It was quiet this past weekend until Sunday night when the world learned of the untimely passing of Zsa Zsa Gabor. I received no fewer than three push notifications keeping me up to date with this breaking news story.
For those of you not of a certain age, Zsa Zsa was Kim Kardashian before there was Kim Kardashian. Zsa Zsa trivia has rolled out over the web these past couple days, but one of the lesser known factoids is that back in the early ’90s, she was a radio spokesperson. The TV commercial you see below was created by WNNK/Harrisburg – WINK 104 – playing off a highly publicized cop-slapping altercation Zsa Zsa had with one of Beverly Hills’ finest the year before.
And now, the rest of the story.
Frank Bell, former VP/Programming for Keymarket, WNNK’s parent company, was kind enough to take us behind-the-scenes for this commercial shoot. Back then, Keymarket owned both WNNK and WKRZ (Wilkes-Barre) – both were high-profile CHR ratings and revenue monsters. Keymarket was run by the legendary Kerby Confer, and Barry Drake was COO.
Here’s how Frank recalls his brush with Zsa Zsa following her trial for the aforementioned cop slapping incident:
“We got the crazy idea to reach out to Zsa Zsa. We explained to her people that it was all in fun and the commercial would present her in a positive light. One of us came up with the idea of playing off her Hungarian accent to say ‘Vink’ instead of “Wink.” I don’t recall how much she was paid, but it could not have been that much as we were always very responsible with our promotion budgets.
“After scouring Southern California for someplace that looked like central PA, we filmed the spots in Long Beach on a brisk December morning in 1990. We inserted one of the best testing recurrents of the day, ‘She Drives Me Crazy,’ in the background during post-production.
“Zsa Zsa was very much the star of the day. She was a bit reserved, but completely gracious. For the one and only time in all the years I produced Keymarket’s commercials, Kerby decided to show up in Long Beach that day. I think he was a bit smitten and as he tells it, she knew he was the money guy.
“My favorite part is when we were sitting at the picnic table in the park having lunch, I asked her about her life, and she gave us a rundown of her 9 husbands, after which she said to me, ‘Are you married?’ When I say, ‘Yes,’ she asked, ‘Happily?'”
The commercial was directed by Jhani Kaye, who excelled for many years as one of L.A.’s best programmers.
But I know you’re wondering, did Zsa Zsa drive the ratings? Here’s Frank’s postscript:
“The commercials began airing in Winter 1991, following the Gulf War. WNNK’s 12+ share went from 12.9 to 15.4. WKRZ increased slightly 12+ (15-15.6), but absolutely rocked Adults 25-54, jumping 16.2 to 19.1.”
Based on this performance, Zsa Zsa was right up there with Teri Garr, Janine Turner, and Candice Bergen – other famous actresses who lent their celebrity to promoting broadcast radio stations.
Sadly, Zsa Zsa will no longer be able to offer her celebrity spokesperson services. Besides, no one has the budget to produce a TV commercial like this anyway.
Thanks, Frank, for a great radio story.
Postscript: On a serious note, a true radio icon passed away over the weekend. Bob Coburn was one of the good ones, a smart, savvy talent who calmly interviewed them all and did it with class. Condolences to Bob’s family and the L.A. radio community.
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