Louisville Zoo

Louisville Zoo

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NEEDS HISTORICAL CONTENTThe Louisville Zoo is a non-profit zoological garden located just 15 minutes from downtown Louisville. Its collections, including its botanical garden, are also accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM).The Kentucky zoo is home to more than 1300 wild animals in natural and mixed settings. It is also home to a green mamba and an albino alligator.The Louisville Zoo is famous for “the Islands”, a world-class zoological exhibit, which is the first exhibit in the world that uses a system of rotating a variety of animals into one exhibit. Additionally, this is a first exhibit that presents natural predator and prey in the same space.Other attractions include the Herp Aquarium, featuring 100 species of reptiles, amphibians and fish from around the world; and an award-winning four-acre Gorilla exhibit, featuring Pygmy hippos and Western lowland gorillas.In its 35-year history, the Zoo has placed a special importance on meeting the needs of individuals, teachers and students of all ages. This was the first facility of its kind to serve both as a public exhibit and a living classroom.The facilities here can handle anything from corporate meetings of 10 to company picnics of 10,000. Scavenger hunts, live music, face painting and inflatable games are also a few of the entertainment options available here.


The Louisville Mega Space underground storage facility began as a crushed limestone quarry in the 1930s. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, workers mined more than 100 acres of limestone from the site, leaving a sprawling cavern with ceilings 90 feet tall. In 1989, the cavern was acquired by private investors who saw the potential to develop a portion of the cavern into an environmentally-conscious, high-security commercial storage facility.

Photo courtesy of Ralph Rogers Group.

Since the early 1990's, a massive amount of recycled concrete, brick, block, rock and dirt fill were used to create flooring and over 17 miles of roadway inside the cavern. Louisville Mega Space is classified by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a building, and is the largest building in Kentucky at four MILLION square feet! Warehousing and commercial space construction is still in progress, and there’s no storage challenge too big for Louisville Mega Space.


The Mega Cavern is a 4,000,000 square foot (370,000 m2) [2] structure located in Louisville, Kentucky with an entrance at 1841 Taylor Ave. About 75–100 feet (23–30 m) underground, [3] [4] [5] the cave stretches under parts of the Watterson Expressway and the Louisville Zoo. [6] Due to its support structures, it is classified as a building and is the largest building in Kentucky. [2]

Limestone mine Edit

The cavern started as Louisville Crushed Stone. It was created by a massive limestone quarry—with miners blasting out rock for over 42 years during the middle of the 20th century. It was acquired in 1989 by private investors who saw the potential to develop a portion of the cavern into an environmentally-conscious high security commercial storage facility.

Renovation Edit

Business park Edit

Exhausted of its mineable limestone, the property was purchased by Jim Lowry, Tom Tyler and Don Tyler in 1989 to be made into a "high-security business park". In February 2015, the cavern housed 12 businesses in around 700,000 square feet (65,000 m 2 ). [7]

Storage Edit

Because of its relatively stable temperature around 50–60 °F (10–16 °C) [3] [7] [8] [9] and humidity, the cavern was renovated to be used for storage. To be useful, the floor was raised by filling in parts of the mine with recycled materials. [5] A fire-resistant safety corridor was also installed as an emergency exit. Various rooms are located throughout the cavern to store various items from road salt and vehicles to pretzels and amusement park rides.

Tourism Edit

In 2009, the Mega Cavern began offering a Jeep-drawn tour of the area where the floor had been raised. [7] Around Christmas, the cavern hosts "Lights Under Louisville" where visitors can drive through the cavern and view lighted holiday decorations [6] [10] [11] [12] [13] it is the largest such underground display in the world. [8] Several years later, a zipline tour and a ropes course were added to the offerings. [6] [7]

With national and international attention, [14] [15] an underground mountain bike park was opened to riders of all skill levels in February 2015. It was designed by Joe Prisel [1] [16] with families in mind, [5] and constructed in over 3 months. [5] [16] [17] With 45 trails in 350,000 sq ft (33,000 m 2 ) of the cavern's space, it is the world's largest indoor bicycle park. [2] [3] [6] [7] [17] The 12 miles (19 km) of trails [18] (over 5 mi (8.0 km) interconnected [5] ) include "jump lines, pump tracks, dual slalom, BMX, cross country, and singletrack" [9] and signs to indicate the difficulty of the trails. [3] [8] Bike rentals are planned to be offered in the near future. [9] [17] Partially due to the Mega Cavern's recycling business that filled the cave, trails are built with in layers with a rough bottom, sticky, red clay middle, and "good stuff" on top. [5]

Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo Sevierville Tn

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The mine was founded by Ralph Rogers back in the 1930’s. He was a great visionary who saw the need for highways in this country especially to the south. He was said to be able to look at a site and tell you just how much rock that he could get out of it. His business did very well especially back during the Depression of the 1930’s when the government put people back to work by supporting the construction of new roads and bridges.

