NEAL CONAN, host:
As you've probably heard several times already, today marks 50 years since a small plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and JP Richardson - the day the music died. Buddy Holly and Richie Valens remain rock and roll icons, each the subject of a Hollywood movie. But JP Richardson is usually relegated to a walk-on part.
He was a radio guy, a disc jockey from Texas who hosted "The Dishwasher's Serenade" on KTRM after he got out of the army. When he was offered the afternoon shift, he decided to call himself the Big Bopper, and the show took off. One publicity stunt involved breaking the record for continuous broadcasting. He stayed on the air for five days, two hours and eight minutes, played more than 1,800 records, collected $746.50 in overtime and went to bed for 20 hours.
He also played guitar and wrote songs. "White Lighting," recorded by George Jones, went to number one on the country charts, and he wrote "Running Bear" for his friend, one-hit wonder Johnny Preston. Mercury Records signed Richardson to a contract. "Beggar to a King" went nowhere, but "Chantilly Lace" went thermonuclear. The novelty was so big, it got Richardson time off his radio show to go on tour with big league stars, like Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.
He caught a bad cold on a long bus ride and persuaded Waylon Jennings, then Holly's bass player, to give up his seat on the plane. Well, that's the part that the movies usually show. JP Richardson, who liked to be called Jape but will be remembered as the Big Bopper - he died at the age of 28, 50 years ago today.
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