Billboard Boys

Three men went up and wouldn't come down


How long could you live on a billboard over a busy highway? That’s the question that three men set out to answer in 1982 as part of an AM radio contest in Allentown, PA. The winner would receive a mobile home, no small prize for the recession-stricken area where unemployment was rampant and mortgage rates were a whopping 18 percent. What was expected to be a 30-day small-town stunt quickly morphed into a nearly year-long international phenomenon. Not since Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast 44 years prior had such a seemingly ridiculous gimmick spread so far and wide. This was Survivor before reality TV and a true example of something going "viral” long before the advent of the internet.


This underdog tale of ordinary men in an extraordinary circumstance is one of determination, hope, failure and triumph, along with a little bit of everything else: drugs, rock and roll, greed, adversity, hilarity, exploitation and the ever present pursuit of the American Dream. The unexpected national and global media frenzy, along with the release of Billy Joel’s “Allentown” during the contest, set the stage for what amounted to the best & worst radio promotion of all time. For the billboard boys, the contest yielded a mixed bag, from true happiness, to criminal charges, to a quest for fleeting fame.

This "perfect story," as described by People Magazine writer James Kunen, has never been told on the screen...until now.