The Louisville Mega Cavern is a 100 acre limestone cavern capable of shrugging off a 260-mph tornado and boasts a constant 58-degree temperature. The cavern under the Louisville Zoo has remained virtually dormant since the last load of limestone was mined nearly 20 years ago to build bridges and roads across the Midwest.

In the post 9-11 world, government agencies and high security businesses are looking for ultimate security, and the Underground offers just that. With limestone and earth between the cavern ceiling and the ground above, the cavern could withstand the most violent tornado or an airliner crash.

During the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s, state officials made plans in case of nuclear attack to house 50,000 people in the cavern because it's a natural bomb shelter. With four entrances, positioned close together, access is easily controlled by a series of security check points.

”Geologists say that this is the safest place in Kentucky," Jim Lowry, the co-owner, said.

Louisville Zoo Travels Back in Time with “Dino Quest”

The Louisville Zoo is inviting guests to travel back 65 to 200 million years in time to visit their newest prehistoric animal ambassadors &ndash 19 life-sized robotic dinosaurs in &ldquoDino Quest&rdquo presented by Great Clips. From Saturday, June 26, until Sunday, Sept. 19, Zoo guests can experience the world&rsquos largest, most lifelike robotic dinosaur exhibit, free with admission to the Zoo.

&ldquoWe are thrilled to be offering the world&rsquos largest robotic dinosaur experience to our Zoo fans,&rdquo said John Walczak, Director of the Louisville Zoo. &ldquoNot only will this be a fun and unique opportunity for our guests, but it will also be an educational one that the whole family will enjoy. Dinosaurs are an extremely important part of animal history, and the ancestors of our reptile animal ambassadors at the Zoo today. We invite the community to come visit the newest members of the Zoo and are looking forward to seeing dinosaur fans of all ages experience &ldquoDino Quest&rdquo this summer.&rsquo&rdquo

Guests will encounter 19 roaring, breathing giants from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods of history. They will have the opportunity to view the world&rsquos tallest life-sized, robotic dinosaurs, ranging from 5-foot-long baby triceratops to a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex.

Curated by Dino Don, Inc. &mdash the world&rsquos leading supplier of robotic dinosaurs to zoos and museums worldwide, and the only maker of full-sized dinosaurs &mdash the handmade animatronics are uniquely created under direct scientific supervision. The company&rsquos founder, &ldquoDino&rdquo Don Lessem, is a world-renowned expert and author of 40 books on dinosaurs with experience as the dinosaur advisor to Steven Spielberg&rsquos &ldquoJurassic Park&rdquo films.

&ldquoGreat Clips has been a proud partner of the Louisville Zoo since 2015,&rdquo said Laura Dugan, former Zoo docent educator and franchisee with Great Clips. &ldquoWe are very excited to continue our support of the Zoo in summer 2021 by presenting Dino Quest. This thrilling attraction will be a valuable asset for our community in search of fun, outdoor activities with families and friends.&rdquo

A Louisville Zoo membership or general admission ticket will allow guests to encounter the prehistoric period prior to extinction in &ldquoDino Quest,&rdquo presented by Great Clips. Purchase tickets today at louisvillezoo.org/tickets. For information about &ldquoDino Quest&rdquo visit LouisvilleZoo.org/dino.

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Learn more about Niabi

Niabi Zoo was founded in 1959, as a private zoo for people to see and enjoy exotic animals. Later purchased and deeded to the community by Patti S. Wiman, today the Zoo remains a destination to get up close to rare animals from around the world, but we are much, much more.

Niabi Zoo serves an education and conservation center that actively works with other programs on field conservation, coordinated breeding programs, and community education to make sure the incredible creatures we share this planet will stay part of the natural world for generations to come.

Working today to assure a better tomorrow for all living things. Every decision we make here at Niabi Zoo brings these words to life in real and measurable ways.

Niabi Zoo has a rich history dating back to 1959.

