Longview's 'Beatles Bonfire' Turned Into a Shocking Event
By Van Craddock
East Texas teens screamed with delight when the Beatles came along in the 1960s. The parents just screamed.
Most adults didn't know what to make of the shaggy-topped foursome from Liverpool. I distinctly remember my own dad's comment: "I think they're long on hair and short on talent."
Youngsters were thrilled when the Beatles arrived in the United States in August 1966 for a nationwide tour. (I'd just graduated from high school.) At the same time a teen music magazine published a quote from Beatle John Lennon that had run in a British publication several months earlier. It quoted Lennon as saying, "We're more popular than Jesus Christ now. I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity."
Truth is, Lennon's comments had been taken out of context. He was trying to say it was ridiculous that a group of musicians could be "worshipped" more religiously by folks than their own religion. But the damage was done.
The Beatles were hanged in effigy. Radio stations and entire countries (South Africa, for instance) banned Beatles' music altogether. Even the Vatican denounced Lennon.
In Longview, radio station KLUE scheduled the nation's first "Beatles Bonfire," urging Gregg County teens to bring their Beatles' records, posters, etc., to the station where the items would be piled high and set on fire.
On Aug. 12, 1966, the Longview News-Journal published a front-page editorial saying, "Deport the Beatles." According to fiery longtime Publisher Carl Estes: "Before they get very far in their projected American money-grabbing tour, we predict (the Beatles) are going to need both a wing and a prayer - an airplane to go home on, and a prayer that they can get out before they are scalped by irate mothers and fathers."
The editorial noted the band was a "flash in the pan" that was "unworthy of a decent American reception. They should be fumigated and deported."
That night several thousand teens, including yours truly, descended on KLUE for the history making "Beatles Bonfire." Thousands of dollars of Beatles' records went up in smoke as the rowdy crowd cheered and sang Elvis Presley songs. (By the way, none of the records that went to blazes that night belonged to me. I left my Beatles collection safely at home.)
Then something truly bizarre happened, and it has become a part of radio lore. On Saturday, Aug. 13, only a day after the bonfire, a bolt of lightning struck KLUE's transmission tower. The Longview paper said:
"Phil Ransom, news director, was knocked unconscious when the lightning coursed into the (KLUE) building and was rushed to Good Shepherd Hospital … Ransom regained consciousness shortly afterward and was believed in good condition, although he was being held for observation Saturday evening." A KLUE spokesman said the lightning "caused extensive damage to radio equipment."
Two weeks later, on Aug. 29, 1966, the Beatles gave their final live concert in San Francisco and headed back to England. Of course, Gregg County's "Beatles' Bonfire" had done little to damper the band's popularity. The Beatles went on to sell more than 1.6 billion records worldwide and remain the most popular musical group ever assembled.
KLUE radio, on the other hand, went off the air for good a number of years ago.
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