Two weeks after a big Rock Concert celebrated in the small town of Melgar, Colombia, I put together a radio special called “The 1974 Golden Pompin- Radio Tequendama Awards” held at The International Unicorn Club. The cream of the crop of Colombian show business was in attendance for the event. The winners were: Luis Gabriel, singer of the year; Genesis of Colombia, Rock group of the year; Claudia of Colombia female singer of the year; Augusto Calderon, writer for El Espacio newspaper, showbiz columnist of the year.
That day, before dozens of showbiz journalists, I announced the organization of “The world championship of broadcasting” with the intent of breaking a supposed world record that belonged to two Argentinean announcers. The goal was to speak for more than eighty-six hours and a half on the microphone. But about what? That was the question, so I got a group of colleagues from the station together to establish a plan of possible activities that would be entertaining to the listening audience.
Enrique Ortiz Sanchez, Trapito, a very kind announcer that worked in the afternoons, was initially supposed to be my broadcasting partner. The night before the start of the event, Enrique excused himself alleging that his wife had asked him no to participate, because according to her, “people that go several days without sleeping run the risk of becoming sterile”.
His last minute replacement was William Vinazco Ch, an announcer that very few people knew, that was studying law and diplomacy at The Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. Vinazco was good at defying authority and being late for work, therefore I didn’t see eye to eye with him.
The competition got started on Friday December 18, 1974 at 6AM. The President of The Colombian Broadcasting Association, Juan Harvey Caicedo was in attendance. The Colombian National Anthem was played and a Catholic priest gave the blessing over the telephone.
That day The Bogota Times published a three-column article written by journalist German Salgado titled: Four straight days behind the microphone with no sleep.
In the article Salgado pointed out:
“The struggle will turn dramatic by the crack of dawn on Saturday, when the participants become so physically drained that their bodies will be begging for sleep. At that moment Plata will be mentored by two witch doctors from the Colombian jungle that will act as mediators between him and the spiritual realm. Vinazco will invoke the spirits directly taking advantage of the power of the station’s signal”.
The announcer’s booth was specially adapted with orthopedic chairs. The provisions will consist of: Water, vitamins, honey, panela, fruits and vegetables. There will be medical assistance throughout the competition.”
The contest rules will prohibit the use of stimulants and pre-recorded material; the announcers will have to speak simultaneously. There will be a weigh-in prior to the start of this peculiar marathon and the participants will be allowed to use dark glasses to protect their eyes from the indirect light of the announcer’s booth that was specially adapted for this event.
Salgado’s article ended like this:
“On the other hand the attire to be used by Plata Camacho and Vinazco Ch, will be extravagant: Blue hoods resembling the sky and an African look resembling the Negroes of Africa.
The two men will be allowed brief minutes of rest to take care of Mother Nature’s needs, previously approved by the medical staff. The competition will end when one of the two contestants falls asleep with his microphone in his hands or refuses to return from the can”.
Sound technician Alfredo Zabala, asked if he could participate in the competition. Vinazco opened the topic for discussion on the air asking listeners for their opinion of whether or not a sound technician could be crowned “World broadcasting champion”.
At first we gave him the OK, but informed him that his case “could be reviewed by the appropriate authorities”. Zabala, a young man from a humble background, cried from the emotion, and promised not to fall sleep and cooperate in whatever he could.
To my surprise, after just a few minutes of shared airtime with William, we realized that we had exceptional chemistry, an unusual empathy, and a spontaneous sense of humor that allowed us to kid around, the whole time. What we enjoyed most was catching the audience off guard with our outrageous comments that at times sounded somewhat logical. As the hours went by, many people thought we were losing it, due to the lack of sleep, and we took advantage of that fact in such a way that we were able to generate an unprecedented listening audience.
The ongoing presence of sports heroes, celebrities and famous politicians, also gave the event stature. We placed a guest-book at the entrance so that all our illustrious visitors could sign it and write their comments. We were surrounded by true champions like: Martin Emilio “Cochise” Rodriguez, cycling world record holder; Helmuth Bellingrot, Olympic shooting champion and Victor Mora, champion of The Saint Silvestre Marathon, among others.
We also provided community services by raising some funds for The Labor Adaptation Institute, IDEAL, an organization integrated by Cecilia Angel, wife of my boss Jorge Valencia Torres.
