Monday, September 21, 2009

John Long in Jacksonville, FL

This story and photos appears on John Long was a beginning radio D.J. in his early 20's and a huge Beatlemaniac in 1964. He lived in LaGrange, Georgia and was able to score concert tickets because he had a Beatles record that wasn't yet released in the U.S. He traded that album to be taped by a big named Georgia DJ in exchange for a concert ticket.
On September 10, 1964 I drove to Jacksonville from LaGrange in my trusty
'55 Chevrolet. I hadn't told my parents that the National Weather Service was
predicting hurricane Dora was headed to Jacksonville along with the Beatles. I
made it to a little town outside Jacksonville that night, checked into a motel
with the winds gusting near hurricane strength. I admit that I was scared,
especially when the owner of the motel told me to push all the furniture in the
room against the window and door. I slept little as Dora churned to land, thru
Jacksonville, and very near where I huddled in the dark. The next morning at
daybreak I headed for Jacksonville witnessing the path of the storm along the
way. I was listening to WAPE, the legendary Big Ape. I decided to pay a visit to
the station. Orange Park is south of Jacksonville on Highway 17. When I pulled
into the station parking lot the first thing I saw was a swimming pool in front
of the station. As I walked in the front door of the station I was shocked to
see that the pool was also in the lobby. This was the coolest radio station I
had ever seen. The guy on the air waved for me to come over to the studio window
and spoke to me over an intercom. I told him that I was in Jacksonville
representing WQXI (I lied) at the Beatles concert. Instant credibility is what I
got. He was falling all over himself to help me in any way. He asked me if I was
going to the press conference. I didn't even know there was going to be a press
conference, but recognizing the opportunity to interview the Beatles, I lied
again and said yes. Now I had to find out where it the press conference was
going to be held. I asked him for directions to the hotel, banking on the
possibility it would be held at the hotel where they would be staying. He gave
me directions. I asked him what time I should leave to arrive on time. This gave
me the time of the press conference. He said he had to leave in shortly to go to
the naval air station for President Johnson's arrival to inspect the hurricane
damage. He invited me to go along. Since I had the rest of the day free I said
yes. We arrived at the base and he flashed his press credentials and told the mp
I was from an Atlanta station. No problem, the next thing I know were on the
press bus on the way to Jax beach. When we arrived I joined the throng of
reporters around the President with my trusty Sunbeam tape recorder. At the
right moment, I shook hands with him. He was bigger than life very tall and
looked like the president. I wish I had a picture of me shaking his hand. On the
bus ride back to the naval air station the guy from WAPE asked me what it was
like to work at a big station like WQXI. I managed to bullshit my way around his
question by asking him questions about WAPE and the swimming pool. He told me
the owner was a rich playboy who often entertained in a private apartment off
the lobby of the radio station. He told me about the girls who came out to the
station to swim in the pool at all hours of the day and night. Little did I know
that eleven years later I would be program director of WAPE. Of course by then,
the pool had been filled with dirt. Just my luck!

I walked into the ballroom at the hotel where the Beatles press
conference was to be held and Derek Taylor asked who I was and what station I
represented. I figured that I had better be truthful since he probably knew Paul
Drew and besides I had typed up official looking credential on WTRP stationery
just in case I needed them. He handed me a card identifying me as press, and
told me to use that to get backstage at the Gator Bowl. I had died and gone to
heaven. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I'd be able to get
backstage at a Beatles concert. I had been successful getting backstage at a
couple of Dick Clark Cavalcade Of Stars shows in Montgomery, Alabama and
Columbus, Georgia, but this was unbelievable.

Taylor called the room to order and in marched the Beatles. I was on the
front row as the newspaper and TV people asked questions. Then it was radio's
turn and due to the hurricane, the number of stations there was small. I moved
right in and started asking questions. When I got to John, he said "you're no
radio DJ, that's not a tape recorder it's a shaver". I froze; he laughed. I
realized he was kidding me and asked him a question. I have the tape. There was
a teenage girl with a Polaroid camera taking pictures and I offered her five
bucks to take mine in front of the table with the Beatles in the background. She
did and handed it to me but refused the money. I stood starring at the picture
as it developed. After a few minutes I remembered that Polaroid pictures had to
have a chemical wipe after they the image fully emerged. I looked around for the
girl with the camera but he was nowhere to be found. The picture eventually
turned brown, but I have it hermetically sealed in

