Longtime Dallas radio personality Terry Dorsey died this past weekend. I remember him for a quiz called “Canadian or Dead?”, in which listeners had to guess whether a particular person Dorsey named was one or the other. But Dorsey and a partner, T. J. Donnelly, also created a syndicated feature called Hiney Wine—which might end up being the thing for which Dorsey is best remembered, at least outside of Dallas.
Hiney Wine was a series of fake commercials for a winery run by two brothers, Big Red Hiney and Thor Hiney. (They had a sister named Ophelia, and other members of the “family” bore names that resulted in equally painful puns.) Dorsey and Donnelly sent you the scripts and you produced them locally, customizing them to your local area. They suggested that you locate the winery in some small town—so when we started running the feature on my station in Macomb, Illinois, we set it in “beautiful downtown Fandon,” an unincorporated community in rural McDonough County, 10 miles southwest of Macomb.
The genius of Hiney Wine was that it started innocuously and built slowly. The first spots in the series sounded plausibly like small-town radio commercials, but they got increasingly more absurd as time went on, featuring a seemingly bottomless well of wordplay: “Next time you go shopping, ask your grocer where he keeps his Hiney. The motto of the Hiney Winery says it all: “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the Hiney you can get”.
It couldn’t have taken more than a couple of weeks before the phone calls started coming in: “There’s no winery in Fandon.” We instructed the whole staff to play dumb. Sometimes, if I took a call and was feeling particularly salty that day, I’d tell people I was there the previous weekend. Dorsey and Donnelly had made provisions for the likelihood that people would figure out the winery wasn’t real: after a few months, we ran a series of scripts in which we described a great fire at the winery in Fandon and its resulting relocation to “beautiful downtown Vishnu Springs,” a ghost town few miles away. It was amazing how listener consternation redoubled.
This kind of thing was a lot easier to pull off in the days before Google.
The station would make money on the thing by selling adjacencies—spots that ran next to the Hiney Wine feature. But it wasn’t necessary to pay to get your name on one of the Hiney spots. The scripts were written to incorporate local landmarks and businesses, and I can still remember a sales rep coming to me violently angry because one spot mentioned one of her clients, the local hospital, and they were not happy being associated with alcohol in any form.
After you’d run the spots long enough, you could actually buy bottles of Hiney Wine and resell them to your listeners. (Fine print on the label said it was “de-alcoholized” wine.) I had my own souvenir bottle of Hiney. The Mrs. and I carried it along on our various moves for the next decade, finally trashing it (unopened) after we decided we’d kept it long enough.
I don’t remember how long we ran the Hiney campaign on the station in Macomb—maybe a year, maybe less. It was a remarkable bit of radio—funny to listeners who got the joke, and funny to us because so many listeners didn’t. You can read more about Hiney Wine here.
Terry Dorsey had retired just last December after 47 years in radio, and relocated to a farm . . . in Illinois. I haven’t been able to determine where, but I’d like to think it was out by Fandon.