By noontime, some national radio and television news programs announced the fact that “two youngsters from Bogota, were attempting to break the world record of broadcasting on Radio Tequendama”. This news generated a tremendous amount of unexpected calls of support from different part of the country. Some stations from The Atlantic Coast and Antioquia even started to partially rebroadcast our event.
The news spread like wildfire, and that was evident by the amount of public that started showing up at the studio. We decided to charge an entrance fee of one peso per person and donated the money to IDEAL. The lines were enormous. The majority of our visitors were students that brought with them drawings and kind messages of support. By the time we reached twelve consecutive hours on the air, the cameras of several television news programs began to show up. Several journalists and graphic reporters positioned themselves along the hallways of our station.
Later on that night, EFE a Spanish News Agency sent word to its affiliates worldwide about our marathon. The competition became a topic for other radio stations to develop and some newspapers included the news clip in their variety section. Before long, we were getting calls of support from colleagues in Chile, Panama, Mexico and Spain. They interviewed us for their programs. German Tobon Martinez and Gustavo Garay Yepes, executives of Radio Tequendama were ecstatic about the amount of free press that the station obtained.
The event started growing in snowball like fashion. Vinazco and I looked at each other with amazement and a little bit of sarcasm to celebrate the effect that our crazy ideas was having on the general public. We knew that behind the competition was “a great big secret”, and we had agreed not to reveal it for a long time. The details of that agreement will be known later on, in this book.
As we got closer to daybreak, we began to feel sleepy and somewhat tired. Several colleagues from The Voice Of Bogota Radio Station, that was located in the same building, started taking turns coming over to give us moral support and motivation. We got to the point of thinking we would not get pass the first day and on the air we asked for pointers on how to remain physically, emotionally and psychologically stable without sleeping.
Urias Ocampo, one of our listeners, volunteered to give us massages and healthy food. He arrived with a stretcher, a container full of remedies, oils, creams and gauze. He was our guardian angel until the end of the competition. He gave us soothing hot and cold-water rubdowns every three hours or so, as well as some tasty soups and herbal concoctions. Years later, Urias became famous as trainer for beauty pageant contestants.
The second day, I made a mistake that almost cost me the competition: I hurriedly made love with a friend in my office. When my colleagues noticed I was missing they began to look for me all over the place thinking that I had fallen sleep. I returned exhausted and with no energy. Ocampo immediately notice my poor condition and thought I was dehydrated. I informed him what I had been up to and he smiled, and gave me a double dosage of vitamins, a banana and “chicken soup to revitalize me”.
With the passing of time, more personalities came by to see us. The maximum sports casting authority in our country, Carlos Arturo Rueda, got so exited with our broadcast, that he donated a baseball that had several famous New York Yankee player autographs; and famous bullfighter Pepe Caceres, contributed the sparkling bullfighting suit that he used his rookie year. These and other objects were auctioned off to the listening audience and the proceeds were donated to IDEAL.
One particular call that we got a real kick out of was the one from Comedian Humberto Martinez Salcedo to congratulate us for creating so much public appeal that evidenced the folkloric characteristic of our country. On the other hand, Bernardo Romero Pereiro, Television Writer and Director was very happy amd told us:L
- The story you’re selling to the public is fantastic.
By the forty fifth-hour on the air, it occurred to us to ask for one hundred per cent genuine milk. That wasn’t mixed with water. We offered a round trip ticket to the island of San Andres to the first person to bring a real live cow to the studio and milked. Fifteen minutes later, the first truck arrived and then four more, all loaded with cattle. We tried walking a cow up the stairs but the animal refused. Several journalists liked this episode and included it in their chronicles.
Another unforgettable moment occurred when William “escaped” from the studio aboard a station vehicle headed for a placed called “four winds” known for their blood sausage stands. We debated “the dangers of grease from the blood sausage in the digestive system of a future world champion, and the possible side effects of cilantro that could cause sleepiness” with several nutrition experts.
William ignored all the recommendations and publicly admitted that he only wanted tasty cholesterol filled lunch, even if it cost him the title. Doña Tulia de Vinazco, William’s mother beg him to disregard those impulses on the air, but my partner was already suffering from the devastating effects of the lack of sleep, didn’t listen to his mother and went to play tejo and drink beer in The Restrepo neighborhood in Bogota.
