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EPISODE 1: The grand opening

Hype, hoopla and the bally.

An examination of how we launch

The successful grand opening is rare.


But we keep trying.


We make it dumber, louder, more predictable, sacrificing nuance in exchange for a chance at mass...

Find the episode and listen online right here. Even better, subscribe.

Here’s the story of the word “bally” from an amazing dictionary :

“The word originated at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in the "Streets of Cairo" pavilion. The performers from the Middle East spoke only Arabic. Exhibit manager W.O. Taylor would call the Beledi dancers (a term later corrupted, also by Taylor, to "belly dancers") and musicians out during slack periods to attract a crowd. Since these calls were on no set schedule, the tired performers would mutter "D'Allah hun", roughly meaning "Oh, for God's sake!", as they rose to the extra duty. Taylor began simply calling them to (as he heard it) "ballyhoo." We do not know, though we can guess, what else the performers may have had to say in Arabic about the boss. The outside bally is also known as the "first opening," while the inside talker would introduce the show with the "second opening." Ward Hall advised that the "most sure thing to draw a tip: (Daytime) A beautiful girl in a revealing costume holding a big fat snake, (Night time) fire, eating, fire juggling. To top this: A strong freak, such as a pinhead. But drawing a tip is just the start. Then you need to freeze the tip while the talker makes the pitch, then to close the tip: a sword swallower or fire blast. It must be instantaneous to close the bally. If you have steady moving large crowd, the bally should only last five or six minutes, and do six to ten ballys per hour. To entertain is not the purpose of the bally. It is to stop people so you can sell the contents of the show. The entertainment is on the inside. The bally people except the talker should be called to the bally platform and then all but the talker should leave while the talker brings the bally to its climax and turns the tip. To operate a strong bally show you need three or four people who only work the bally. There is no time for them to go inside and entertain. It is best to use three talkers to rotate, one hour on bally and two hours off. This way they will have the energy needed to punch hard for the hour they are on, when the show is playing spots where you get crowds from the time you open at 9am till closing at midnight or after, which is what a show needs to do if the operator expects to become wealthy. The most expensive thing you can have on the bally is an inexperienced, poor, lazy talker, which could cost you a fortune. The best talkers work on a percentage of the gross ticket sales to create the incentive to work hard when they are tired and would rather step down late at night, instead of making one more bally to get more gross. And of course give the talker one or more feature freaks to bear down on when they make the openings." Bally talkers often specialized, one talker making the opening and then handing the mike to another to make the pitch and turn the tip.”

Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations 

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A thoughtful academic treatise on movie in TV… Tuning in : American narrative television music by Ron Rodman

THANK YOU to Alex DiPalma, editing

Davie Biale, theme music