The History of Cincinnati’s Finest, Freakiest, and Fakest Parade—WEBN’s Fool’s Parade

WEBN’s Fool’s Parade took over Hyde’s Meadow every March 32 for an astonishing 23 years. And no one saw a thing.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

If you heard only one WEBN Fool’s Parade, even for just an hour or so, you probably heard the Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Marching Band—an indefatigable troupe that’s been marching continuously since 1968. These tireless players were already world famous when they helped the radio station launch the very first Fool’s Parade in 1976, and they graciously adapted their relentless schedule to ours again and again.

Out of countless participants spanning more than two decades, they were the only ones who never missed a year. Our Lady of Perpetual Motion, of course, took part in our tear-filled and emotional Final Fool’s Parade. Also the two Final Fool’s Parades after that.

Like WEBN’s vastly better-known fireworks, the Fool’s Parade began as a one-time event that unintentionally became a tradition. We couldn’t stop. Each April 1 morning—we always called it March 32—last-minute preparations rumbled beneath the windows of our third-floor studios on Hyde Park Square. Official festivities kicked off promptly, rain or shine, at 10. Or 11, noon, or 1, but always promptly. As paraders triumphantly circled the square, our air staff offered on-scene reports of the cheering crowds, elaborate floats, guest performers, badly lip-synched songs, and exclusive interviews. It didn’t matter if you weren’t there, because WEBN’s live radio coverage made you feel like you were.

You know the truth, right? Nothing was happening on Hyde Park Square, absolutely nothing. Just the usual exclusive shops with nowhere to park.

The radio station staff would spend weeks creating sketches and sound effect

loops for a big April Fool’s joke that fooled nobody but delighted everybody. The parade existed only on your radio and in your head.

Each parade was themed as a tribute to the world’s most recent fools in the categories of news, popular culture, and everyone’s favorite topic, sudden unintended fame. (We’re talking to you, John Wayne Bobbitt.) Floats, interviews, and fake sponsorships targeted the past year’s most embarrassing stories and personalities, along with whatever else we thought would get a laugh.

I’ve listened back to the handful of surviving parade recordings and hereby acknowledge that much of what we did was stupid and juvenile. My apologies to those who committed to the entire damn day. Within those dozens of hours across 23 years, though, we did manage to create the occasional, um, moment.

We had no giant balloons like Macy’s (couldn’t afford the Disney royalties). But oh, those many, many floats. Perhaps you didn’t appreciate our early prototype for Riverfest’s Rubber Duck Regatta—the float that launched tens of thousands of helium-filled condoms to promote safe sex. (“Look, the ribbed ones are catching the wind bet­ter!”) Or the concession stands selling our ever-popular Hamster on a Stick. Cheers always accompanied the Cincinnati Chili float as it passed, covered with 300 pounds of grated cheese and powered by its own gas. (As I said, juvenile.) Sadly, the Cincinnati Public School Levy float often failed to pass.

Then there were the commercials. WEBN was already famous for fake ads, but we stooped to new levels on April 1. Sponsorships included Lee Iacocca Cola (“The taste you’re sure to recall!”); Doctor Drive-Thru (“The automatic Hippocratic!”); innovative telephone services like Call Backwarding (“Sends someone’s call to the place you just left!”); public service announcements supporting worthy causes like Mrs. Paul’s Home for Battered Fish; and that oft-mispronounced premium wine, Pete Rosé. The station’s sales department sometimes persuaded real local car dealers and ad icons to perform the absurd scripts we’d written for them and let us screw with their jingles.

Fool’s Parades always included song parodies based on the day’s hot topics. For instance, you may perhaps vaguely recall the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal. Instead of playing Chumbawamba singing, “I get knocked down, but I get up again,” we had Clinton singing, “I whip it out, I zip it up again.” When the biggest musical event of 1985 was the star-studded song “We Are the World,” our parade kicked off with “We Are the Fools,” an elaborate parody produced à la Quincy Jones in a large downtown studio featuring a video of Cincinnati luminaries singing along.

You can find that video online, along with audio shards from many different Fool’s Parades, but I hesitate to fully endorse your taking the trouble. I’m proud of some segments, but others haven’t aged well. Certain things I would charitably describe as “of their time” while I back away and avoid eye contact. Some jokes are so dated I don’t even get them anymore. A brief moment from 1983 mentions Cincinnati Magazine, and I can’t find a current staffer or alumnus who understands what the hell it means.

One dimension of the WEBN Fool’s Parade era deserves a special mention: After we’d been doing it for a few years, a group of people began circling Hyde Park Square on April Fool’s Day with handmade signs, costumes, and sort-of floats (if lawnmowers qualify as floats). Without any prompting from us, listeners were now showing up and actually parading!

When a real-live parade ends, the floats pull over and the musicians wander away. That’s sort of what the WEBN Fool’s Parade did. It faded out like a classic rock song. By the 1990s, we were finishing the festivities in mid-afternoon and then repeating the better moments between songs. The burgeoning consolidation of the radio business was shrinking our staff and stressing our time, and we got tired.

Eventually, in 1996, we announced the 20th anniversary Final Fool’s Parade. As it happened, magicians Penn & Teller came to town just before that big day, and they agreed to highlight our farewell by recording a quick trick of “making the Fool’s Parade disappear!” Ha ha, right?

Wrong, very wrong. This was also one of those years when April Fool’s Day coincided with Opening Day for the Reds, and in that game’s first inning, right after Penn & Teller had killed off our parade, the home plate umpire at Riverfront Stadium collapsed from a heart attack and died. I was the DJ on the air. No matter how many times I repeated that Hey, I am not kidding, I swear this really just happened, angry listeners complained about how WEBN had really crossed the line. I was stuck on the air with a non-joke trapped inside a joke.

We got through that day, definitely better than Marge Schott did (look it up). The months went by, and it turned out that WEBN was just like Frank Sinatra and Kiss: we’d been lying about retiring. On March 32, 1997, out came the Second Annual Final Fool’s Parade! A year later there was a third, but that one was clearly the end. We created some good fake commercials and songs and stuff, but they were scattered through the day as “replays” of a Fool’s Parade that had already happened overnight. It was our weak excuse to produce only a few bits and be done with it. At least we got Our Lady of Perpetual Motion to take a few more laps.

The following year we defaulted to a typical lame-radio-station-April-Fool stunt that I don’t even want to discuss. Sigh. We’ll always have Riverfest. Here’s looking at you, fool.

I’ve already written in this magazine about being a kid in the 1960s and hearing the very last gasps of old-time radio. About how I grew up eager to paint rich visual images exclusively for the mind’s eye. Hardly anyone does this anymore, and your ears deserve better.

Every March 32, the WEBN Fool’s Parade delivered some last chances to experience visions stirred by sound. I was lucky to get to Cincinnati just in time to be part of it, and Cincinnati was lucky to receive it. Other WEBN projects gave me similar opportunities, as did my side career producing radio commercials, but the gold standard for creating an entire universe out of nothing was the Fool’s Parade. It was our own Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, a world of pure imagination.

Take a moment and listen. Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Marching Band is still out there somewhere, pounding their big bass drums. You are especially blessed if you can hear them, and—this is the important part—if you can see them.

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