Recollections: Car 1450, Where Are You?; Trebek spurs memories of a great WDLB contest
By Thom Gerretsen
As Alex Trebek now envisions his last “Final Jeopardy,” I’m reminded of how he helped promote one of WDLB Radio’s greatest contests.
I met the legendary TV game show host 30 years ago, when he spoke to senior citizens at the Sentry World indoor tennis complex in Stevens Point. Afterward, I interviewed Trebek and then asked him to record a line which made him the most famous person to encourage listeners of the Marshfield station ,AM 1450, to spring into action:
“I’m Alex Trebek, the host of ‘Jeopardy!’ and the question of the day is … Car 1450, where are you?”
For three years around 1990, WDLB and its then-parent Goetz Broadcasting Corporation gave away an older white sedan each year. The vehicle was splashed with the “Car 1450” label and the names of the contest sponsors. Other Goetz stations around the state had similar cars, named by their own spots on the dial. It was one of many creations which landed Goetz Vice President of Sales & Marketing Scott Trentadue into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Listeners entered the contest by being the first person to approach the car after the station aired the question “Car 1450, Where Are You?”
“We would tell them where we were; they had one minute and 45 seconds to get there,” said former morning air personality Bob Meyer, who was WDLB’s program director at the time. The first to arrive picked one of 145 envelopes, each with cash prizes between $14.50 and a graduated jackpot of up to $1,450. Every year 145 games were played. Meyer said all who picked envelopes could win the car plus some other fine prizes, and those winners were drawn during a live Saturday broadcast at the dealership which provided the auto.
The first vehicle was a late-1970s Chevrolet Caprice Classic, followed by a 1965 Cadillac Sedan deVille and a Chevy Celebrity. He recalled that the first Car 1450 “had a sound system that was worth more than the car!” The second sedan had a high-quality road bicycle on top.
How popular was this contest? According to Meyer, “It got to the point that as soon as we drove the car out of the parking lot, people would start to follow us.”
The cars were given away “as is.” Winners were asked to wait at least one year before painting them. And he said there were a couple of Car 1450s running around, “and being followed.”
The cars’ locations were first announced when the WDLB Singers crooned a similar line to the 1960s comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?”
The late sales-&-station manager Bill Allen sang the famous final line. Later, local notables asked the question.
And while I wasn’t directly involved in the contest, I did my part by encouraging Trebek and two of Wisconsin’s best-known political notables of the era to recite the line – former Governor Tommy Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson, who represented Clark County’s part of the WDLB listening area. I never asked Trebek to call it the “Question of the Day.” But really, what could be more appropriate from the 79-year-old quiz master? Thompson, as he did on occasion, added an unintended charm to our contest with his own line, “Where IS Car 1450?”
Of course, a number of us at WDLB took our turns behind the wheel. I drove one of them once, but I forget where – maybe to a City Hall meeting I covered? In 1990 John Davies, an advertising sales representative, drove Car 1450 in the opening lap of an evening’s race card at the Marshfield speedway with a flag out the window during the national anthem.
As Trebek now battles pancreatic cancer, there’s no way he can visualize the contest he helped announce on our air. Obviously, he has recited countless radio & TV promotional lines in the 36 years he has hosted “Jeopardy!” Safe to say, though, his Car 1450 quip fit right in with perhaps the most colorful and fun contest during my 21 years at WDLB.