Joe Gallagher, a WFIL, Famous 56 engineer during the station's hey day tells us about the day, the banana was stolen off the station's Banana car:
While I was at WFIL, I was also the "faculty moderator/advisor" of the campus radio station, WKVU at Villanova where I had graduated the year before I started at WFIL, and I had been a member and department head of WKVU during my student years.
The audio tape I recently converted to digital was of he 100-hour-plus marathon that the general manager of WKVU was engaged in, which is what caused me to say one night to Banana Joe: "would you be interested/willing to go out to the campus after the show. I know the student staff of the college radio station would love to see-meet-talk to a major market DJ, and it'd be a major encouragement to the guy who's trying to stay awake and on-air for so long a time."
BoJo (Banana Joe) was immediately receptive to the idea, and Sales Manager Gene Vassall had apparently told BoJo that he could get the keys to the BananaCar any time he wanted. So I drove my car and he drove the BananaCar from WFIL out to the campus. My parking permit allowed parking in the center of the campus about a hundred feet from the building the radio station was in, and the guard allowed Joe to follow me. We got there sometime between 10:30 pm and 11 pm.
Side note: I had completely forgotten, but the tape also included Joel Denver's appearance on air on the campus station earlier that night!
So he's doing his Banana-Joe-on-the-radio thang on carrier-current WKVU and about 1:30 am or so, somebody walked in and asked if anybody in the student station was connected to that yellow car in the parking lot with the WFIL call letters all over it.
Joe and I said we were, and the person said, "Well, somebody just stole the banana off the top of the car." Joe and I immediately ran at top speed to the car, and somebody said they saw a couple guys carrying it and running east (toward Villanova's "Quad" of dorm buildings). But Joe and I decided to search in different directions. Joe went toward the dorms to the east, and I went toward the dorms to the west. By about 3 am, nobody we had talked to had said that they saw anything like a six-foot-long fiberglass banana, so we pretty much felt hopeless and stopped searching. Joe drove the Banana-less car back to WFIL then drove his car home, and I drove to my apartment.
When I came in to work the next day at 1 pm, I was 100% positive that I was going to be fired because it had been my idea to drive out there. As I walked through the office area over to 'FIL's Master Control Room and operations area, I remember noticing that the office staff seemed extremely busy. Chief Engineer (and my Boss) Ray McCloy wasn't there to welcome me and tell me I was fired. In fact, everything seemed normal but unusually hectic.
After about 45 minutes of normalcy while still feeling a sword hanging over my head, I walked to the office area and asked somebody if I was in trouble and they seemed surprised. "Trouble? What for?" I said it was my idea to go out to the campus where the banana was taken, and they said "Trouble? Are you kidding? There have already been news crews here from TV stations 3, 6 and 10 (at the station). We were the "kicker" story at the end of each station's Noon newscast. The Philadelphia Bulletin and Inquirer newspapers have called and are doing stories about the missing banana. In trouble? NO! We've probably have gotten a million dollars in free publicity from this." (I remember this like it was yesterday.)
WFIL Production Manager Jerry Donahue was in the production control room. He and an engineer were editing out and removing the word "banana" from any name-credit jingle or anything else that mentioned "Banana Joe." The disappearance of the banana had been frequently mentioned on WFIL's air through the day, and Joe went on the air that night as simply "Joe Montione," telling the audience that as long as the banana was missing, he could not be "Banana Joe." His on-air-persona was also low-key as I remember since he couldn't very well "go bananas" and be as high-energy as usual without the banana. (Unfortunately, of all the times that I recorded an aircheck, I never rolled a tape during this event.) I can't remember if it was the second full night that the banana was missing or the third night, but in the on-air control room sometime during BoJo's 6 pm –10 pm airshift, I got a call on the private line direct to the engineers (since I was the campus station moderator, I thought they should have this number if they needed to contact me). On the phone was the guy doing the 100-hour-plus marathon on the campus station, telling me that the banana had been found.
Over the intercom, I gave Joe the news and the phone number at the campus station. On WFIL's air, Joe called the campus station and the audience heard the news of the recovery at which point I aired, back-to-back and nonstop -- every jingle and other name credit that referenced "Banana Joe."
About two years ago (2010), I was at the campus station and I saw a picture they took at the time. It shows many WKVU student staff members, maybe 25 or more people, crowded around the WFIL banana before Jerry Hunton arrived to retrieve it. I took a picture of it, and will look for it tonight. As mentioned in what I called the short version, I heard later that it was a fraternity prank and the banana was stashed in a restroom in exactly the first dorm that I searched to the west (Corr Hall on the Villanova campus, the
closest larger-size dorm to the campus station). The guy who directed us toward the east was misdirecting us.
The weird part of all this is that I don't remember if the banana was put back on top of the car, but I’m sure it must have been.
Gene Vassall, the station's General Sales Manager adds some additional details:
That Banana was made for me by Jim Margulis’ Sign Company, 1855 North Fifth Street. It was only bolted on with four bolts. (After it was found) I had Jim Margulis remount it but he stripped the ends of the bolts so they could not be easily removed again. Incidentally, after BOJO, I converted that mustang to the "WFIL IS GONNA MAKE ME RICH" vehicle.
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