Looking for what’s new at the the zoo? Check out our current news.

The Niabi Zoo is owned and operated by the Rock Island County Forest Preserve District. There are two interconnected groups that have oversight responsibilities for the Zoo.

Explore Niabi’s blog with articles from Niabi’s very own zookeepers and staff.

How much is the zoo costing taxpayers?

For years, the city sent about $3 million to fund the Louisville Zoo. But those costs have been rising, in part because of rising pension obligations and poor weather.

In fiscal year 2017-18, the appropriation from Louisville Metro Government was $4 million. It was around the same the next year, rising to $4.38 million.

Now, the zoo is slated to get $5.28 million.

"The zoo has been running over budget, in terms of the budget from the city, for the last couple years," Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9th District, said in May. "It's been described as a climate issue — we've had a lot of rain, which really affects the attendance at the zoo. There's a plan to increase revenue, increase attendance."

". Long term, I think we have to look at whether a public-private partnership for the zoo makes sense. You heard John (Walczak) say that many, many zoos are moving in that direction," Hollander added.

Walczak also noted that the zoo is open 365 days a year, regardless of rain. There were 68 inches last year, he said, which may have kept attendance numbers down.

In fiscal year 2018-19, attendance was down by 100,000 guests. Walczak has said the zoo is down a "little bit" in attendance now.

A nearby sinkhole in March forced the zoo to close for 10 days. It also stopped the train's operations, which has meant lost revenue opportunities.

Still, the zoo is doing well so far, Walczak said, adding that even just with average weather in the coming months, "we'll have a good year."

Spectacular real virgin births

Thelma the snake confused then astounded her keepers.

This 6m long (20 ft) python had spent four years alone in Louisville zoo in the US, without ever having met a male of her species. But, somehow, she laid over 61 eggs, producing six healthy babies.

Perhaps she&rsquod managed to secretively mate with a male many years before, and store his sperm all this time?

Genetic tests soon revealed the answer.

Thelma had become the first reticulated python in the world known to have had a real-life virgin birth.

She&rsquod made eggs that contained all the genetic information required to make a daughter without the need for a father, his sperm or DNA. She&rsquod done it fusing her eggs with a by-product of her dividing cells, called a polar body. This object played the same role as sperm would normally, triggering the egg to develop into an embryo. Each of her offspring contained two copies of half her chromosomes. They were half-clones of Thelma.

Extreme reproduction?

Though special, we now know that Thelma and her daughters are far from unique.

Scientists are discovering that virgin births occur in many different species amphibians, reptiles, cartilaginous and bony fish and birds and it happens for reasons we don't quite understand.

Initially, a virgin birth, also known as parthenogenesis, was thought to be triggered by extreme situations it was only documented among captive animals, for example, perhaps by the stress, or isolation. A way to continue the bloodline when all other options had gone, when there was no other choice.

Not necessarily. It now appears that some virgin females produce offspring even in the presence of males.

What&rsquos more, they do so in the wild, and may have been doing it for hundreds of millions of years. It may carry advantages, even more so in a modern world where populations of many species are rapidly dwindling, but it raises fundamental questions about the importance of sex.

And other uncertainties remain. Why among vertebrates, can fish, reptiles and birds have virgin births, but mammals, including humans, seemingly cannot? Even here, things aren&rsquot straightforward&hellip

Virgin turkeys

Perhaps the best understood &lsquovirgin&rsquo vertebrate is the common domesticated turkey. In the 1800s, reports started appearing of virgin births among chickens. Then researchers started studying similar events among turkeys, finding that these large fowl could lay unfertilised eggs that produced live young.

The baby turkeys were always male, however, which was put down to a quirk of bird genetics in which male sex chromosomes are dominant. Soon a parthenogenetic strain of the domestic turkey was developed in which most males appeared normal and reproduced successfully.

The turkeys were considered nothing more than a curiosity an artificial creation kept in artificial conditions.

But then, in the past 15 years, reports started coming in of a series of weird and wonderful virgin births occurring in captive fish, snakes and lizards.

It seems to be something a wide variety of sharks can do

On the 14 December 2001, for example, one of three captive adult female bonnethead sharks gave birth to a healthy female pup. Each of the prospective mothers had been caught as immature fish from the wild waters of the Florida Keys, US.

None had met a male shark, and all were virgins.

Yet one of them had clearly given birth, reported a team led by Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University, in New York state, US.