The public was pulling for Vinazco and protested when I announced that he would be disqualified for disobedience. At the last moment, William came to his senses, apologized and return to the studio with a pot full of tamales that a listener had given to him.
By the time we had reached sixty consecutive hours of on air broadcasting, nine out of ten radios were tuned to our event. We were only sixteen hours away from the record. I decided to put together a press conference to take advantage of the euphoria of the moment with some of the most influential journalist of the time like: Elkin Meza, Alfonso Castellanos, Hector Mora, Alberto Giraldo y Alvaro Monroy Caycedo. It was the perfect occasion to give my version of the tragedy occurred during the concert in Melgar, days before. I answered all kinds of questions and I believe I was able to improve the bad image I received from this regrettable incident. That night, I felt more at ease about the incident and my conscience was finally at peace.
The closer we got to our goal, the more difficult it became to stay awake, particularly between 2.00 and 3.00 AM. We called this segment of time “The critical hour”, asking our listeners to give us all their positive energy to overcome it. Daybreak was wonderful due to the barrage of music coming from the trios and mariachis that came to serenade us.
The last three hours were retransmitted throughout the country by almost all existing independent radio stations. The Colombian Broadcasters Association, The Colombian Circle of Artist, The Labor Union for Television employees ACOTV, and other organizations of the field, sent us flower baskets and congratulatory messages.
A delegation from Choconta headed by my parents, the major and several ex-class mates of mine from The Rufino J Cuervo School, was barely able to get passed the front door. They felt very proud of our accomplishment.
By the time 79 ½ hours of the competition had gone by, The director of Todelar at that time Alejandro Perez Rico started the countdown to the finish as the crowd shed tears, blew kisses of joy, screamed and yelled, and the flashes of countless cameras went-off:
- Attention everyone, we are five seconds away from a world record… four, three, two, one…Colombia has three new world-broadcasting champions: William Vinazco Ch, Armando Plata Camacho and Alfredo Zabala. Congratulations to our champions.
The Colombian National Anthem soon filled the airways and everyone present sang along proudly. Later on, we went up to the four-floor to look out of the window. We saw more than three thousand people waving white handkerchiefs. The crowd covered a great part of 8th avenue from 16th to 18th streets. It was unbelievable. Vinazco and I simultaneously gave a gesture of satisfaction and content. We had an unbelievably sarcastic look on our faces as we embraced he whispered:
- We pulled it off, Champion!
After the celebration, we remain on the air with the intention of setting our own record. The emotion of the victory gave us a second wind to temporarily contain the enormous exhaustion and we were able to complete a total of 86 hours on the air.
By 5.30 in the afternoon on Monday December 21st 1974, we left the studio headed for The Nuestra Señora de La Paz hospital for a medical evaluation that fortunately turned out all right. On that occasion we decided to kid around with one of the good-looking nurses asking her if it was true that sleep depravation led to a man becoming sterile to what she answered:
- Absolutely and with few exceptions.
- And will we go crazy? Asked William.
- Crazier than you already are?
Before long we got back to normal and continued our routine. William and I became very good friends. We always looked back on “The World Championship Of Broadcasting” as one of the best bluffs we had ever told. We knew there was no such record from the very beginning. We agreed that the event would serve to entertain people and at the same time promote the station.
There has never been a world announcing record recognized by The Guinness Organization or any other world-record keeping entity. The supposed record of 76 and ½ hours was William’s idea, he even wanted to make it 100 hours but that seemed impossible to accomplish to me.
When a listener commented that he couldn’t find the announcing record in any of his Guinness World Records volumes, we quickly changed the subject and some how his call was “mysteriously” interrupted.
The World Broadcasting Championship was no more than a rumor, a fantastic story made real thank to the kindness of the public and the coverage of the mass media. The fact of the matter is, that our event motivated other colleagues to do the same. A few months later, two Canadian journalists broke “our record” of 87 hours in Quebec, Canada, and according to the France Press agency Minister of Finances Raymond Garneau, officially congratulated them for this marvelous feat.
A sad anecdote from this peculiar episode of our career was the sudden death of our colleague Alfredo Zabala, a few weeks after the competition. Alfredo, had worked until the wee hours of the night as sound operator in Tequedama Radio and when he was almost home in the Fontibon neighborhood of Bogota, he was assassinated by a delinquent that tried to rob him.