Interesting Facts

3 men lived on top of a billboard in tents for almost 9 months

From 1982-1983, three men in Allentown PA competed in a radio contest in which they lived on top of a billboard in tents. Whoever stayed up longest would win a house. Due to economic pressure from the recession, none of the contestants wanted to give up, so the contest lasted almost 9 months.

Forty years ago, a radio competition began in the Lehigh Valley and resulted in a worldwide media frenzy.

In an attempt to gain publicity, the staff of Allentown radio station WSAN-AM, which was undergoing a rebranding, decided to hold a contest on September 20, 1982.

It was dubbed a “endurance contest,” with three participants competing to see who could spend the longest on the platform of a WSAN billboard located in Whitehall Township, across from the Lehigh Valley Mall, off of Route 22.

A new mobile home would be awarded to the winner.

However, the competitors turned out to be more serious than anticipated, and it took 261 days, a drug bust, and entreaties from government officials to bring the competition to an end.

Ned Teter, a WSAN radio DJ who worked the entire competition, said, “We were all taken a little off guard.”

“You do realize that this occurred long before social media, cell phones, or anything else like that? In 1982, nothing becomes viral. However, this was picked up by a few major publications, and after that, there were waves upon waves of coverage.

A housing crisis

The contestants were:

Mike MacKay was a newlywed in his first year of marriage and had a job. In a 2017 documentary titled “Billboard Boys,” it is stated that MacKay submitted 47,000 contest entries to WSAN, stating that he was unable to afford housing even with a steady job. In 2006, MacKay passed away.

It is purported that Dalton Young entered roughly a thousand contests shortly after his release from the United States. military. While residing on the billboard, he was ultimately taken into custody by an undercover police officer for marijuana-related offenses.

There are rumors that Ron Kistler submitted 4,004 entries to the WSAN office. He claimed in the documentary that he was only competing for a house, not for attention.

For more than a year, the competitors occupied the billboard platform equipped with space heaters, tents, toilets, phones, radios, and even a pulley system that allowed loved ones to bring them food and other necessities.

Housing shortages in the Lehigh Valley in the early 1980s contributed to the competitors’ devotion. Mobile homes were not affordable because the region’s manufacturing industry was in decline, despite their valued $18,000 (roughly $55,000 today).

Teter remarked, “These were three guys that, you know, they’re out of work.” These unfortunate people served as a symbol of the era. In 1982, we were in the epicenter of the Rust Belt, where jobs were limited.

One person who is familiar with the story well claims that the Lehigh Valley’s current affordable housing crisis isn’t all that different.

The 2017 documentary “Billboard Boys” about the radio competition was directed by Pat Taggart.

According to Taggart, “there isn’t enough housing on the market, and prices are sky high. We have a different housing crisis today.” “Thus, while different, there is still a significant gap between the wealthy and the poor, as well as extreme economic stress both then and now.”

Public opinion sours

According to Taggart, the Lehigh Valley’s public sentiment toward the men on the billboard grew sour during the competition.

After about six months, the police accused Young of being a marijuana dealer while residing on the billboard. The Lehigh Valley residents then began to grow irritated with the competition.

“People’s perception had significantly changed from finding this fascinating and cool to thinking it was a disgrace to the Lehigh Valley,” according to Taggart. People driving by stopped to stare at the men on the billboard, saying, “You know, guy’s dealing drugs up there, and there was fender benders constantly,” Taggart said. Taggart said bystanders also used to hang out and party at the base of the billboard all night long and it was common to find empty beer bottles and other garbage underneath it in the mornings after a weekend.

An abrupt end

The competitors on the billboard were a constant source of pressure.

Following Young’s arrest and elimination from the competition, Taggart remarked, “You have two guys left – Mike MacKay and Ron Kistler.” “And they just stayed, making it very evident that they had no intention of leaving without a place to live.”

According to Taggart, the competitors’ focus shifted toward the end of the competition from competing against each other to competing against the radio station.

On June 7, 1983, WSAN and the contest’s sponsor, Love Homes, gave in to public and political pressure.

They offered a free vacation, a Chevy car, and a mobile home to each of the two surviving competitors.

That was the end when MacKay and Kistler descended from the billboard simultaneously.

The story will hopefully still be made into a feature film, according to director Pat Taggart.

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