Saturday, November 10, 2012


     Boomers will remember this from a time of discord and rancor when it became a kind of anthem.  Posted here in two versions as a post election stress syndrome tonic.
Lyrics Version

Full Hippie Style

Good bye Big John 
Photo Courtesy of Sherry Gillis/WIBC
    It is fortune in life to know people who are unique, true individualists even delightful eccentrics. John Gillis is on that list.
     1969 was a time of transition for the country and for me.  Big John was a wrench man in my re-tooling.  He was part of a revolution, FM Rock radio. He and a few renegade young men made history by creating something new.  I was out of college, waiting for my bride to be to finish student teaching, working at a small market AM station doing the police beat and street news.  John had heard me and  showed up one day at the studio to evangelize the hip new world of "underground, counter cultural, history making" WNAP FM. The cultural history of that station has been captured in a film detailed in this January post.  
       On that day, John opened his ever present hard sided brief case, which he organized a couple of times as we sat in our little studio talking, and produced promotional literature, tapes of jingles, air checks and posters.  He opened the door to my future.
       A few months later, after returning from a spring and summer traveling in Europe, Lana and I settled into our new home and I walked further through the door John had opened.  The News Director of  the station group that operated both the radical FM and the old line AM news leader offered me a job to live in both worlds.  Traditional beat reporting for the AM News giant and the on air voice of those "long haired fucking hippies in the back room." (It's funny, because the only long hair Big John had was his mutton chop side burns, being a prematurely bald man.)
      It was the best of both worlds, the beginning of life long friendships, adventure and the launching pad for a career that would send me around the world. Some of that would have happened perhaps, but it certainly did because Big John came calling one day.
       He was a radio legend in Indianapolis, the automatic host, toast master, emcee at thousands of events over the years.  Colorful, always traveling to the beat of his own private drummer, a loving and lovable guy, John passed from this world yesterday at the young age of 65.
       There will be great stories about John's vivid uniqueness-he truly was a character- and they will fill a space in our heart left by a life lived large. Big John, you left Big memories.

        Take a moment this weekend to tell a friend how important they are to you.
          See you down the trail.


  1. Thanks Tom. Spot on.

    When I heard John had passed before going to bed last night, I just about fainted. He was a great friend and a loving character. I called Bodine to bring him up to speed and then retired for the night.

    Love that guy. We'll all miss him dearly.


  2. Sorry you've lost Big John. He sounds like quite a guy.

  3. I remember Big John fondly, though I hadn't seen him for around 40 years. He was a truly nice man.

  4. Beautiful tribute Tom. I, too, was shocked when I heard this morning. I worked with one of the great legends in Indiana Radio for 13 years. I called Jeff Pigeon and we were sad together but ended up retelling Big John stories and laughed a lot. There will no doubt be an Irish wake with more stories and laughs, as Big John would have wanted. Thank God his spirit is captured forever in NAPTOWN ROCK RADIO WARS! Meantime .. one more time ... "Big John Gillis, WIBC Sky Traffic."

  5. I remember BigJohn best in his later years. He remembers me in out first years. We both started with WIBC in 1968. He moved on for Fairbanks Broadcasting in Pittsburgh and in Boston.
    I just moved on... when Fred fired me in May 1970. 35 years later GM Jim Hilliard told us at Chuck Riley's goodbye event that Fred said I quit. Glad I was kicked out of the nest I liked so much. I would not have traveled so far afield had he not lied to the General Manager at the time.
    Fred's distaste for those "Hippies" in the back room made them more interesting. When I returned to INDY in JAN 1997 BigJohn was the first to greet me on the street while waiting for another St.Patrick's Parade to begin. We have been lunching ever since. We enjoyed the "old times" for dessert. Thnx John. -w-