It’s the Jet-FLI Spectacular!

What if you turned on your radio today, and heard this announcement:  “Coming Saturday to Memorial Auditorium! See the hottest acts in the world, all performing their hits LIVE on stage!  Katy Perry!  Mumford and Sons!  Maroon 5!  Blake Shelton!  Bruno Mars!  One Direction!  TWO great shows, this Saturday, at 5 and 8 p.m.!  Tickets are on sale now for $20!”

That is so ridiculous, right?  I mean, ticket prices for any of those acts, if they ever bothered to come to Chattanooga would be astronomical.  Plus, there’s no way any one of them would share the stage with any of the others.  Too many egos involved, who would open the show?  Who would close?  And their styles of music are so different.  Any promoter would be crazy to put them on the same bill.  Besides, no music fan could possibly like them all.  That Shelton guy is too country.  One Direction is just for teenyboppers.  It simply would not work.

wfli spec

Yet in the 1960s, it did work.  Ask any baby boomer who grew up in Chattanooga about the Jet-FLI Spectaculars, and they will tell you some stories, outrageous stories.  On any given night, more than half of the acts in Billboard’s Top Ten would be in our little town, on the same stage, one right after another.  Tickets ranged from $2.50 to $3.50.

If you missed Paul Revere and the Raiders this year, they just might be back next year.  Same goes for Herman’s Hermits and other repeat visitors.  Here’s the story behind the most amazing series of live performances ever staged in Chattanooga, before or since.

I’ve written before about WFLI, the powerful AM Top 40 station that signed on from its humble Tiftonia studio in 1961, and how it immediately changed the local radio landscape.  Its strong signal captured most of the young adult audience almost overnight, and got even stronger when the British Invasion took hold a few years later.  WFLI was among a group of stations owned in part by the Brennan family of Alabama.  Their others were in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Jacksonville, Florida.  The Brennans pooled their resources to create multi-star shows twice a year at each station, making it convenient for the artists.  For example, they’d schedule shows Friday in Chattanooga, Saturday in Birmingham and Sunday in Montgomery, so the artists had an easier flight schedule.

Johnny Eagle

Johnny Eagle

Ticket prices were low, according to WFLI’s first general manager Johnny Eagle, to allow as many people as possible to come.  “It wasn’t meant to be a money-maker,” he said. “Our owner Billy Benns just wanted to promote the radio station, and boy did it ever work!”  The first Spectacular was staged on March 19, 1965, and for the next six years, the twice-yearly shows were enormously popular.  Listeners anxiously awaited the announcements of the lineups for the summer and winter shows.  The deejays would promote about five acts for a few weeks, and then just before the show, a “surprise special guest” would be added.  With great fanfare, they would tell us that Johnny Rivers or Andy Kim or some other big name “has just been added…you’d better get your tickets now!”

Peter Noone ("Herman") and Tommy Jett

Peter Noone (“Herman”) and Tommy Jett

Incredibly, in that pre-internet era, ticket sales were handled literally by hand, by the WFLI staff.  People sent cash in self-addressed, stamped envelopes, or drove to the studio to get them in person.  “We handled everything, from setting up the sound, hiring the security, making travel arrangements, and getting the stars to and from the airport,” Eagle said.  Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits got here three days early in the summer of 1967, and we put them up in the Downtowner Motel, across from the Read House.  They had a great time water skiing at Lake Chickamauga.”

Paul Revere & The Raiders

Paul Revere & The Raiders

It didn’t always go smoothly.  A few days before a heavily promoted show, Eagle heard about some confusion on the part of Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They had the number-one song in the nation, and were outselling the Beatles.  But the Raiders had mistakenly booked two shows in Atlanta on the same day as the WFLI shows.  “We freaked out,” Eagle said. “Nobody wanted to go on stage and tell five thousand screaming kids that the Raiders were not going to play.  We arranged for our co-owner Bill Brennan, down in Birmingham to take his private jet to Atlanta, pick up the Raiders after their 3:00 show, get them to Chattanooga in time to open our 5:30 show, fly them back to Atlanta to open their 8:00 show, and then fly them back here to close our 9:00 show.  We paid police escorts to get them to and from the airport twice, and hired a crew to haul Paul’s organ on and off the stage, every time.”

If that wasn’t enough, Eagle said, “One of the other groups threw a fit that night.  They thought they were the headliners, and insisted on closing the second show.  We told them the Raiders would be arriving late, and they would have to be the last act.  The other group argued with us all evening, threatening not to go on.  Nobody follows us, they said.  We had to stall for time, sending some deejays out at intermission to tell the crowd we were having technical difficulties.  Actually it was just those guys being a giant pain in the (butt)!”  Eventually they gave in, upon learning they wouldn’t get paid if they didn’t play.

