“Billboard Boys” Documentary Highlights the History of the Lehigh Valley


Kaytlyn Gordon

Dr. Joel Nathan Rosen (from left) discusses the “Billboard Boys” documentary with Director Pat Taggart and billboard boy Dalton Young following the screening of the documentary in Prosser auditorium on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

The prize of an $18,000 modular home inspired three men to sit on a billboard over Route 22 in Allentown for months in 1982 as a part of a radio contest.

On Wednesday, March 14, in Prosser auditorium, one of the contest participants, Dalton Young, joined the Moravian College community for the screening of the documentary “Billboard Boys.” In attendance was also the film’s Director Pat Taggart and Producer Frank Petka, who facilitated a Q&A session following the documentary.

The screening was organized by Dr. Joel Nathan Rosen, Moravian College’s program director of communications and media studies.

“[This story] has show biz, it has vaudeville, it has insanity,” said Rosen. “It’s just one of those things you don’t forget.”

The AM radio station WSAN launched the contest “You’ll Love to Live with Us,” that offered a free home to the person who  could live on a billboard the longest. The contestants were chosen at random from a trash bag filled with 600,000 entries, according to The Morning Call. The three men  chosen were Young, 23, who had just returned from the Army, Ron Kistler, 24, who had just been laid off, and Mike MacKay, 31.

“I was really fascinated [by the fact that] they happened to pull three guys that were so ideally suited to stay up there for as long as it took,” said Taggart.

The competition took place during the Ronald Reagan administration, when America was experiencing the worst recession since the Great Depression. At the time of the competition, unemployment was  rampant and mortgage rates were at 18 percent, according to Taggart.

“We have a tendency to idealize and romanticize the end of an era, but Bethlehem Steel was going belly up and people were losing their jobs, their livelihood, their homes, and a radio station of all places was stepping up to do something,” said Rosen.

The state of the economy inspired these three men to live on an 8-by-48-foot platform attached to a billboard for a chance to win a piece of the American dream. The radio station provided each of the men with a tent, cot, camp toilet, heater, and a phone line.

The documentary explores the insane events that took place from the time the men started living on the billboard on Sept. 20, 1982, to the time they descended, along with the national attention that the competition sparked.

“The guys took to such an extraordinary length that it became a national story,” said Rosen.

On Dec. 9, 1982, The Wall Street Journal published the article “Why 3 grown men from Pennsylvania live on a billboard,” which drew national attention, according to The Morning Call. The men started to receive calls from France, Germany, and Australia, while broadcasters from all over the world came to visit them on the billboard.

I think at the time the rest of the world was fascinated by it, but the [Lehigh] Valley was kind of embarrassed,” said Taggart. “The township was in such a hurry to get it over with [that] they would have went to any means necessary to get it to end.”

The competition started to dwindle when Young was arrested for selling pot to an undercover cop and forced to come down from the billboard.

“It just got to a point that no one ever expected,” said Young.

After a total of 261 days, MacKay and Kistler descended from the billboard and were both given a modular home, car, and an island vacation, while Young was fined and got probation. Although the men’s fame was fleeting, their story continues to live on.

“If we didn’t tell this [story] maybe it would have never been told, and that would have been a shame because it’s such an amazing story and it’s such an amazing piece of American history,” said Taggart.

The documentary can be streamed on iTunes and Amazon. For more information about the story and the billboard boys visit billboardboys.com.