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February 14, 2014

RONN MOTT: The Beatles were ‘once in lifetime’

TERRE HAUTE — The nation at large is remembering The Beatles coming to America and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember them almost costing me a bunch of money. As it turned out, they did not.

I was on KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa, and was running a “teen hop” every Sunday evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall.  The man in charge of the facility made a deal with me for promoting a dance there, at the K of C, where I would get 70 percent of the door and he would take 30 percent. I believe he and his wife sold popcorn, hot dogs and soft drinks.  For me, it was a good deal. I did not have to drive out of town and the money was very good. We would draw 100-150 people there every Sunday evening. Then The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and that Sunday, at 8 p.m., we had seven people there. So, I learned early about The Beatles’ popularity.

So it wasn’t long before we had people coming in, and we soon filled up to our normal amount of dancers and such. I never had an opportunity to book something against The Beatles on TV, but if it had occurred, I would have done so.

KIOA was one of the more popular radio stations in Des Moines, and I was considered one of its more famous, or infamous, characters on the radio. I was doing these “teen hops” all over the state and had been buried alive at the Iowa State Fair, so I was very well known. But, that Sunday night where we had a full house almost constantly, reminded me that fame is fleeting and, sometimes, can be gone in a flash.

The Beatles didn’t get anywhere near Des Moines so at the time I never saw them in person nor would have a chance to interview them, and never got to be one of those disc jockeys whose one claim to fame would be their association with the lads of Liverpool.

I got to see firsthand what their popularity meant to the young people of Iowa. Management had found a source of picture books of The Beatles. They were done in color and probably originated in the U.K. We paid very little for the books and charged a dollar per book because a dollar fit into an envelope very easily. We had an avalanche of mail. They carried it in by the sack load and the station had to hire temporary help to go through the mail, sort it all out, take the money and turn it in to the manager. It was a bonanza, other than the pay the temporary help received. There was very little expense, very little effort and a whole lot of money.

I have a feeling if the boys had burped and put it on a record the record would have sold. For a few short weeks, The Beatles would account for five of the top 10 songs on Billboard Magazine’s popularity chart. It was amazing. It was the beginning of the British Invasion.

It shunted aside all the American groups and it just wasn’t popular if it didn’t have an English accent of some kind or type. And so a lot of groups we never would have heard of got to be popular in America and leading the way were the guys from Liverpool.

I’m sorry it ended by 1969, or thereabouts, but like all good things, it would come to a close. I like The Beatles because they were not predictable. From “She Loves Me,” to “Octopus’ Garden,” they would show off their amazing talent. “Yellow Submarine,” “Rocky Raccoon” and “Michelle,” you could name a great many more of their various songs their talent blessed us with.

I suppose we could safely say there will never be another group like them again, but just as sure as we would do that, some young group will come along and prove us wrong. 

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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