'Jump Around Wisconsin' Creates Unique Fan Experience, Bonding During Pandemic
There are several things the state of Wisconsin is known for: Good craft brews, cheese curds and celebrating the end of the third quarter during Badgers home football games with an early '90s hip-hop classic.
Since April 4, however, that familiar tune has been released into the airwaves every Saturday at 3 p.m. CT to what has grown to over 100 Wisconsin radio stations.
BAAAAAAAAH, BAH, BAH, BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
House of Pain's "Jump Around" announces itself to the listening audiences. For Badgers fans, their first ingrained response is to—as they do between the third and fourth quarters inside Camp Randall Stadium on football Saturdays—actually jump around.
In Madison, you can tune in to not just several iHeart stations, but also to the handful airing it throughout the city that are a part of the Midwest Family Broadcasting group. Last week, Good Karma Brands's ESPN affiliate for the state's capital, WTLX, started playing it for the first time.
Now about 110 throughout the state do the same.
With today's technology, a radio app can allow the cardinal and white faithful across state lines—across even international waters and time zones—to take part and show their fandom. A Facebook group started in late March has exponentially swollen from a couple hundred to nearly 120,000 members in less than two months, with many posting videos of their weekly celebrations.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, "Jump Around Wisconsin" has allowed Badgers fans to unite each weekend and take part in this football tradition. No corporation or university initiative kickstarted this campaign to show UW pride. It all simply, organically began with two neighbors in a nearby Madison suburb.
“The one word I can say is surreal, because it was just two neighbors, two good friends having a beer and then it turned into this," Joe Lahti, one of those two neighbors, told AllBadgers.com last week. "There was no plan to make it like this.
"It was just to get a couple neighbors together and jump around and feel good for five minutes on a Saturday.”
A Neighborhood Event Grows
According to Lahti, he and Greg Thomson spoke from their driveways (brews in hand) in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie right around the time Wisconsin's "Safer at Home" order was declared in late March.
"We were talking about what was happening in Italy at the time where people were singing from the balconies and trying to lift people's spirits that way over in Italy," Lahti said. "Greg and I decided, 'Well, how could we do that here with a Wisconsin twist?'
"We both thought, ‘Hey, 'Jump Around.'"
The next day, Lahti and Thomson contacted a couple of neighbors. The latter hooked up a boombox to Spotify, and the former estimates that about eight people on their street performed their first rendition on Wednesday, March 24.
After posting video of it to their local neighborhood Facebook page, interest started growing. To accommodate those wanting to become involved, Lahti used his FM transponder to shoot a signal on an unused frequency. They became temporary DJs in Midwest suburbia for an eighth of a mile, as a second event took place on March 25.
Lahti recalled a former neighbor who works for PBS Wisconsin saw their video and contacted them. A quick Zoom interview ensued, and they were featured later on Wisconsin Life's Facebook page.
Due to the number of requests throughout the neighborhood, Lahti and Thomson also decided to create a Facebook group just for the Jump Around initiative. Along with word of mouth, it quickly jumped to 200 members.
Wow, this is crazy. This is huge, they thought.
That was just the beginning.
A Facebook Group Rises, and Radio Stations Jump In
More media exposure came from two television stations in the Madison market, but at the time, Lahti and Thomson did not necessarily have another event planned. Around the first or second of April, however, they decided on one for Saturday the 4th. That particular day and its 3 p.m. CT start came to be because the weather forecast looked the best. That mid-afternoon time has stuck ever since.
Lahti reached out to a couple of radio stations, WZEE in Madison and WIXX in Green Bay—each owned by separate media companies—to gauge their interest so more fans could partake and enjoy the event. Both were on board, and on that first April weekend, about a handful of stations took part from the Green Bay, Madison and Wausau markets.
It was only a glimpse of what was to come with more involvement from radio companies, and the play-by-play voice of Wisconsin football and men's basketball, Matt Lepay, even lent his vocals for an introduction to the song.
“After that, some of the different radio groups started chatting with each other, and then that's when iHeart Radio really got on board through Gregory Jon," Lahti said. "He actually then reached out to Matt Lepay, which then created that intro, which is what we used for the second 'Jump Around.'
"Then that's when I think FOMO (fear of missing out) hit a lot of the radio stations, and they started coming to me seeing if they could be involved in the 'Jump Around.'"
After the first "big" event, that number grew substantially. According to Lahti, it ballooned to around 40 stations the next week, then skyrocketed up to about 100 the week thereafter. As of last weekend, and looking at his vast excel sheet of call letters and media contacts, he believed it sat at approximately 110.
