For many people in my generation it was Carson Daly on MTVs Total Request Live. For others it was a talking sponge on Nickelodeon; but for me, it was Dave the King Wilson. His voice, more than any other, was the main reason I went sprinting out of school at the end of the day.
To me, Dave Wilson, Matt Hibbeln, and Joe Staysniak were my after school friends. As soon as the 2:30 bell would ring, I would make the short walk home from Northwest High School, and if I timed it just right, I would make it home in time to turn on my radio to AM1070. It was here, after Steve Simpson finished the 3pm news report, that Dave and his crew would start their afternoon drive show. Whether it was working the back drive thru at McDonalds, doing my homework in my bedroom, or riding my bike around Speedway, I had my radio tuned into Dave Wilson. His mix of jokes, news of the weird stories, and Turk Bufford skits had me enthralled. I would wander around my neighborhood aimlessly for three hours with my earphones in, enthralled at the chaos that unfolded on Dave Wilson’s show.
For those three hours, life was fun, a little serious, but I was learning new things. For those three hours, Dave Wilson was King.
Years before, Dave Wilson wandered those same streets. Like me, he grew up in the Indianapolis West Side community of Eagledale. In fact, we even attended the same high school. During his day, Northwest High School was in it’s infant years. It was in these years that Dave Wilson would begin to lay the groundwork for a career filled with A list comedians, world class race car drivers, and Marconi worthy radio.
After living in South Florida for five years, I returned to live in Indianapolis in 2015. I knew that Dave Wilson had been fired in 2009. I knew that WIBC had changed bands from 1070AM to 93.1FM. I knew that the 3pm-6pm drive time slot was now occupied by two gossiping, slightly annoying, overly judgmental, “cheap heat” hosts known as the Chicks on the Right. What I didn’t know, was what had become of Dave Wilson. After finding Dave on Twitter (@ohmanitstheking), I reached out to him to see if he would be available for an interview. To my surprise, Dave was more than happy to sit down with me and discuss his career.
Dave talked to me about his live shows and how he got started in comedy and radio. Dave knew early on that he wanted to be a comedian. “I knew in high school that I loved to gets laughs. I was always that annoying guy that you couldn’t shut up.” Dave knew that he would like to do stand up comedy, but his real ambition was to be the public address announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dave is a lifelong racing fan and, just like me, grew up in the shadow of the iconic Speedway. “In 1980 I walked into Raceway Park (in nearby Clermont, Indiana), and told them I wanted to be a PA announcer.” A month later, Dave had a job at IRP handing out time slips to race teams, and he soon found himself on the PA.
Soon after Dave and group of friends began writing, rehearsing, and performing short Saturday Night Live type skits at the now extinct Broad Ripple Playhouse. Some time later Dave and his friends, including former Family Feud host Ray Combs, got word that comedian Jay Leno would be in town opening for Perry Como at Starlight Musicals. Dave and his friends got word that Leno would be staying a Hilton hotel downtown. Wilson and friends gave the hotel a ring and called Leno in his room. To his surprise, Leno invited Dave and his friends to the hotel. “We knock on the door, and there is Jay Leno!” Dave and his crew spent some time with Leno in his room talking about comedy and the Indianapolis 500. Leno invited one or two of Dave’s group to hang out backstage each night during the Perry Como run.
Days later Wilson is backstage with Leno. Dave recalls when Leno’s wife, Mavis, asked Dave what he wants to do with his life. “I either want to be a stand up comedian or own my own lawn mower store.” Leno and his girlfriend, understandably, burst into laughter. Years later at an Indianapolis 500 press conference, Leno points Wilson out to the press in attendance and recalled Dave’s high aspirations.
Wilson developed a friendship with Leno and Leno would often call Dave from the road and check in on him and offer career advice. Often times when Leno had a show in Indianapolis, Wilson would do an opening set for him. “He was”, Wilson said of Leno, “just a good guy.” During his time on the road Dave became a top act in the area. In the late 80’s he caught the attention of a local radio show.
Tom Griswold saw Dave Wilson do a stand up set in 1983 and invited Wilson to be a guest on the Bob and Tom Show. Wilson recalls Griswold saying that Dave Wilson appearing as “The King” was one of the first bits to hit big on the radio show. “I was lucky that I stood out on that show”, says Wilson. “There was nothing like it.” Wilson would use the success of the Bob and Tom show to grow his following on the road doing stand up.
I asked Dave if he thinks it is more difficult to break into the comedy business today, than when he got his break on Bob and Tom. “You have your future more in your hands now.” Wilson says. With social media and the internet, there is more competition out there but Dave encourages young comedians to leverage social media to their advantage and to grow their audience.