Later genetic tests confirmed that no males had been involved, and since then the same has been discovered in four other shark species. "It seems to be something a wide variety of sharks can do," Chapman told BBC Earth.

Giant lizards

In 2006, scientists reported that two different Komodo dragons, the world&rsquos largest type of lizard, had also had virgin births. Both were captive, kept at separate institutions, one at Chester Zoo and one at London Zoo, in the UK.

At the time, researchers speculated that the giant lizard was capable of switching between sexual and asexual reproduction, essentially finding ways to clone itself in extreme circumstances when no males are around.

Then in recent years, scientists have also documented different snake species, including boas and pythons such as Thelma, giving birth in the absence of males.

The question is why would they bother?

A life without males

One possible answer may lie with a wild counterpart, the whiptail lizard. In fact, there are numerous species of whiptail lizard, with many being specially conceived, a result of two species hybridising to form a third.

These unique hybrid species are all female males have been completely cut out of the reproductive process. Each female produces asexually, creating new generations of females, and so on.

Creating such an exclusive club has its evolutionary benefits if any of these lizards were left stranded, they could continue to reproduce. Other whiptails that rely on males would see their lineage die out. This is a particular type of parthenogenesis that only occurs in the absence of males, and this may have been the trigger for these lizards. Female whiptails that become stranded on islands may have somehow switched their biology to reproduce alone.

Thelma the snake was thought to have had a virgin birth for similar reasons without any males around she had no choice but to go it alone. And being well fed, and housed in a large enclosure at an optimal temperature, she had the optimal conditions to make the biological leap into solo parenthood, says Bill McMahon, a scientist who helped care for her.

Perhaps the same was true of the sharks, komodo dragons and snakes?

It's amazing that we do all of this work on reproductive biology and we're still learning something new about the reproductive modes about the animals around us

There is a problem with that idea. Generally, asexual reproduction is thought to come with costs. Essentially it&rsquos the ultimate form of inbreeding &ndash there is no way to create genetic diversity. So animals that clone themselves leave their lineages vulnerable to disease and other threats, which they lack the genetic variety to counter.

For that reason, after the virgin birth of the Komodo dragons, scientists recommended that the species, which is endangered, not be kept in isolation. They feared the genetic diversity of the species might diminish if it started cloning itself.

But in extremis, when there are no males to mate with, it makes some sense.

Wild virgins

Then came another shock: wild vertebrates, as well as captive ones, are capable of virgin births.

In 2012, scientists discovered that another type of snake, the pit-viper, commonly has virgin births in the wild.

Warren Booth from the University of Tulsa and colleagues captured 59 litters from two species of pit viper snake and analysed their "DNA fingerprint", a sort of paternity test. He found that two litters had come about through virgin births, via a process called facultative parthenogenesis.

So the stress of captivity may not be what triggers such an extreme mode of reproduction. What&rsquos more, wild male pit-viper snakes are plentiful. So the females don&rsquot have virgin births simply because they have no other choice.

"We used to call facultative parthenogenesis an evolutionary novelty but it's not as novel as people think,&rdquo Booth told BBC Earth. &ldquoI've got a box of shed skin from snakes that's overflowing with examples.&rdquo

"It's amazing that we do all of this work on reproductive biology and we're still learning something new about the reproductive modes about the animals around us," he says.

Ancient reproduction

Booth suspects that virgin births may actually be an ancient mode of vertebrate reproduction.

Those species that do it best, the boas and pythons among snakes for example, are also some of the oldest. More recently evolved species, such as cobras, fare less well, producing only one or two babies via a virgin birth, which then often die.

Perhaps when these ancient snakes lived, millions of millions of years ago, either so few existed, or it was so hard to find a sexual partner, that they didn&rsquot bother, and cloned themselves instead. The fossil record can&rsquot tell us.

It may also be extremely difficult to discover how many wild species actually reproduce this way. It would be almost impossible to know whether wild fish have had virgin births or not. The only way to prove it would be to harvest DNA from a female shark and her babies, to determine their parentage. So many species are endangered that the approach would not be ethical, says Booth.

So the conundrum remains why reproduce alone, when asexual reproduction has so many down sides. Especially in the wild, where males are plentiful? And even if virgin births are an ancient, evolutionary hangover, why still do it in the modern age?

Healthy babies

One answer may actually lie within those questions.

