UHF - My 15 Year Pilgrimage

by Rob "Flack" O'Hara

"Don't change the channel, don't touch that dial,
we want it all on UHF." - UHF, Weird Al.

Introduction

I was ten years old when Weird Al released In 3D, the classic album that put him on the map with songs like "Eat It", "I Lost on Jeopardy", and "The Brady Bunch". I've been a fan ever since.

In 1988, fifteen years ago, Weird Al began filming UHF, one of the funniest comedies (in my opinion) of all time. It encompassed all things Al -- the humor, the parodies, and of course, the weirdness. While some of the interior shots were done back on sound stages in California, the majority of the film was shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma (two hours from where I live, in Oklahoma City).

In 2002, Weird Al's masterpiece was finally released on DVD. On the DVD, Al includes a commentary track in which he mentions the actual street address of almost every filming location used in the movie.

Eventually, the idea formed itself in my head. For the fifteenth anniversary of the filming of UHF, I would drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and take pictures of all the locations used in the film.

Armed with my laptop, Microsoft MapPoint, screen shots from the DVD of all the locations, a list of all the addresses, my digital camera, and my good buddy Stephen, we set out on a pilgrimage of sorts. Along the way we would have quite a few successes, and one really big disappointment.

Burger World

In the beginning of UHF, we meet George Newman (Weird Al) and his friend Bob (David Bowe), two guys with big dreams and bad hair. After a bit of daydreaming and a slip of the lip by George, the two are fired and ejected from Burger World. In the DVD commentary track, Al states the Burger World in reality is Hardens, located at at 6835 E. 15th.

Burger World Then Burger World Now

Success! As you can see trees have grown up in front of the restaurant over the past fifteen years. As you can also see, the building is currently quite vacant. For fifteen years later, it looks amazingly unchanged.

Kuni's Karate School

After being ejected from Burger World, George and Bob head back to their apartment, located directly under Kuni's Karate School. On the DVD commentary, Al states that Kuni's Karate School is actually the Tulsa Pump Company, located at 114 W. Archer.

Kuni's Karate School Then Kuni's Karate School Now

Success! In the before picture you can see Weird Al getting out of his car. Note that cute little tree directly behind the rear of his car. Fifteen years later you can see just how much one tree can grow. We were tempted to cut it down to get a better photo but quickly decided against it. Although Al's car has been replaced by SUVs, the building basically looks like it did in the film. Except for, you know, that BIG TREE.

Crazy Ernie's

Weird Al's genius shines through in UHF. In one of Al's funniest commercials we meet Crazy Ernie, a used car salesman who promises to club a baby seal unless he sells cars. During the commentary track, Al mentions that Crazy Ernie's Used Car Emporium is now in fact Ernie Miller Pontiac at 4700 S. Memorial.

Crazy Ernie's Then Crazy Ernie's Now

Although we found the address, we weren't able to find any buildings quite that small. In the before picture you can see the window panes divided as two big ones, a door, two more big ones, and two half windows. That became two/door/two/halves. My friend and I spent probably ten minutes driving up and down Memorial chanting, "two, door, two, halves!" while looking at every used car dealership. Finally, right in front of our noses, we found Ernie Miller Pontiac.

If you've ever pulled into a car lot, you know exactly what happened. Several car salesmen began circling our car. Ernie Miller Pontiac has multiple buildings on its site, but none of them resembled the building from the movie. Eventually one of the salesmen approached our car and asked if he could help with anything. I tried explaining what we were doing, but unfortunately he had never heard of either Weird Al or UHF (gasp). Finally he said, "bring your laptop inside and let's take a look," and so we did. Inside, salesmen swarmed from every corner of the building, offering to help. At one point I counted at least ten guys in ties and slacks peering at the laptop. I explained to them that a movie had been filmed at that very location fifteen years ago, and I was looking for that same building. None of them recognized it.

Finally, one of the veterans who had worked there for 30 years noticed the word "truck" written on the building in our screen shot. He then recognized it as the old Ernie Miller Pontiac Truck building, and informed us that the building had since been bulldozed down and rebuilt. This was the first official casualty of time we experienced, but it would not be our last. Did they not know that UHF was filmed here?!?! Aah!!

