Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part II

Original Publish Date May 13, 2021.

In part I of this series, I told you about an obscure episode involving The Beatles John Lennon and the Indianapolis radio station WIFE. In the film “Above Us Only Sky” there is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window. How did a sticker from a Circle City radio station end up on a car 3,947 miles away in John Lennon’s driveway?
Anyone over the age of 50 should remember WIFE AM 1310 in Indianapolis. How can you forget those Coppertone commercials in the summertime: “Time to turn so you won’t burn.” Or the WIFE Lucky 13? Or the billboard near Indianapolis’ Weir Cook Airport (later Indianapolis International Airport) which amused passing motorists with the message, “While you’ve been gone we’ve been spending night and day with you WIFE!” Or even the “window on the world” of the WIFE studios at 1440 N. Meridian Street where pedestrians and downtown shoppers could walk past the window and see one of the “WIFE Good Guy” DJs in action?
WIFE was the top 40 giant of Indy for years and the only real AM radio rockers in town during the mid to late sixties (sometimes garnering as much as a 40% share of the Indy radio audience). WIFE is remembered for their endless contests (“The 100 Thousand Dollar Dream Home” or “The 100 Thousand Dollar Cash and Car Give-A-Way”), ear-worm jingles pounding the call letters and station numbers ad nauseam, and, maybe worst of all, the station sped up the records to cram more music in between the ads, witty banter, and promos. This last practice confounded pre-teens who wondered why the songs sounded so much different on WIFE than on the 45s. Most of all, radio fans remember the “WIFE Good Guys”: Big Jack Armstrong, Roger W. Morgan, Reb Porter, Jay Reynolds, Joe Light, Jay Hawkins, Buddy Scott, Jim Fox, T.J. Byers, Scott Wheeler, Mike O’Brien, Dan Summers, and Steve Miller.


And who can forget Jack Sunday: aka ABA / NBA Indiana Pacers radio voice Jerry Baker. Jerry handled the noon to 3:00 shift for a couple of years at WIFE chanting “Hey, this is Jack Sunday” every break and intro and while hosting the “Pool Party” segments. It was Jerry Baker who introduced the Beatles during their two concert stops at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. For years, WIFE would replay Jerry’s Beatles intro from the fairgrounds every time they played one of the Fab Four’s songs: “On behalf of the Indiana State Fair Board and WIFE Good Guys…The Beatles!” No doubt about it, WIFE 1310 is an Indiana institution. And somehow, a bumper sticker from the station ended up on John Lennon’s car in England.
I found the answer, where else? On Facebook, which led me right back here to Irvington. I started by joining the WIFE RADIO ALUMS & FANS Facebook page. It was there that I found Irvingtonian Stephen Bruce Smith. That name should be familiar to many Irvintonians. Smith is a former Irvington Council President (1997-99), 1975 Howe high school alumni, and 1980 Butler grad. Smith, who grew up on the corner of Brookville and Grand (421 So. Grand), is a Beatles superfan, authority and collector. And he knows EVERYONE in Irvington. I called Smith on a Saturday afternoon. When he answered the phone I could hear that he was spinning Beatles vinyl on the turntable in the background. EXACTLY what you might expect from an Irvington Beatles guy.
Smith unraveled the mystery of the bumper sticker quite succinctly. “The Beatles came to Indy in September 1964 to do two concerts at The State Fair on the 3rd. WIFE sponsored the concert and had various contests surrounding the concert. The Beatles visited the WIFE studio earlier that day and were given various gifts to remember their visit to Indianapolis. They were greeted by Miss Indiana State Fair as well as meeting a girl who won the Meet The Beatles Contest. She happened to be a Howe High School girl. The WIFE Good Guy sticker on John’s Mini Cooper in the 1971 film came from that studio appearance that morning at WIFE 1330 North Meridian. John loved stickers and t-shirts so I’m sure he just stuck it on there many years later.”


