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In This Town, 'Strike Up the Band' Really Means 'Crank Up the Radio'
by Rifka Rosenwein, Staff Reporter for the Wall Street Journal
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc Jul 1, 1987

Seventy-six trombones led the big parade, with 110 cornets close at hand.

-- "The Music Man"

Take composer Meredith Willson's stirring march, substitute the words "Walkmans" for trombones and "transistor radios" for cornets, and you have a pretty good idea of what the second annual "boom-box" parade in Windham, Conn., will sound like this Saturday.

Up until last year, Windham (population 21,000) had always hired mercenary bands to provide some spirit on holidays like Memorial Day and July 4. That's because there was no room in the school budget for a full-time high-school band.

But on Memorial Day in 1986, the band from the neighboring town canceled, and Windham's Women's Auxiliary was forced to march from the cemetery to the American Legion hall without so much as a piccolo to break the silence.

Determined to avoid a similar disaster on July 4, residents began searching for a more dependable source of sound. Someone proposed marching to taped music, but synchronizing hand-held cassette recorders seemed an unwieldy solution.

Then Kathleen Clark, who works for the town's housing authority, suggested approaching the local radio station, WILI. The station agreed to play marching-band music if everyone would tune in their radios and carry them along. Ms. Clark, in turn, volunteered to provide $152 of her own money to pay for police protection.

Last year's parade drew 1,500 people sporting everything from Walkman radios to 10-pound, shoulder-carried "boom boxes." The station played 50 minutes of John Philip Sousa marches and the like.

"We threw in a little 'God Bless America,'" says Wayne Norman, WILI's program director. "Everyone got nostalgic."

Hannah Clements, who heads the town's board of selectmen, says residents had so much fun that even though the town was able to get a real marching band for this year's Memorial Day parade, it was decided to go back to "boom-boxes" for July 4.

Ms. Clark, who this year got the town to sponsor the event, refers to it as a "people's parade. Everyone is invited." One gentleman last year brought his antique radio collection and several citizens decorated vans to look like huge radios.

And of course, adds Mr. Norman, the town's fire engines brought up the rear of the parade, with real -- not radio-produced -- sirens blaring.


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