A couple of my friends recently mentioned the so-called “Bee Head Incident” that occurred at the WSB Radio studios in the 1980’s, and remains to this day my most memorable, yet my biggest failure at workplace humor. There have been requests to recall this story in all of its red-faced, tail between the legs, damn-near got me in deep trouble glory.
Some background is required to lay the foundation of the story: WSB Radio had a long and distinguished record of participation in public affairs. Our professionals constantly had ideas to put the call letters in front of the public. There were numerous charity events, parades, and fairs where the stations would either represent itself, or have staff members show up to meet the public. There was a huge radio-television open house, and an Independence Day Parade.
Radio Station WQXI was a cross-town competitor. And, that station also found numerous ways to participate in events, and have fun with the public.
But WQXI had the Quixie Quacker… a fun looking characterization in a plus outfit. It was a great way to entertain the children and amuse the adults. WSB Radio had…. nothing. Cox Broadcasting had no outfits that humans could wear in public events.
So, after some deliberation WSB Radio went to the people who make such things, and said “We want you to make some W-S-Bees.” Two plush outfits, and a couple of gigantic bee heads were delivered to the station. The heads had smiles and huge surprised-looking eyes. The bodies were brown, with …well… bee butts. WSB had finally upped the ante’ in the costume race.
But, there was a problem. You can see, rather, feel it to this day in Atlanta. It’s called Georgia heat and humidity. I forget who the station employed to walk around in those suits in summertime. Whatever they were paid, it wasn’t enough. The suits were like wearing overcoats, and the bee heads kept in heat and moisture better than a sauna. Worse, there was really no good way to clean the sweat-soaked suits. Within a few months, the plush suits were so ripe, that it was harder to find people willing to wear a Bee Suit. It was also becoming easier to appreciate The WSBees when you were upwind.
Hang on, I’m about to personally enter this saga, with one last piece of history to tell.
The station abandoned the use of the Bees. The fate of the plush suits is not clear, but they were either thrown in the dumpster, burned, or buried, although I believe the possums, skunks, and raccoons behind the station would have dug ’em up and moved them to another neighborhood. The big Bee heads were a different story. For some reason, the station kept them. They wound up in an area of the station that had become the kind of “attic”…where the company kept some furniture, but mostly radio station stuff that was too crummy to keep, but also too sentimental to throw out. Witness one Beaver. I mean a real, stuffed beaver mounted on a wooden slab. See, WSB once used the Beaver as its mascot, even giving away a nightly WSBeaver Award to a member of the community who was doing good. Those awards are another story for another day…back to the Bee heads.
This storage room was right behind the huge radio newsroom. The light in the big room was a little dim, and it was quiet. It was located in an alcove of the station where a lot of “stuff” ended up.
Now, the newsroom had scanners listening to at least twenty frequencies at times, there were two editing stations in the open at the slot desks, the entry point for all news copy, and the place where sometimes, two people would be within 8 feet of each other…both listening to, and editing audio tape and writing. Computer data terminals send the copy to chattering typewriters in the open room with a high ceiling.
To preserve my sanity, once in a while I would take a walk… up and down the long hallway, downstairs to the TV weather office or mail room, or across the building to see what WSB Television News was doing, and talk to some of my friends and colleagues there. On one of my broadcasting walkabouts, I wandered into that storage room.
And there they were. Two large bee heads, their eyes locked in a permanent gaze….just waiting for action.
Now, I’ve never tried to cover my sense of humor over with some self-important, sanctimonious posing as a “journalist’. Heck, I’ve always just been a newsman…a man… a hu-man…and I like to have fun. I can’t remember whether I was on a break, at lunch, or before or after my shift. Program manager Rick Shaw probably could tell the date and time…for reasons that will be stated in a second.
Right across from the newsroom was a big glass-walled suite for managers and programmers for the radio division. The Vice President and general manager had a office there, along with the program manager and assistant manager for AM Radio, and the program manager and assistant for WSB-FM.
Somewhere, in the depths of my bad judgement, I donned one of the big bee heads. There I was… a starched shirt and tie, kaki pants and loafered oaf…who was on the prowl for a laugh. My first goal was managing to walk around without banging my bee head or getting it caught in something. I wobbled out into the newsroom….and the folks there seemed pretty amused, and a couple laughed. But I wanted more. I set out for the management suite.
My expectation was the managers (a normally relaxed and affable lot) would also get a chuckle…as much over the memory of the stinking suits… as the visage of an Edward R. Murrow Award winning journalist in a giant bee head.
I managed to make it into the hallway and into the glass suite. I was ready for a big laugh-along.
The first indication that I had chosen unwisely was the look on Assistant Programmer Rick Shaw’s face. Rick is one of those guys who never showed panic or fear. He was a combat veteran, a weapons officer on an F-4 Phantom fighter in the U.S. Navy. Rick knew how to face bad things with calm. But that day, when Rick saw me, he had a look on his face like he had been force-fed a live chicken with a side of uncooked green beans.
About a millisecond after he laid eyes on those two big eyes…a voice came from beyond the Vice President and general managers office… “FOULK! This is not the time.”
It turns out that my hilarity had invaded a very tense exchange in which another radio staff member was being read the worst riot act since Bill Sherman’s bunch moved through the city.
Later in the day, I learned that some colleagues at the station had interceded on my behalf…and kept me from facing some serious consequences for my blunder. I don’t believe I would have been fired. But I’m still not absolutely sure.
After all of these years, the Bee Head Incident stands as number one on my failed attempts at humor.
I’m just glad I decided not to carry the stuffed beaver in my hands.. That might have sealed my fate.