I received an email with "LOOKING FOR JOHN LONG" in the subject line. Not uncommon since I get an average of two or three a week from people around the world who: are former co workers, long lost acquaintances or total strangers who stumbled across my web sit. This one was different. Here’s a condensed version of the email:
"I am looking to make contact with John Long. I read your online account of your extraordinary life and I believe you can help me. Like you, my sister (16 years old at the time) attended the Beatles press conference in Gainesville Florida in September, 1964 and the subsequent "Hurricane concert" at the Gator Bowl. My mother drove her and a friend from Miami to Gainesville. Also like you, she kind of "fudged" her way into the press conference with some sort of North Miami Senior High school newspaper reporter's credentials! At one point in the press conference, my sister must have been virtually right next to you, because she was taking pictures of the Beatles with her Polaroid camera and you are in one of those pictures! When I saw the picture you have online of you with the Beatles in the background I almost fell over. You are the boy in one of my sister's pictures. Anyway, she went up and had the Beatles sign some of her Polaroid’s of them. I remember her calling me back home in Miami long distance from a Howard Johnsons I think, to tell me she had just met the Beatles at the press conference and gotten their autographs. After the concert at the Gator Bowl, my mother, sister and her friend came back to Miami with the worst colds of their lives from the wind at the concert and told me that they had to have a guy onstage to "hold Ringo down" because he was ready to blow away".
That evening I arrived at the Gator Bowl early and took up my position under the stage. The wind was blowing like crazy. When the Beatles took the stage, a wall of sound rolled in and when they started playing, it intensified. There I was right under the front of the stage with my Sunbeam rolling and recording the concert. It seemed to last only a few minutes. Later in my motel room as I listened to my tape of the concert I sadly discovered that in my enthusiasm, I had sung along with the Beatles and the only thing louder than thousands of screaming girls was me. I have the tape.


  1. Are there no photos on the internet of them on the stage in the Gator Bowl? I was so high up, there are only little dots of light inthe middle of my photos. What a laugh. Must scan them to see if there is any discernable human shape recorded. But now 45 years later, I'm finding I am remembered as "cool among my friends just because I went to see them. Too funny. I was so immersed in them, it stunted my normal teenage social growth! ha.

  2. That is awesome that you saw the Beatles in concert! That Gator Bowl show sounded like it was a crazy one with all of the wind from the hurricane. Wow!

    There are photos from that show here (you will have to join, but we are a harmless bunch)

  3. I attended the 1964 concert in Jacksonville and I had tickets on the field. I took movie film, the old 8mm - about 3 minutes. Its not good,its shaky and dark, but its not bad - afterall, it is the Beatles.

  4. That is such a Fantastic story...
    Thank you for sharing! You provide wonderful imagery in your words. It made me smile. If it were only that easy these days...
    I am a photographer and would love to get the chance to cover such events.

  5. I grew up in Jacksonville, experienced Hurricane Dora and had front row, center seats at the Beatles concert; I was nine years old. My aunt ran the ticket office in Jacksonville and my father worked for the recreation department, which ran the Gator Bowl. They always said there were 12,000 people in attendance...who knows. The Beatles stayed in a house trailer, on the Monroe Street end of the Gator Bowl, behind the stage. The following January, while running around the Gator Bowl, I found a support beam, where Paul McCartney had signed was authentic. 45 years later, Paul McCartney played the Gator Bowl again, as the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl, in 2005.

  6. I was a nitetime dj at wape when the Beatles
    came. I introduced Jackie DeShannon on the
    show. I did not meet them...they ran to and
    from the stage that stormy nite. The nite
    jocks got no respect at the APE.I later worked
    at several stations...including WMBR. Thanks
    for listening...see you on the flipside.

    1. Thanks for sharing those memories! I was just listening to interviews conducted at Jacksonville the other day, by coincidence! Wow, you got to stand in front of that crowd?!!! What was THAT like??!!!

      The pictures of them playing that night definitely have major windage!! There's a great snapshot that a fan took, somewhere on this amazing blog.

      Do you happen to have retained any of your air checks from their visit, or from that period in general?

  7. I was there...11 yrs old....still have the black turtleneck shirt I wore!!! It was the best moments of my life at that age...until I got to meet & shake Paul's hand in 2001! Beatles forever!!!! Rhonda Kellam

  8. my favourite readings are stories like these