Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Maximum Louie Louie

This was an event unparalleled in the history of college radio. There are radio stunts that garner a bit of attention for a radio station. This stunt is recorded in no fewer than half a dozen books and innumerable websites. This stunt eventually led to a recurring parade... this stunt outdid all other radio stunts and thus became a historical event unto itself. It was called Maximum Louie Louie.

The setting was an infamous college radio station, 89.7 KFJC in Los Altos, CA, on the campus of Foothills College. It's only a 110 watt station but it blankets downtown San Jose, CA which gives them a reach of about 1 million people. The station was founded in 1959, when Foothills was just a Junior college giving name to the JC following the KF. Originally a 10 watt station on 88.5, the station moved to 89.7 in 1961, before the station ever aired rock n' roll music. They went stereo in 1974 and then increased power to 110 watts in 1980. (Note: some sources put them at 250 watts.)  All this was prelude to the big event.

On August 19, 1983, at 6:00 PM , the station aired 823 different versions of the song Louie Louie consecutively. The event is referred to as Maximum Louie Louie. The idea originated with two student members of KFJCJeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft with encouragement from SM Robert "Doc" Pelzel. How this event came to be, and all of it's unintended consequences are two different stories:

The idea originated with two student members of KFJC, Jeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft. In an inspired moment back in 1981, Stretch tore through the KFJC library and found 33 versions of Louie Louie and aired them consecutively. It took about 90 minutes. Coincidentally KALX held a completed a listener survey and determined that their all time favorite rock song was Louie Louie. A DJ there, Mel Cheplowitz used the KFJC song list and added 17 more versions and aired a  50-song all Louie Louie power block in December of 1981. Riedle responded with an 88-version special in the Summer of 1982. Cheplowitz raised the stakes and broadcast a "Lou-A-Thon" in December of 1982 that included 100 different versions. (some sources say 200) Local press started to comment on this musical escalation. Cheplowitz said he was done, but Riedle told the San Francisco Examiner " We started this thing, and we intend to end it." It sounded almost like a threat. More here.

The station began soliciting versions of Louie Louie. They planned to broadcast live versions by local bands every two hours. Jack Ely, the original Kingmen's vocalist flew down from Oregon. The original songwriter Richard Berry took a train up from Los Angeles. Riedle would tilt this windmill and kick it's ass. Local press began to guess how many versions KFJC might pull together... 200?  400?. All told it was 63 consecutive hours of programming. Los Altos was never the same again.

So how many versions were really broadcast, and by which artists? Riedle taped the event. But 24 years later, despite the numerous aircheck sheets, some versions remain unidentified even today. [SOURCE] In honor of the event, Rhino Records released RNEP605, a "Best of Louie Louie" compilation. It's only 10 tracks, but that LP made it into the hands of a very special DJ in Philadelphia.

On the East coast, 2,900 miles away a WMMR DJ named John DeBella, regaled his listeners with the true tale of Maximum Louie Louie. Inspired, he decided that Philadelphia needed a Louie Louie Parade. Thousands of people came. On April 1st, 1985 it happened. They did it again in 1986, and 1987 until the City itself started to complain about the costs. But by then it had spread, Louie Louie parades had been held in multiple cities... as of 2017, Peoria, IL has been doing it annually for 30 straight years. So that parade has outlived the LouieFest, held yearly in Tacoma, WA from 2003 to 2012.

But 30 years is a long time. Jack Ely died in 2015, and Richard Berry back in 1997. Stretch Riedle is still with us but has not been terribly healthy of late. But in 2011 the original conspirators gathered at KFJC for “Return of the Invasion of Maximum Louie Louie.” More here. It was significantly shorter, but aired some archival tapes no one had heard since the original broadcast.  In their collective honor, we all now celebrate International Louie Louie Day every year, on April 11th; aka Richard Berry's birthday. It's been held since at least 2003, but I'm pretty sure Stretch is behind that one too.

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