However, the story doesn’t end there. Stephen went to the first Beatles concert at the Fairgrounds. There were two, one inside the Coliseum and the other on the stage/grandstands outside. “I went with my father, Stephen Smith Sr., in exchange for punishment to see Andy Williams and the Osmond Brothers,” Stephen jokingly says. “My dad was shipping supervisor at Atkomatic Valve Co. at 141 S. Sherman Drive at Brookville and Sherman. They produced valves used in the NASA space program. He passed away in November of 1967. He got the tickets for free from a coworker.”
Smith remembers actually being excused from school to go to the concert. “It was a weekday, a Thursday I think. I was 8 years old and I was worried my teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, wouldn’t agree. I went to Orchard Park School and I think I got on her bad side because I had dressed up as Vic Morrow from the Combat TV show for Halloween. She gave me a frown as she lifted my mask. Everyone else was dressed as princesses, ghosts, and cartoon characters and my costume was a little rough looking, but she let me go.” Smith found out later that several other kids in school went to the concert too.
I asked what he remembered about the concert, and he stated, “It was about 35 minutes long and they played maybe 6 songs. You couldn’t hear anything.” Smith adds that, years later, he became good friends with WIFE Good Guy DJ Jay Reynolds and they often talked about that concert. “I remember Jay gave me the greatest quote about the noise. He said, “it got so loud that it got quiet.” And he was right.” Smith recalls that the Coliseum was “remodeled and brand new after the explosion.” (On October 31, 1963, during a Holiday on Ice show, a propane leak at a concession stand caused an explosion that killed 74 people and injured around 400 others. A subject I’ve written about in past columns.)


Smith continues, “Even at that young age, I could see that the security seemed unprepared for what was happening. Girls were screaming, fainting, and crying and there was even a rumor that one girl died from an asthma attack during the concert. Girls were all peeing themselves and getting hurt jumping from seat to seat. There were 16 Marion County deputies around the stage and they were all scared to death. You could not hear a word.” Stephen continues, “My dad was a pilot in World War II and he said he hadn’t seen that kind of crazy since wartime.”
One image that sticks with Smith is that of a smashed golf cart he and his father walked past after the show. “I remember staring at that thing for a long time. It was totally destroyed. After the concert, they used it as a diversion to get the girls away from the band. These screaming girls chased it down and literally tore it apart. I can still see that trashed golf cart in my mind.”


As an adult, Stephen Bruce Smith also encountered Jerry Baker, aka WIFE Good Guy “Jack Sunday”. Smith relates, “Jerry told me that the Beatles were each given goody packs that included Bibles in each bag. And the only thing they requested was a black and white TV, coca-colas, hamburgers, French fries, and Marlboro cigarettes. Also in those goody bags were t-shirts and stickers from WIFE. John loved trinkets and collected all that stuff, t-shirts, patches, and stickers of any kind; anything American. John had stickers on everything in his house.”
It makes sense that Lennon, fresh on the heels of The Beatles’ 1970 break-up (which many attribute to Yoko Ono), chose the WIFE sticker, with its slogan “WIFE Good Guy”, as a wry contrary comment on his relationship with Yoko. The Indianapolis connection was purely coincidental.
Many years later, Smith won a contest to meet Paul McCartney backstage in Chicago in 2005. “I was ushered in to meet him with a group of reporters. It was only 6 minutes, but it seemed like 6 hours. The reporters were stunned and really weren’t talking to him. I asked him if he remembered the concerts in Indianapolis. He said, “Oh yes, I remember Ringo went drinking with the cops.” Smith adds the little-known detail that Ringo traveled up to Noblesville where one of the police security officers (State Trooper Jack Marks) owned a horse farm. “When word got out about that visit, those poor people were invaded by teenage girls wanting details.”
Smith continues, “knowing Paul owned a sheepdog, I told him I had a sheepdog myself. He asked, “Oh really, what is the dog’s name?” I answered, “Jack the Moose” and Paul said hmmm, “Jack the Moose, Jack the Moose” over and over a few times. I was hoping he was gonna use it in a song, but that never happened.” Smith, who lives next to Pleasant Run Golf Course, ran into Paul’s assistant at another McCartney concert later. “He recognized me and said as we parted, “Cool, Paul will see you after the show.” Smith says, “It never happened. But the concert was great.”


Next week, Part III


The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington.

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