The Smiths '80s radio-station takeover: What really happened according to the police report
After examining the letters he wrote to his parents, which were included in the original Lakewood police file, and the details of that harrowing and fateful day in the fall of 1988 from the original offense report, one thing becomes clear: James Kiss was a very troubled young man with a seemingly dastardly plan. But according to Agent Hitchins, who spoke with two witnesses, and Agent Hinkle, who obtained a confession from the suspect, the eighteen-year-old boy simply gave himself up without any sort of struggle and handed over his weapon. It was odd ending, considering that he had purchased the rifle, a Remington .22 caliber Apache 77, just a few days earlier, with the specific intent of taking over a radio station at gunpoint and then forcing the staff to play the music of the Smiths.
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The building that once housed Y108 studios at 7075 West Hampden Avenue
That was the plan, anyway, and Kiss had apparently run through it in his mind hundreds of times and even driven past the station and/or visited more than two dozen times in the preceding six months, sometimes going as far as to venture into the station and engage the receptionist in incidental chatter. But this particular Tuesday night, he had finally mustered the nerve to make the trek from his suburban home in Arvada to the station on the western edge of Lakewood, just off a frontage road on West Hampden Avenue. Armed with the rifle, six Smiths cassette tapes and one Morrissey album, he was ready to make a statement.
He couldn't have picked a more unlikely place to stage such a coup. At least on paper, the station seemed like a completely incongruous choice. In 1988, Y108 was the top-rated station in town, but it was also a Top 40 station with a narrow playlist that consisted of a steady stream of superficiality ranging from "Don't Worry Be Happy," by Bobby McFerrin, to Poison's "Don't Need Nothing but a Good Time."
It's a safe bet that back then, none of the listeners and probably hardly any of the on-air staff had even heard of the Smiths, much less played them before. What's more, as poppy as the songs are, in retrospect, the notably more dour aesthetic of the band, particularly from a lyrics standpoint, would have been as foreign a prospect to listeners as Bollywood ballads piped in directly from Bombay. Such a grandiose gesture, in any case, would have no doubt been completely lost on the masses.
Just the same, Kiss went through with it -- or he planned to, anyway, until he lost his nerve, as the Denver Post put it in a pithy blurb the next day. Tersely written in almost police-blotter fashion, the item didn't even include his name. It's easy to see how it might have seemed like a non-event to folks. The incident was quite eventful, however, for Greg Fadick, the Y108 production director who ended up relieving Kiss of his rifle after encountering him in the parking lot, and Pam Hall, who later phoned the police.
According to the police report, Fadick was leaving his office just after 5 p.m. and making his way to his truck. A guy in a brown Oldsmobile station wagon next to him motioned for Fadick to roll his window down. The man said something to him, something Fadick couldn't hear, so he got out of his truck and approached the vehicle. Fadick asked the man what he had said, and the man replied, "Tell those people to call the police," and then motioned toward the studio, a converted split-level house. Fadick stood motionless for a moment, the report says, before "Kiss pushed the butt end of the rifle into his stomach, and said, 'Here, take this.'"
With the rifle in his hands and absolutely no idea of what was happening, Fadick hastily made his way back into the station. Once he made it safely through the doors, he asked Hall to call the police. Hall thought he was kidding until he said, "No, I'm not kidding. This guy outside gave me this gun, and he told me to call the cops." Convinced that Fadick was indeed not kidding, Hall phoned Lakewood Police and reported what was happening, and they responded immediately by sending out four officers to deal with the situation.