Tommy Jett & Lou Christie

Tommy Jett & Lou Christie

The falsetto-voiced Lou Christie (“Lightning Strikes”) was a local favorite who caused a different kind of problem.  “He turned the gals on.  He would rip off his shirt, but that was considered racy back then.  It would get the girls too excited.  He did it at the 5:30 show, and the police told us if he did it again at 9:00, we’d have to close the curtains.”

On another occasion, Jerry Lee Lewis lived up to his bad-boy reputation.  “He hadn’t had many hits in a long time, but he was still Jerry Lee.  He didn’t want second billing to anyone.  We got Johnny Rivers, and he was a bigger name by then, so he was our headliner.  Jerry Lee would raise hell, just for the sake of raising hell.”

WFLI's Mike Murray backstage with Neil Diamond

WFLI’s Mike Murray backstage with Neil Diamond

Not every act caused a headache.  Eagle speaks fondly of Roy Orbison.  “He just stood there on stage, didn’t say much and didn’t move a muscle, but that boy could sing.  The girls loved his voice, and the guys loved his guitar playing.”

Kenny Rogers was among the nicest stars.  “He carried his own equipment, he had no help, no ego.  With all those big stars in the lineup, it was hard to get anybody to open the show.  I’d go up to Kenny, kind of embarrassed, and ask him if he would be kind enough to open the show, and he’d say absolutely, whatever you need.  He had more hits than anybody, but he didn’t act like it.  He couldn’t have been any nicer.  It was no surprise to me that he went on to be more successful than any of them.”

"Ringo Van the Music Man"

“Ringo Van the Music Man”

Rick Govan, known as “Ringo Van, the Music Man” during his radio days, worked at WFLI while attending the University of Chattanooga in the 60s.  He said, “I think back and realize how lucky I was to chat backstage with Lesley Gore, to drive Lou Christie to the airport with all those star-struck girls following us, and to see Jerry Lee Lewis throwing a tantrum.  Yes, wonderful memories indeed.  Sometimes I wish I could turn back the hands of time.  For a college kid, it was a wild ride.  Like the Troggs sang in their big hit Wild Thing, it was….groovy.”

If you would like to share your memories of a Jet-FLI Spectacular, leave a comment!  If you have any memorabilia (autographs, photos, ticket stubs, etc.) I’d love to share those too.  My e-mail is 3dc@epbfi.com.

 

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

17 thoughts on “It’s the Jet-FLI Spectacular!

  1. Jim Kuhns

    I took some of my hard earned cash and sent along with an SASE to 621 O’Grady Drive to get my ticket to see Tommy James & the Shondells. Unfortunately, going to a Spectacular was WAY outside of my parent’s box of acceptability at the time and the ticket was never used. (Sure would love to still have it as a souvenir.) Sadly, by the time I had the privilege to follow in the footsteps of Dale Anthony, Mike Murray, Tommy Jett, Ringo Vann and others on the air at WFLI in the mid-70s, the Spectaculars had gone the way of so many other things from back in that simpler time. But I still have the memory of the day when MY ticket came in the mail.

    Reply
  2. Sandra

    David,

    I went to several Spectaculars and remember seeing Neil Diamond AND The Who.

    I screamed like crazy when Neil Diamond sang ” Girl you’ll be a woman soon”.

    Also, when Herman’s Hermits came to town, my brother practiced a British accent and called the Read House and Hotel Patten asking to speak with Peter Noone. LOL! We thought we were so clever.

    Anyway, thanks for writing about this. You made my day! I can’t wait to show your piece to my daughter. She has always been a bit skeptical of the stories I have told her over the years about those shows.

    Thanks again!
    Sandra

    Reply
  3. Julie Barker

    I went to several Jet Fli Spectaculars. I remember Frigid Pink, Grass Roots, Paul Revere and the Raiders and the time Canned Heat came to play their song and that was the only song they played that we liked. They were boo’d at. I also remember seeing a black haired Tommy Jett run down the center to the stage. I loved the Jet Fli Spectaculars and the excitement of it.

    Reply
    1. Terry Peden

      What was the date of that Spring Spectacular with Frigid Pink, Grass Roots, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Guess Who, and Michael Parks?

      I was there!

      Thanks

      Reply
    2. Deborah

      I went to that one. It was awesome I went alone and I was so young. My parents dropped me off them picked me up. You couldn’t do that now.

