competition. Kistler was also the first person interviewed by Taggart. And he almost made him stop working on the film with his distrust that this story might still interest someone.
Petka and Taggart are engaged in marketing and distribution. According to Taggart, they are negotiating with television channels, and are also considering the possibility of showing their film at film festivals.