Special thanks to all the friendly and helpful salesmen at Ernie Miller Pontiac for all their help and information.

Spatula City

Another one of the great parody commercials included in the film UHF is an ad for Spatula City. Al states in his commentary track that fifteen years later, he still receives spatulas from his fans thanks to this commercial. In the commentary track Al gives the address of Spatula City as Warehouse Market at 6300 S. Peoria.

Spatula City Then Spatula City Now

Spatula City Then Spatula City Now

Here is Spatula City as it looked both 15 years ago, and today. Another success! There it is! The metal siding has changed from tan to red, but other than that the building remains basically unchanged. The second picture we brought didn't look quite right due to the lack of a crowd, so in that one Stephen stood in for our stunt crowd.

Oaklawn Cemetary

In yet another commercial in UHF, we are introduced to the Plots R Us Mortuary Service. In the UHF commentary track, Al gives the address as the Oaklawn Cemetery, at 11th and Peoria. Finding the Oaklawn Cemetery was the easy part. Finding where the took the picture from turned out to be an exercise in frustration.

Oaklawn Cemetary Then Oaklawn Cemetary Now (?)

My buddy and I were operating under the assumption that the tombstones in the picture were real. We were also operating under the assumption that the arms and legs sticking out of the ground would not still be there. The biggest problem in finding this exact shot is that so much has apparently changed. Assuming that the tombstones in the shot are in in fact real, it looks like an east-west shot (most of the headstones in the cemetery seemed to face east/west). The second problem is the fence on the left hand side of the shot. In this shot it looks like wooden fence posts, but the cemetery currently has a metal fence all the way around it. The third problem was that house with the awning with the Camaro in the driveway. Of course we weren't looking for that car, but for the house. In the end, we spent exactly an hour driving laps around the Oaklawn Cemetery. In the end, this is about as close as we could come. We never were convinced that this was the right location.

Update! Mike Ransom (of TulsaTVMemories.com) and one of his eagle-eyed readers recently discovered that although some of the scenes were shot at Oaklawn Cemetary, the screenshot in question actually came from Moore Funeral Homes' Rosewood Chapel at 2570 S Harvard Ave., just north of Steve's Sundry. Please follow this link to see an actual photo comparison. That explains why we couldn't find it. Thanks for the info, guys!

Channel 8

Al's nemesis in UHF is R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), owner of Channel 8. In the commentary track, Al mentions that the external shots of Channel 8 were in reality the Hewlett Packard building, located at 66th and Lewis.

Channel 8 Then Channel 8 Now

Channel 8 (then) and the HP Building (now). Other than the giant fake number to the left of the door, the building looked exactly like it did fifteen years ago. Success! I had also hoped to get a shot of the interior of the building by the elevator, but it turns out they lock the building up on weekends.

Technical Difficulties (Intermission)

About halfway through the trip, we ran into some technical difficulties. In hind sight, I should have brought printouts of all the screen shots. Instead, we were relying on the laptop to view all the pictures and get all the directions. After a couple of hours of searching for locations, the battery on the laptop was getting low. I had one of those cheap AC converters, and the minute I plugged it in to the car ... we blew a fuse.

Of course, I didn't realize we blew a fuse -- I thought the power converter was broken. So, we back tracked back to the main part of town to the nearest Wal-Mart to pick up another power converter. When that one didn't work (as well as the radio), I realized we had popped a fuse.

Although Stephen was sure we could press on without additional power, I really wanted to get the car fixed. Unfortunately, since our car is brand new, I didn't have any tools or anything in it (dumb). After another stop at a convenient store, I was armed with some $5 needle nose pliers. One fuse-swap later, we were back up and running. And a good thing too, as the laptop was just minutes from dying.

During our intermission, Stephen actually figured out how to use Microsoft MapPoint. While I was in both Wal-Mart and the convenient store, Stephen plotted the final three addresses into the program, and figured out a plan of attack for us. The three things left for us were Raul's Apartment, City Hall, and the Holy Grail of the entire trip ... UHF, Channel 62.

Raul's Apartment

Raul Hernandez (played by Trinidad Silva, who was tragically killed before filming was completed) is the host of one of UHF's eclectic television shows. Al mentions in the commentary track that Raul's apartment is located at 330 E. 11th, which is exactly where we found it.