If asexual reproduction is disadvantageous, then it wouldn&rsquot have survived for so long, points out James Hanken, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US. So while genetic diversity is important, it can't be the be-all. That&rsquos supported by evidence from the 'miracle' babies, or parthenogenetic offspring, themselves.

Baby sharks born to virgin mothers are less genetically diverse than those born to two parents. But they appear just as healthy, having been "purged of all the deleterious recessive genes", says Chapman.

Females may also decide to reproduce alone because the act of sexual reproduction can be costly, according to one of Booth's close collaborators, Gordon Schuett of Georgia State University in the US, the first scientist to document facultative parthenogenesis in snakes. Females have to put up with males competing and fighting over them, and it can be hard to find the ideal male partner.

It's fascinating that nature has evolved a way of making this possible

One other idea is that something other than evolution is at work. Perhaps virgin births are triggered by some outside factor a hormone, or hormonal imbalance? Or even a pathogen, such as a virus, or parasite. There is a species of wasp, for example, that starts reproducing asexually when infected with a certain bacteria.

Booth suspects so. "What we find is that across birds, snakes and sharks, they do the same thing. It appears they evolved it independently, and therefore there's something else driving it."

Schuett is less sure, finding it difficult to accept that a single cause could trigger the same outcome in so many diverse species. But Booth is keen to investigate, testing the genetics of the various tissue samples taken from Komodo dragons, boas, pythons and many more he has stored in his lab. He&rsquoll be looking for a tell-tale genetic signature that reveals the presence of a common virus or some other stimulus.

If no such trigger is found, it could be that the ability to have virgin births is retained in species as some kind of back-up mechanism, to be utilised when sexual reproduction is too unlikely or costly.

One of the big downsides of sexual reproduction is it requires two individuals to be in the same place at the same time

If true, that suggests we may see more if it, as populations of many wild species dwindle, according to Peter Baumann of the University of Kansas Medical Center in the US.

Already scientists are waiting to discover if the anaconda, the world&rsquos heaviest snake species, will join the list of those vertebrates capable of virgin births.

"It's fascinating that nature has evolved a way of making this possible. From an adaptation point of view it does enhance a species' ability to survive long term if it can use this back-up pathway.

"One of the big downsides of sexual reproduction is it requires two individuals to be in the same place at the same time, that becomes an issue when population density is low," says Bauman.

From an evolutionary point of view, sexual reproduction remains the more dominant and successful method at this point of time, but he adds that "there's clear advantages to both mechanisms".

And mammals?

But one final enigma remains. If parthenogenesis is more widespread than scientists first thought, then why can&rsquot mammals do it, including primates, the group that includes humans?

There is no known example of a mammal having a natural virgin birth, either in captivity or the wild.

But in the 1930&rsquos at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US, a scientist called Gregory Pincus started investigating the reproductive systems of mammals. His work later led to him co-inventing the human contraceptive pill.

At the time he controversially claimed to have triggered parthenogenesis in rabbits, a feat that other scientists failed to replicate.

Decades later, in 2004, scientists reported they had genetically engineered a mouse to have a virgin birth. The offspring not only survived, they were capable of having offspring of their own.

Researchers today say that it remains highly unlikely, and perhaps even impossible, for a virgin mammal to naturally produce viable offspring, due to some fundamental aspects of their biology.

But perhaps, someday, somewhere, somehow, a mammal will surprise us all.

Just as Thelma the snake, and all the chickens, turkeys and sharks have done, she will lay down and have a 'miracle' birth, one that will challenge our fundamental ideas about reproduction.

Second-Generation Sennings

Eventually, Fred and Minnie’s son, William, took over operation of the Colonial Gardens site. That’s when Louisville got its first zoo. Buzan said William gathered one of the finest private collections in the country.

The zoo held lions, tigers, monkeys, lions, bears, and alligators (which were kept in the basement during the winter). Kids could even get an ostrich ride. In the summer, it wasn’t unusual for neighbors on their sleeping porches to hear lions roar.

Senning’s Zoo became so popular that city officials added a car to Louisville’s trolley line to accommodate all the visitors. But like most businesses across the country, it suffered during the Great Depression, as people had less money to spend on recreation.

B.A. Watson bought the property, closed the zoo, and renamed the building Colonial Gardens Restaurant and Grill. Over the years, the site continued to change hands. For a while, it was a club for teenagers.

Later it became a nightclub with live entertainment, which is when a legendary Colonial Gardens story got its origin.

