July 4 means one thing: Boom Boxes
By Louisa Owen Sonstroem
Chronicle Staff Writer

WILLIMANTIC—The sounds of America at its most patriotic will boom down Main Street Wednesday when Willimantic celebrates its 27th annual WILI July 4th Boom Box Parade.

The parade, which begins at 11 a.m., annually draws between 5000 and 7000 local and area residents eager to celebrate the nation’s birthday, according to Wayne Norman, parade grand marshal and WILI personality.

The Boom Box Parade has received national attention for its unusual approach—instead of using a traditional marching band, the parade features music from attendees’ and participants’ boom boxes, which play marching music aired on local radio station WILI (1400-AM).

"It’s the only one of its kind in the world,” Norman said.  "I think it’s a tremendous concept.”

Anyone can march in the parade and many do, including local businesses, organizations, politicians and just plain patriotic folks.

Dressed in flag’s colors, crowds line up along Main Street to appreciate the floats, performances and giveaways from marchers.

"What intrigues me the most is all the creativity (of the floats),” Norman said.

Pre-registration to march is not necessary and marchers assemble at Jillson Square, proceeding seven tenths of a mile to Memorial Park.

A new set of parade safety guidelines went into effect last year in response to concerns expressed by town and safety officials.

Currently prohibited are reckless operator behaviors, throwing—as opposed to handing out—candy, spraying water, wheelies by motorcycles and bicycles, and engine-revving/rubber burning.

Norman said these guidelines met with much approval and even gratitude from attendees.

"A lot of people thought it was a procedure whose time has come,” he said.

The boom box event came about after a Memorial Day parade (had no music) in 1986 due to lack of a marching band.

The late Kathy Clark, a local resident and regular volunteer, suggested that WILI broadcast marching band music and that year’s Fourth of July parade initiated the now-traditional practice.

Norman serves as  grand marshal each year, donning theme costumes whose secret is only unveiled at parade time.

Norman advised all attendees to bring boom boxes so the parade functions properly.  "The parade doesn’t work if you don’t bring a radio,” he warned.

"We’ve had an issue in recent years with dead spots in the parade,” he explained.  "We just hope people bring their radios and play ‘em loud.”

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