For the second week in a row, ESPN Madison will play the song for its audience this weekend, joining Good Karma Brands's Beaver Dam station, who started doing so weeks prior.
"We wanted to jump on the bandwagon, get involved," Keith Williams, vice president of Good Karma Brands, said on Thursday. "I think this has really galvanized the Wisconsin fanbase. Once we saw that our good partners at UW Credit Union were getting involved with their partnership with (former running back) Jonathan Taylor, it was like, 'Alright, now let's really get after this thing.' So (we) threw it up on the station last week for the first time, and we're really excited to do it."
Within the state—or even just a hint outside of its borders near the far northwestern tip of Wisconsin—two stations in the Duluth/Superior market also partake in the event. KDAL-FM, known as "My 95.7," and KTCO "Kat Country" will be entering their fourth week of playing the song. With a 100,000-watt signal each, they reach down as far as Hayward and Minong.
Rich Cannata, the brand manager for KDAL, said some Green Bay stations owned by their parent company, Midwest Communications, brought up their participation (WIXX is part of that group). Within a day of emailing back and forth with Lahti, they jumped on board.
"There's certainly plenty of Badger fans up here," Cannata said on Wednesday, who noted half of the station's audience is in "The Badger State." "Many people know about between the third and fourth quarter that that's what they do (and) have been to games. We're like, 'Well, this is a Wisconsin thing; however, we can have all of our listeners jump around.' So we started doing it and it's been well received.”
By the time the two northern stations joined in the fun, Cannata believes the Facebook group was already near 100,000 members. After that April 4 gathering, Lahti recalled it exploding in numbers from about 2,000 to 75,000-80,000. He remembers that is when more radio stations called him to do interviews.
A longtime broadcaster and current executive producer and iHeart radio programmer, Jon started noticing its growth around the beginning of that month and received the approval from his bosses to become part of the stations to play the song at that time.
Jon helped work with Lepay, the long-time play-by-play broadcaster for Wisconsin football and basketball, to record an intro to be played before the song began—one that any radio station can use regardless of affiliation or conglomeration. He also put together an extended playlist of tunes normally heard during a Wisconsin home game that run on at least two Milwaukee iHeart stations after "Jump Around." Those include Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" and "Build Me Up Buttercap" by the Foundations.
The best part of this initiative, according to Jon, comes from those who videotape themselves participating in the same act that over 80,000 people do inside Camp Randall Stadium.
"There's a video from the Milwaukee County Zoo that one of the trainers was teaching the sea lion to jump around," Jon said earlier this week. "So you started to see a lot of that. I just saw a video recently, a guy has memorized Matt Lepay’s intro and does the whole Matt Lepay intro into 'Jump Around' as Matt Lepay—even dresses like Matt Lepay.
"It's just fun," Jon added. "It's something that I think everybody in Wisconsin needed, and the best part about it is it's just not people in Wisconsin. It's all the alumni all over the country and even all over the world. We had them from the Bahamas. I don't know how they got the videotape or the recording of it, maybe from the iHeartRadio app. We've got them from Alaska, we've got them from South Carolina, Phoenix, Arizona, down in Florida. So it's just been a lot of fun.”
Right after each weekend's virtual bash, those fans will post their videos to the Facebook group. Lahti has seen fans jump around from beyond the Continental United States like Denali National Park and Reserve in Alaska and Hawaii. Going beyond those borders, clips from Amsterdam to Moscow to Australia have also been published.
The last two months within the state and across the nation have seen change due to the pandemic. With the help of social media, and radio stations ranging from the larger in size to the family-owned variety, the weekly "Jump Around" event has allowed Wisconsin fans to embrace their fandom for a few minutes each week until some version of sports resumes.
"Local radio truly is for the community," Ebo Thoreson, program director and radio host for Midwest Family Broadcasting said on Thursday. "The movement helps people from every walk of life have a little fun during a confusing time. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, your political affiliation, anything. It’s a great bringer together with a common goal, to get through this pandemic together and if a song played every Saturday at 3 can do that, then let’s Jump Around!"
Jon himself believes the Facebook page, which as of Thursday night sits at 119,753, has become a place where people can come together and talk about the state on a broader level. Potentially, he believes it could evolve further down the road as a "Wisconsin-proud, 'On Wisconsin!'“ type-group.
What does Lahti see for the page's future, one that he and Thomson created and has allowed Badgers fans to connect during these unprecedented times?
"I think we all want this COVID-19 (pandemic) to be done—even if its in the next few weeks or months—so I see it as a thing to look back on and say we made the best of it for Wisconsinites.