60 years ago, WAKY put the crazy in Louisville's rock 'n' roll radio


Johnny Randolph, On-Air Personality at WAKY 103.5FM, looks back and ahead at the future of WAKY and FM Radio Louisville Courier Journal

The WAKY DJs visit with the Beach Boys in 1965. Left to right are Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, George Williams, Al Jardine, Tim Tyler, Jim Brand, and Bruce Johnston. The WAKY Dancers are seated. (Photo: Courtesy of John Quincy)

On any given Saturday night in 1960s Louisville, a string of cars filled with hormonal teens and the sound of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her" stretched from Broadway to River Road, a mobile party that lasted hours.

The soundtrack was provided by Top 40 radio and WAKY was king. The station blasted hits all night at 790 AM as kids cruised past its Fourth Street studio on their way to Kingfish and back again.

As Louisville's first Top 40 rock 'n' roll station, WAKY represented a cultural earthquake and it held sway over Louisville's airwaves until the rise of FM.

WAKY is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, looking back at a history that includes record-setting ratings, unhinged disc jockeys, barely controlled mayhem and sweet radio espionage.

But WAKY is more than a quaint local icon. For all of the, um, wackiness associated with the station during its glory years, the truth is that the station represented high-level radio, and some of the voices those cruising teens worshiped eventually shaped radio on a national level.

And Johnny Randolph, the man who many credit with making WAKY a powerhouse, is still at it. Five days a week, from 3-7 p.m., Randolph slides up to a microphone and introduces songs he's played thousands of times.

"It has been rewarding and it is rewarding," said Randolph, 76, who came out of retirement to DJ again. "It's been a real treat."

Johnny Randolph (Photo: Courtesy John Quincy)

WAKY celebrates its 60th as a far different station than it once was. Instead of breaking new hits, it plays classic songs from the 1960s to the 1980s to a much smaller audience than at its peak.

And while it's still active on the Louisville scene, sponsoring concerts with appearances by DJs, its studio is based in Elizabethtown. On-air personalities such as Mark Strauss, Bobby Jack Murphy and Joe Fedele are veterans of WAKY and other stations, and their voices have been heard in Louisville for decades.

Randy Michaels, longtime radio executive and CEO of Merlin Media, last year selected vintage WAKY as the 13th greatest Top 40 station of all time in a survey conducted by radio-industry trade publication Radio INK.

WAKY's staff in the early 1970s included Jarl Mohn, then known as Lee Masters, who is now president and CEO of National Public Radio. He also founded the E! Network and was an executive at MTV and VH1.

Coyote Calhoun was WAKY's Wolfman Jack and went on to become one of the most decorated program directors and DJs in country radio history while at WAMZ. He's in the Country Music On-Air Personality Hall of Fame.

The characters created by Gary Burbank at WAKY propelled him to become one of radio's pre-eminent humorists at Cincinnati's WLW and his Earl Pitts editorial satires are still heard on 200 stations. He's in the Radio Hall of Fame.

Gary Burbank joined WAKY’s staff in the late 1960s and became a star thanks to the many characters he created. He’s now in the National Radio Hall of Fame. (Photo: Courtesy of John Quincy)

Newsmen Len King and Mike Summers founded CNN Radio for Ted Turner while Al Smith became Turner's Director of Broadcast Operations, overseeing his television and radio empires.

Even the station's freelancers were stars-to-be: Southern High School student Dan Mason contributed sports reports and went on to be CEO of CBS Radio.

These were the guys you heard on any given Tuesday in Louisville – the radio equivalent of a movie starring a young Keanu Reeves, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney.

"It's hard for people in Louisville to believe but it's true: Johnny built something really unusual," said Mohn. "Johnny had a great ear for talent, he hired really unique personalities, and then he gave us all plenty of room.

"To have a whole radio station, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, of personalities was unique then and it's impossible today."

They were the cream of Top 40 radio, respectable, hard-working, reputable men.

Except, maybe, when they were wrestling Jerry "The King" Lawler at Louisville Gardens, or staging a murder in the studio for fun, or slamming into each other at demolition derbies, or drinking most of a fifth during a morning shift.

WAKY disc jockey Coyote Calhoun takes a spin on the shoulders of wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler in a WAKY promotional stunt. (Photo: Courtesy of John Quincy)

"I learned to ride a motorcycle in the hallways of WAKY, salesmen jumping out of the way," said Burbank, who also pretended to be shot by an outraged fan on his last day at WAKY. "I came from a station in Memphis where they didn't want their disc jockeys to be seen, like they were ashamed of them, and suddenly I walk into this circus!"

