WNAP’s Raft Race Reunion: Lovefest for a “Freakin’ Radio Station”
Writer / Neal G. Moore
Last month, several hundred people gathered at the White River Yacht Club to celebrate a decades-old radio station promotion—not a typical activity for a humid Indiana Sunday afternoon. But not much associated with the WNAP Raft Race could be classified as typical.
The Raft Race was, after all, a gathering of want-to-be “sailors” skippering all manner of makeshift watercrafts and all who were content to drift down the White River en-route to Broad Ripple Park where a rock concert and party awaited.
The first such race (though not really a race) was held in 1974. Now, four decades later, fans flocked to the reunion to swap rafting stories and to say thanks for what some cultural observers say was a seminal event in the city’s history.
The primary target of their affection was Cris Conner, the popular WNAP radio personality and co-founder of the Raft Race. “I am surprised by the level of interest,” exclaimed ‘Moto,’ while sporting an admiral’s hat, eye patch and vintage Buzzard T-shirt. “I’m amazed at the love for the freakin’ radio station that has endured. People are older now, and are still gung-ho for it.” To be sure, plenty of gray-hairs were there with smart phones in hand, anxious to snap a selfie with Conner or other station personalities including Freddie Fever, Ann Craig, Bruce Munson, Ron Below and Paul Poteet (apologies to any other jocks who were on hand, but not mentioned). “I can’t explain it. I guess we just had a good run,” Conner said.
The reunion was the happy result of a coffeehouse conversation Conner and friends had with Broad Ripple Community Newsletter for the story, “The Raft of the Buzzard,” July 2014. While caffeine loading at Perk Up Café, it dawned on us that this year was the 40th anniversary of the inaugural rafting event. Reunion planning began shortly thereafter. “You started it,” laughed Conner with a good-natured rib at the magazine. “This is your fault!”
Apparently our story re-kindled many fond memories of the event, which enjoyed a nine-year run before WNAP pulled the plug because it had grown too large to manage. Among the reunion attendees was Karen Terry, whose surfboard-like raft won the first “race.” “We were fast! There was nobody behind us,” she remembered, while holding the 1974 winner’s trophy, eager to show it off. This, perhaps, best demonstrates the event’s remarkable impact: a woman who, 40 years later, still clings to the tarnished gold award for her navigational prowess in a silly radio station stunt. Silly, indeed.
Also working the crowd was Linda Wakelam Williams, the 1981 Raft Race Queen, who directed this writer to a vintage winner’s photo of her wearing only a bikini and a smile (for the record, the judges made a good choice.)
Attendees were treated to Skype visits with WNAP newsman Tom Cochrun and rock jocks Mike Griffin and Buster Bodine, each of whom now lives in California. There were Best Raft Race Story and photo contests, sales of an official Raft Race Reunion T-shirt, and a flotilla of event VIPs that moved up the river to the spot where the races originated.
Organizers also provided attendees with a rudimentary confessional box wherein they could seek “forgiveness” for, shall we say, certain excesses that might have occurred during one of the events. While we don’t know how much business the confessional did, we do know that Conner’s wife of 27 years was grateful that so many people came to greet Cris and the Buzzard crew. “This is an awesome day! All of these fans with pictures and vintage T-shirts. [Cris] and all his friends—-I can just tell they’re loving it,” said Vanessa Conner. “He had said earlier in the week, ‘I had no idea that people cared this much—-they really liked us!’” she added.It’s likely that the reunion was a one-time-only affair. For Bruce Munson it underscored how the Raft Race, and by extension WNAP, mattered so very much to its listeners. “It was just a unique time and place. WNAP was exactly the right radio thing for that time and place, and these folks were all part of it,” explained a gratified Munson. “And, the folks here all lived to tell the tale,” he laughed.