Recalling his time living in Los Angeles Wilson says, “I would go on the road for 3 or four weeks and come back (to L.A) and they would go, who?” Without social media, you were only as good as your last show in a certain city, and the more time you spent away from a city, the smaller your audience was.” Wilson continues, “I never got that to work. So I just punted and came back here (to Indianapolis).”
After Chick McGee left the Bob and Tom Show, Wilson was tapped to do sports on the show. “It was horrible. I hated it.”, Wilson says of that time. “It was very little money and it was out of my area of comfort. I couldn’t do sports the way Chick did them.” Shortly after, Dave left the Bob and tom Show.
After leaving, Dave was hired by by 1070 WIBC in August of 1995. Wilson said his show was supposed to, “Make WIBC a little less stuffy.” Emmis Communications had just purchased the radio station and they wanted a lighthearted, local afternoon drive time radio show.
“And that is what we did until 9-11. 9-11 changed everything.” Dave’s show took a more serious turn as radio stations across the nation focused more on “hard news” and light talk show fodder was put aside. Dave was charged with talking about the news of the day, and making it funny. “Ok, IPS schools are the worst in the nation. Now how do I make that funny?” Wilson became a bit frustrated with this. He says, “The whole shows tone changed.”
Despite this challenge, Dave’s show was still unique. He managed to report on the post 9-11 hard news of the day, and still keep his show funny, light, and entertaining. His show would rank among the highest in ratings for his time slot in the Indianapolis radio market.
But very suddenly, things started to change.
Show producer Matt Hibblen left to work with a different division within Emmis communications. Joe Staysniack was moved to co host the morning show with Terri Stacy. This left Dave left fewer people to bounce ideas, and jokes off of. Wilson felt like things were out of his control. “I was trying to learn to do it by myself because I didn’t have my guys.” As time passed, the show was becoming less fun, and more serious.
This however, did not hurt Wilson’s show when it came to ratings. He was as popular as ever. Between having a prime time radio show, owning a popular comedy club on Indy’s south side (One Liners), and being a voice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio network, Dave Wilson was practically a household name in Indianapolis.
On March 5th, 2009 at 3pm I was finishing up my shift at work. I hopped on my bicycle and started riding toward my house in the Fountain Square neighborhood. Like always, I turned my handheld radio to 93.1 WIBC. As the 3pm news finished up, I was expecting to hear Wilson sign on and begin his show. But that didn’t happen.
It was Steve Simpson on the air. I listened as Simpson awkwardly worked his way through the show for the next three hours. Dave Wilson had been abruptly fired.
Wilson tells it to me this way. “Emmis was a publicly traded company, and like any publicly traded company, all that matters is this quarter. Making your numbers this quarter. They had to cut a half million dollars out of the Indy radio budget. I was the highest paid on air person. So boom!”
It was a devastating blow to Dave. “I’m gone. The program director was gone.” Even Wilson’s replacement was stunned by the sudden change. “Even he (Steve Simpson) didn’t know what was going on until that afternoon.”
The Indianapolis Star did a front page article on Wilson’s departure and three local television stations all wanted to sit down with Dave and get his side of the story. “I went to my car and called my wife, and she cried.”, Wilson said.
Like most people in radio, Dave Wilson never got to do a “final show” for his listeners. The tactic of letting a radio show host go right before they go on the air, rather than after they finish a show is an industry norm. Any Program Director who tells his host he is going to fire him and then lets him go on the air with an open microphone is crazy.
Wilson tried to move on after WIBC, but in his words, “Nothing really came up.” Some of the stumbles included a failed, very short stint in Columbus radio, and a promised morning show for a local Franklin radio station that never got off the ground.
A big part of me still wants to hear Dave Wilson on my radio, but today’s radio market is very different from the one Dave Wilson walked into in the early 90’s. His former home of 93.1 WIBC has gone to an almost entirely 100% conservative talk format during the week. Something even Wilson’s replacement Steve Simpson found rough, as he was given the ax in 2014. He was replaced on his morning drive show by a more conservative, opinion oriented talker, Tony Katz.
It was good seeing Wilson for this interview. We smiled, laughed, and I enjoyed spending time with him as we talked about the Indianapolis 500, geeky insider radio gossip, and everything in between.
But deep down I could tell Dave Wilson missed it. I could tell he missed signing on at 3:06pm each weekday. And I miss it too. I miss hearing Dave’s exaggerated sign on of the station call letters (Dubya eyyyyyye, BC). I miss hearing Dave warn me that “thunderboomers” were heading this way (an imminent thunderstorm). Most of all, i’m just a high school nerd who misses his friends, Matt, Big Joe, Turk, and the King.
Maybe one day, hopefully, Dave the King Wilson will return to the airwaves in Indianapolis; and while I wont be a 16 year old riding my bike home after school, I’ll make sure to turn up the radio and laugh as I sit in rush hour traffic on 465.
You can follow Dave Wilson’s and see his stand up schedule at www.davethekingwilson.com