TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Bill Starkey was made for lovin’ the band Kiss.
“Listening to them didn’t catch me as much as seeing them on TV once,” Starkey said, “They were on a program called ‘In Concert’ and I thought they were very different.”
Starkey first saw Kiss live as an opening act, which he said “doesn’t do a lot for a band’s credibility.”
Then his father, who had a connection to Warner Brothers through his work at the Columbia Records Pressing Plant in Terre Haute, took him to a Kiss concert in Evansville.
“And it blew me away,” Starkey recalled.
Starkey said he would return to Terre Haute North and tell his classmates about the band every time he saw them perform.
“They’d say ‘if they’re so great, how come they’re not on the radio’?”
This, Starkey said, was a good point. Why wasn’t this band being played? He himself wanted to shout it out loud to his peers that this band was the real deal, but he wasn’t hearing them on the radio waves in his hometown.
KISS Army members, former DJ recall events surrounding Kiss’ first concert in Terre Haute:
So began the call from Starkey and his friend Jay Evans, who was also a Kiss fan, to WVTS, the local radio station in Terre Haute.
“We just started to call the radio station and asked them to play Kiss songs, and this went on for several months,” Starkey said, smiling. “Sometimes they would do stuff to torment us. They would play Kiss late at night when nobody would be listening, or they would play Kiss and not say it was Kiss, so Jay and I would call them and give them a lot of crap.”
Their efforts then evolved to another form of communication; letters penned from the “KISS Army”.
“I’m friend with Bill Starkey’s brother John,” Scott Roman, another KISS Army member, said, “And I would just be over at their house and we’d go down in the basement where Bill had all kinds of, I mean, unbelievable amounts of albums and Kiss posters, and he and Jay Evans, they would be down in the basement writing letters to WVTS.”
Former WVTS music director R Jay Cortrecht remembers this ongoing effort, as well as former program director Rich Dickerson’s resistance to Starkey and Evans’ calls.
“Bill and I became friends,” Cortrecht recalled, “I kind of explained to Bill Rich’s view and this is all in fun, and keep the letters coming.”
Those letters did keep coming, an effort that paid off when Kiss announced a concert at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute in November 1975.
After the concert was announced, Dickerson then decided to start a KISS Army “Letter of the Day” segment promoting the upcoming show.
“He said ‘listen, you know those stupid letters you guys have been writing, two weeks before the show, why don’t you write me one every day and we’ll read them over the air during the 5 o’clock rush hour,” Starkey recalled.
The segment worked; the Hulman Center concert sold out, and when the band found out that the ticket sales were attributed partially to the KISS Army, they decided to meet the teens behind the movement.
“That was how we got set up with Kiss and Kiss’ management,” Starkey said, grinning.
By then, the KISS Army had expanded and was prepared for the band’ arrival.
“There were four of us dressed up,” Roman said, “And now the band Kiss calls us the Unknown Soldiers. They were just as curious about us as we were about them.”
Fast forward more than 45 years, and the KISS Army has become a global fan club. The City of Terre Haute named November 20, 2010 as Kiss Day in the city in honor of the 35th anniversary of the concert, and Starkey said a plaque of the band used to hang in Hulman Center before disappearing.
As for Starkey, Evans and other original members of the KISS Army, they’ve had countless memories made with the band since that day in 1975.
The band gave Starkey an honorary member plaque, allowed him on stage at multiple shows and helped him prove that the dreams of a teenage fan can become legendary realities.
“Jay and I were doing this as a couple of goofball like Wayne’s World,” Bill said, chuckling, “We didn’t have any idea that Kiss would sell out or that they would like what we were doing and would want to use it as a fan club.”
Starkey said he wishes Terre Haute embraced its history as the birthplace of the KISS Army, and has another goal for the fan club.
“I would not be surprised, and I would hope that maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would also include the KISS Army as part of an induction ceremony because it is just a unique group of people.”