“Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face”

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CHAPTER TWO

CHANTILLY LACE AND A PRETTY FACE

When Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper died in early ’58, Sister Cecilia told us all that God had punished them. Just as He punished Russ Syracuse.

The Russ Syracuse “scandal” was spectacularly that. It came down in early 1957 when Russ, a former school teacher and excellent disc-jockey employed by WNDR, was unexpectedly visited late one evening at his apartment on East Genesee Street by a young female fan who, as the cliche goes, “certainly looked at least eighteen”.

She was particularly striking and exceedingly well-configured. Since Mr. Syracuse, an extraordinarily popular bachelor in his mid-twenties, was not given to undue reticence in matters of amorous pursuit, delights of the flesh quickly ensued.

Boastful of her success in attaining celebrity injection, our sixteen year old Miss shared the story with fellow classmates. As is always inevitable in such a matter, it was only hours before her exploits reached the attention of school authorities, her parents, and finally the police.

Newhouse Communications owned The Herald-Journal, The Post-Standard and WSYR. WSYR had suddenly been radically displaced as radio ratings leader only months before by upstart WNDR, the “Rock ‘n Roll Station”.

Russ Syracuse was charged with Statutory Rape and crucified in the Syracuse press.

Daily front page headlines in both local newspapers demanded punishment to the full extent of the law. The news accounts stressed Russ’s former background as a teacher and, most emphatically, blamed WNDR’s music format and generally “outrageous” ambience as responsible for having created a sexually dangerous, ominously threatening cultural environment. According to overall coverage and editorials, it was “that music” which had truly victimized the teen.

To his eternal credit, Arthur C. Kyle, owner of WNDR, took to the airwaves with his own editorials. “The Judge” blasted the newspapers for self-serving hypocrisy and portrayed the alleged “rape” as a basically innocent misperception, completely distorted by the papers for their own mercenary purposes. At one time, “The Judge” had been a Justice of The Peace in Monticello, New York. He was an aging, yet elegant, bulldog of a man.

Russ was brought to trial with defense provided by “The Judge” and WNDR.

It was established that the “victim” (a) was by no means unfamiliar with casual sex and had parted with her virginity long, long before visiting the apartment that fateful night and (b) was clearly the “causal agent” in the affair.

Russ was found guilty on a reduced charge, served twenty days in Jamesville Penitentiary (less than two miles from WNDR’s towers in Dewitt) and returned briefly to the station. He then went on to enjoy a stellar radio career elsewhere, including WKBW in Buffalo and at KYA in San Francisco.

WNDR’s rating shares rose from 20’s and 30’s to 50’s and 60’s. Everybody seemed to be listening.

The week of the arrest, “Peggy Sue” was #1. It was immediately pulled from WNDR’s play-list. The first name of alleged rape victim and Buddy Holly’s song title were, by fate, one and the same.

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