Terry Dorsey needed a gimmick, and he needed it fast. A smart and really interesting thing that makes people laugh.
On the morning of 32, Dejay had just jumped from a radio station in Dayton, Ohio to the Dallas / Fort Worth Market. Dorsey was a huge success in 1981. But whether he stayed there depended on his ability to turn around the struggling morning show he inherited.
Like many of his broadcast colleagues, Dorsey’s life was an interesting journey. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he graduated from high school just in time for the Vietnam War, where he helped crush land mines as an engineer. It was a serious responsibility for a man known for his cheerful and extroverted personality and a lightning-fast sense of humor.
As he climbed the radio industry ladder from a small market to a big city, he found something interesting that made him stand out from his competitors. For example, in Dayton’s day, he cracked down on listeners with a ridiculous comedy bit that was seriously presented, as if it were real.
Now desperate to save his coveted morning time frame in the DFW market, Dorsey turned to the technique again. He delved into his fertile imagination — and pulled out pure comedy gold.
He created a series of realistic commercials for a completely fictional Highney Winery. It was the humor of single-meaning, joking one after another with the socially accepted slang term for the buttocks, “Hiney.”
Dorsey knew it was good when he saw it, so he squeezed out all the jokes worth it. He created more spots to promote the winery’s slogan. “You only go around once, so get all the high knees you can.” Listeners said the high knee wines were “inspected by the crack inspection team.”
Dorsey couldn’t stop herself. The more listeners said they liked the ad, the more quirky details and decorations he added. As the winery says it was founded by his old uncle Harry Heiny, he initially said his nephews Big Red Heiny and Thor Heiny said, “His Heiny is too good to protect himself. I made it at home until I was convinced. Their sister Ophelia Heiny later joined them. (Imagine hearing her name pronounced in a thick Texas droll to fully understand that bit.) Cousin Seymour Heiny also finally appeared.
And it worked. People were listening. Every time a fake ad was aired, it was flooded with calls. Many people found the commercial parody cheerful. However, a surprising number of listeners wanted to know where to buy bottles of high knee wine. (This was decades ago when tech geeks came up with the idea for Google. I couldn’t jump online and discover that Hinney Winery didn’t exist.) Say everything is a joke. When it was done, some callers categorically refused to accept it. True believers claimed that their friends taught him how great Heini was, and demanded that he know which liquor store was handling it so that he could try it for himself.
Dorsey was sensible to notice that he came across a gold mine. He and station manager TJ Donnelly have begun distributing this concept to radio stations across the country. Each received a new commercial script each week, read by a local announcer and giving listeners a real atmosphere. The ads were further localized, saying the Highney Winery is in a real small town nearby. For example, one station in Virginia said it was headquartered in the Butts Station crossroads community. At the station in Vermont, the nearby Hinesburg said it was Heiny’s home. The indigenous people were embarrassed when the visitor asked for directions to a business they had never heard of.
Then there was stolen goods. The winery wasn’t real, but the product with that name was real. High knee winery baseball caps, T-shirts, buttons and more have been snapped by enthusiastic fans.
Things really started when LA celebrity DJ Rick Dees (who provided the world with the 1976 novelty hit “Disco Duck”) started doing a bit. Deeds became obsessed with it, and its popularity grew even further.
Nothing lasts forever, and as the 1980s approached the end, the hoax of the Highney Winery carried out that course. There was a final laugh in the 2010s when Skylite Cellars in Washington produced the “Big Red Highney.” This is a blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot grapes, which curious people said is actually pretty good.
And Highney Winery took the place with a big hoax on the radio. Not as famous as Orson Welles’ classic 1938 “War of the World” broadcast, it made people laugh at its naked stupidity. As the coast-to-coast announcer once proudly said, “If something can make you smile, it’s a little high knee.”
Sacred cow! History is written by novelist, former TV journalist, and avid history enthusiast J. Mark Powell. Is there a historical mystery that needs to be solved? Forgotten moments worth remembering?Please send to [email protected]
Sacred cow!History: The Great Highney Hoax on Radio
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