      Reply
  4. Steve Byrd

    The modern-day equivalent of a “Jet-FLI Spectacular” would be those “Jingle Ball” shows that happen around Christmas time in a lot of major cities.

    Didn’t the old WDOD-1310 stage something similar to those “Jet-FLI Spectaculars” at the Memorial Auditorium, but with country stars, during that era?

    As for Paul Revere and the Raiders being shuttled back and forth between two Atlanta shows and two Chattanooga shows on the same day…well, AM 1070 wasn’t called “Jet-FLI” for nothing.

    Reply
  5. Ed Gail

    I remember backstage before one show I was talking to Jerry Lee Lewis when Johnny Rivers walked in with two beautiful ladies, one on each arm. Jerry Lee saw them and said, loud enough for all to hear, “Look at that! Most guys only have one girl.” and stomped off. Good times, David.

    Reply
  6. Bob Catron

    Grew up in Maryville, TN. Dated a girl in Vonore, south of Maryville, and WFLI came in great, expecially at night, south of Maryville. The girl’s brother double dated with us once and we all went in his ’65 Buick GS to one of the shows. Great stuff. Lou Christie, John Fred & The Playboy band, others I can’t remember.

    Reply
  7. Diane Frye Kay

    I went to at least 2 of the Jet-Fli Spectaculars, one had Kenny Rogers and the 1st Edition, Grass Roots, Melanie, Ray Stevens, Bobby Sherman, can’t remember the rest but each show had at least 7 different groups or performers. Those were the best shows ever and tickets were 5.00 , those were the good old days. I think the first one I went to was in 1969. Bobby Sherman was my fav at the time so I was on cloud 9. But I had always wanted to see the Monkees , I finally got to see them in 1986 Mike wasn’t with the show at that time but Davy was the one I wanted to see. I wish I still had all my ticket stubs and posters but they all disappeared somewhere through the years. Thank you David for bringing back some very good memories. You are the best!

    Reply
  8. Jack R Wilkes

    David,
    I went to Lakeview High School in Ft. Oglethorpe. Let me tell you a little story about the WFLI Spectaculars! WFLI held a “school spirit contest” relating to the Jet-FLI Spectaculars. All local high schools could compete…the prize for winning the school spirit contest gave the entire high school tickets to the WFLI Spectacular. Each school had to write on a 3×5 index card something like” Lakeview High School & #1 radio station WFLI”. The school with the most index cards turned into WFLI won! Every morning classmate Mike Hickey and would go around to each homeroom class in the school and ask for money for to buy more cards AND we would pass out index cards to be filled out by the students and they would turn them in If my memory is correct our high school won the first 4-5 “school spirit ” contests because we wrote thousands and thousands of index cards. The years were 1967, 1968, 1969 and maybe more… We saw Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Herman Hermits, Neil Diamond, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Tommy James & the Shondells. It was a great time to be a teenager. WFLI was the best!

    Reply
  9. Leslie Ladd

    I remember when the Who came in August 1967 I believe. We got to meet them as they were out by the pool sunning. I was so shy as I was a pre teen, but Keith Moon made me feel comfortable when he told me he had a sister named Leslie! They asked my friend’s mom to go across the street to the liquor to buy them some bourbon as they were underaged! Somewhere there are pics of us meeting them. But I lost that autograph book.
    That same year, Herman was staying at the Hotel Patton. My sister was there for a high school newspaper conference and got to meet them. She had him call me and I didnt believe it was him. My mom took me down there and we had our picture made for the newspaper with Herman wearing his black top hat and cape and trying on a moustache. Anyone have a copy of that?
    It was great fun. David or Tommy Jet should write a book about them. I’ll place a pre order!

    Reply
  10. Paula McMahan

    My sister and I went to several shows We would usually get 1st or 2nd row I remember being called to the stage to kiss Ronnie Dove and being put in Teen Tempo I was also called to the stage and given a guitar neck by the Raiders after they destroyed it and I still have it We hung out with one of the Playboys and we took a couple of the Hullabaloes to Lake Winnie I have also met the Beach Boys etc Thanks for the Great Memories

    Reply
  11. David Unruh

    Great to see the shot of Rick Govan as a youngster. Ringo had a very successful career at Provident (Unum) as a Senior Group Sales Executive followed by an executive position in the Episcopal Church in church and clergy development. His great wife, Lori, is a HR executive with Kenco. Great folks.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: Finally, the complete list: Every UTC McKenzie Arena concert! - David Carroll's Chattanooga Radio and TV

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