BOOM BOX PARADE A TREASURE IN THE CITY
by Michelle Firestone
Chronicle Staff Writer
 
WILLIMANTIC -- On July 4, 1998, WILI Radio personality Wayne Norman roller-bladed through downtown Willimantic during the Boom Box Parade, "towing" a bus designed to look like radio speakers.
 
In 2007, he dressed as a 1950's greaser as a tribute to WILI's 50th anniversary.
 
This year, when the Willimantic Boom Box Parade kicks off at noon Sunday, Norman will continue his unusual 25-year tradition in an undisclosed outfit inspired by current events.
 
"Everyone has a lot of anticipation to see what it's going to be," said Charles Olbrias, assistant director of the Windham Recreation Department, which is assisting in organizing the event.
 
Norman's outfits used to be patriotic, but have gotten more unusual over the years.
 
The longtime morning show host has been grand marshal of the Independence Day parade since it began in 1986.
 
"If I as grand marshal can do something wacky, I hope others will follow suit," Norman said.
 
The idea for the parade came from the late Kathy Clark in 1986 when a marching band couldn't be found for the town's Memorial Day Parade.
 
Five weeks later, the boom box concept was born, where radio station WILI plays marching band music while spectators and marchers carry boom boxes turned to the station.
 
The tradition has since taken off and the parade has attracted a significant amount of national and local media attention due to its unusual theme.
 
Norman, for example, said he has been interviewed about the parade by Parade Magazine, The Chronicle, Hartford Courant, Norwich Bulletin, and New London Day.
 
The parade begins at noon this year, an hour later than usual since the holiday falls on a Sunday and the parade lines up by three churces, Norman said.
 
Anyone who wants to can march and marchers are encouraged to bring their radios to join in the tradition.
 
Marchers line up at 10 a.m. in the Jillson Square parking lot.
 
Families and various community organizations show up to march in the parade each year.  Norman said people are inspired to march for two reasons:  They realize it's a different kind of parade than most, and that anyone can participate.
 
"Use the opportunity to get on the street as opposed to on the curb," Norman said.
 
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