Raul's Apartment Then Raul's Apartment Now

Raul's Apartment Then Raul's Apartment Now

Another success! Other than some minor paint differences (and my minivan), the apartment building looks strikingly like it did fifteen years ago! If you'll in the top left hand corner of the original picture, you'll see Raul tossing a poodle out of the middle window, "teaching it to fly." In a strange coincidence, the same window was open when we showed up.

City Hall

Part of the action of UHF takes place at "City Hall", which Weird Al reveals in his commentary is actually the First Christian Science Church located at 10th & Boulder

City Hall Then City Hall Now

Another success! As you can see, the building is basically unchanged. Everything from the lamp posts to the columns to the parking meter in the bottom right hand corner. The only difference was the "City Hall" sign, obviously a prop.

Success after success after success!

This just left us with one final destination. The mecca.

Channel 62.

UHF - Channel 62

And so, here we are at the end of our adventure, with one major site left. The coup de' gras, the wad, the money shot, the Holy Grail, the big Kahuna, the sacred cow, the picture of all pictures.

UHF is named so because the movie is about George Newman, a regular (?) guy who inherits Channel 62, a UHF station. This is the core of the film, and the climax of our day. Al mentions on the commentary track that the UHF station was actually the KGTO AM 1050 transmitter, located at 49th and Edison. The closer I got, the more excited I became. From a couple of blocks away, I saw the red and white tower. First, we went north; then, south. We couldn't find the road that led to the station at first. We circled around once, then twice. We saw one road that seemed to lead to the station, but it didn't. Finally, we found the one that did. When we finally found the right location, this is what we found.

UHF Then UHF Now

Sigh. Yup, that's pretty much it. Off to the left you can see the red and white transmitter still standing in the same position. The road still leads up to where the building once stood, although a little poorer in condition no doubt.

Conclusion

While the Star Wars saga is my favorite series of films of all time, my UHF trip was partially inspired by stories I've read of die hard Star Wars fans who have traveled to the sands of Tunisia attempting to find artifacts left behind by George Lucas and his crew. Unfortunately I don't like flying or deserts, or heat, or even being outside that much, so a flight to Africa seems out of the question. Thus, a two-hour road trip to Tulsa in a minivan with air conditioning, air bags, and a DVD player seemed much more up my alley.

Right up there with my love of Star Wars, however, is my love for all things Weird Al. Al's listing of every address used in the filming of UHF on the DVD's commentary track combined with PC-based map software made for a very easy voyage of discovery -- anybody with UHF on DVD, a map (or some map software), and a digital camera can reproduce our adventure.

Speaking of UHF on DVD, if you don't own it, go buy it right now.

Here are the lessons we learned from our adventure that I pass on to you:

Plan before hand. We could have shaved an hour or so off of our trip had we planned out all the sites before hand. Instead, we ended up criss-crossing the city several times.

Take full-color print outs of all the sites you plan on taking pictures of. We spent too much time messing with the laptop and technology that we could have spent finding sites. Also, if you are asking people for help, it's a lot easier to show them a color picture than it is to pass the laptop around to strangers.

Become a master of the U-Turn. We quit counting u-turns after the first 30 or so. We missed almost every single address the first time around -- we made so many u-turns on the trip we began getting dizzy.

If you're looking for the cemetery scene, it's "little stone, big stone." If you're looking for Crazy Ernie's, it's "two, door, two, halves." Ok, that's probably not very helpful, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Bring pliers, bottles of water, spare fuses ... and plenty of patience and a sense of humor.

Thanks to the lady in the Home Depot parking lot who directed us to Wal-Mart.

Thanks to the guy in Wal-Mart who directed me to the power converter.

Thanks to the salesmen at Ernie Miller Pontiac for helping us out.

Thanks to my friend and co-pilot Stephen for going along with me and helping out on my adventure.

Thanks to my wife and son for putting up with such a goofball. And finally ...

Thanks to Weird Al for almost 30 years and counting of yuks.

Links

http://www.weirdal.com - Weird Al's Official Site
UHF on DVD - Amazon.com, $4.99
Tulsa TV Memories' UHF Page

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