"I would basically say, 'Just don't get us in trouble with the FCC,'" Randolph recalled.

WAKY famously debuted on July 7, 1958, when stodgy old WGRC began playing Sheb Wooley's "The Purple People Eater" around the clock, sometimes breaking the monotony with a Jim Backus novelty song, "Delicious."

When it was over, WGRC had become WAKY and it never stopped trying to live up to its name. The station was wildly popular in the 1960s and '70s and did constant battle with rival WKLO, which adopted the same format in 1959.

Randolph joined the staff as a DJ in 1967 and became program director in 1970 when the WAKY DJs collectively walked out and began drinking at Kunz's The Dutchman until Randolph was promoted (although, to be honest, some may have just wanted to drink).

Randolph had once worked at WKLO but left under bad circumstances only to get his revenge. Seemingly mild-mannered, he was actually a straight savage who loved trolling WKLO, said John Quincy, who runs the 79waky.com tribute site.

Randolph snuck into WKLO and sabotaged their outgoing lines by patching in a tape recording that played nonstop WAKY jingles over the air. He parked WAKY's van directly outside WKLO's picture window and used his given name to win a $1,000 WKLO contest and then lorded it over them.

But his greatest accomplishment was stealing Bill Bailey. Bailey, who died in 2012, was slaughtering WAKY in the ratings and Randolph wanted him at WAKY, or at least out of the market. So he got sneaky.

"We became the agent he never knew he had," Randolph said.

Bill Bailey at the mic in December 1973. He was known as the Duke of Louisville and his acerbic commentary made him the city’s most popular DJ. He joined WAKY in 1970. (Photo: Courtesy John Quincy)

WAKY created audition tapes of Bailey and mailed them out to hundreds of stations until he was hired by a Chicago station. Within a year, Bailey got fed up with Chicago and wanted to return to Louisville. Randolph was waiting with an offer too good to pass up.

At WAKY, Bailey would become the Duke of Louisville and go on to draw an unheard of 40 percent share of listeners every morning (a good DJ would typically get a 7 or 8 share). Randolph, naturally, let WKLO know exactly what he had done.

"I made sure of it," he said, still relishing the long con.

Calhoun and Burbank, now both retired with roomfuls of plaques, were barely into their 20s while at WAKY and up for anything. They're a bottomless well of WAKY stories, many of them about Bailey's exploits at every bar in downtown Louisville.

Calhoun's favorite story is his 1976 wrestling match versus Lawler, the professional heel that everyone loved to hate. The tag-team match was Randolph's idea, of course, and Lawler orchestrated a beef that started in an interview on WAKY and escalated into a challenge.

Calhoun showed up at the sold-out event in tights, promising to use a move called the "Bohemian Alligator Holt" to defeat Lawler. The joke was that Bohemian Alligator Holt was actually the name of Calhoun's partner, a huge wrestler, and Calhoun studiously avoided his partner's tag until Lawler finally drug him into the ring.

"Lawler picked me up with one arm and put me over his head and did like a helicopter spin over and over and over again and then dropped me onto the canvas," Calhoun said. "And when he dropped me he leaned over and said, 'Don't even think about gettin' up.' He didn't have to worry about that."

Coyote Calhoun (1973-79) wound up making Louisville's WAMZ one of the nation's most influential Top 40 country stations and is a member of the Country Music On-Air Personality Hall of Fame. His trophy case is bursting. (Photo: Courtesy of John Quincy)

WAKY is currently on its second life. It's first run ended in 1987 and the iconic call letters went to a station in Greensburg, Kentucky.

The letters were bought in 2007 by Bill Walters, Rene Bell and Mike Baldwin, who own Hardin County's WLVK (105.5-FM). They reanimated WAKY, which now broadcasts on three frequencies – 103.5-FM, 100.1-FM and 620-AM – with a signal that reaches several counties in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

A longtime WAKY fan, Walters reintroduced WAKY with, of course, "The Purple People Eater" and then started working on Randolph, who was retired in Danville, Kentucky.

"I was gonna stay retired," Randolph said. "I was laying on the beach and next thing you know Bill's calling. 'You gotta come back!' He talked me into it and 10, 11 years later here we are."

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