Garth-a-Thon Yielded Incredible Returns 20 Years Ago This Week
Back in 1992, WBKR’s promotions director, Toni Mason Riales, saw an article in the Evansville newspaper about a group of University of Evansville students, God bless ‘em, who were going to start a petition to get Bruce Springsteen to come to Evansville. That was how it all began.
That thought seed translated into the idea that maybe WBKR could do the same thing in an attempt to get Garth Brooks to perform at Roberts.
And, to be honest, as Toni recently told me, we didn’t really think we would be successful. And, she’s right. We didn’t.
But after promoting it on the air, more or less as a lark, the signed petitions started flooding our fax machine. I mean they just kept coming. So, we thought, you know, this can actually be a “thing.”
And what a thing it was.
Our airstaff–Zack and Nick in the Morning, Karen Willoughby, Chuck Urban, myself, Mike Stone–we all did road shows from outside Roberts Stadium in a really nice RV that a dealer client had let us use in a trade agreement.
Zack and Nick were there all week. The rest of us would come and go.
The WBKR staff–all of us, not just on-air talent–washed cars in the stadium parking lot one Saturday. There was the enormous “Garth, Please!” banner that, from the photo, must have stretched out over the length of two semis.
Toni’s husband, Bill Riales, a WEHT anchor at the time, flew in a helicopter over what became known as the Garth-a-Thon and covered it for local television. The story was even featured on the national television news magazine A Current Affair.
As kind of a wacky (but no less effective) part of the promotion, Zack and Nick smashed up guitars, the pieces of which became part of a framed shadowbox.
So, here we had all these petitions, this inspired shadowbox, audio and video from various stages of the promotion.
What to do, what to do. Well, I’ll tell ya.
Toni and Zack took all that stuff to Nashville and paid a visit to Garth’s booking agent, a very amicable and hospitable guy, as it turned out.
Six months later, it was announced that Garth Brooks would perform a three-concert series February 3rd through the 5th, 1994 at Roberts Stadium.
Monday is the 20th anniversary of that first concert. As I spoke to Toni about this anniversary, we both marveled at how long it’s actually been since that incredible promotion evolved into something none of us, at first, thought possible.
How it evolved into what many people have told me is the greatest concert experience of their lives. I count myself among them. I saw Garth on that first night. I’ll never forget it.
And I’ll never forget how much fun we had trying to get him here, thinking that it probably wasn’t going to happen.
And yet it did.