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The Signs of Love: A spectacular marriage proposal on the white lights of Broadway

This is a story of unrequited love converged with New York City's first electronic billboard, where a marriage proposal was displayed in all its glory directly above the Crossroads of the World.

By Louis M. Brill

What happens in Times Square doesn't always stay in Times Square for the love of Todd and Terry.

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  • In 1976, Times Square installed the first electronic billboard, known as Spectacolor, which was created and designed by George Stonbley, who went on to create the outdoor advertising company, with the same name (now Clear Channel Spectacolor). Clear Channel Spectacolor is now one of the preeminent developers of outdoor signage within the Times Square landscape.

    The first Times Square electronic billboard to no one's surprise was installed on the northern face of the Allied Chemical Building (now 1 Times Square) in its heyday when it was owned by Douglas Leigh. He then transformed the building from its original Gothic look to a more modern (some may debate this) austere look by recladding the building with white marble. The building has since been purchased by Sherwood Equities and Jamestown and transformed into the sign tower that has since become the international icon of New Year's Eve.

    When Stonbley operated the Spectacolor billboard, in an effort to keep eyeballs on the board at all times, he had also included a program of public accessibility to the board where the public could "buy" time on the board for personal (family friendly) messages. And thus in 1978, a young Todd Miller devised a fantastic way of proposing to his girlfriend as he recounted his first and only billboard buy.

    "During one of my weekend commutes from college in Florida to NY where my girl friend was doing her Masters at NYU, I was browsing through an airline magazine when there in front of me was an advertisement for a 30 second message to be flashed on the then first electronic billboard of its kind. Not just any billboard, it was the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square. In contacting the company they gave me the price, a list of times it could be done, and offered the service of taking a picture of my message and sending it to me (parenthetically, they must have put the message up during the day as a test and then taken the picture, because the time I had it go off was 10:25 PM and it was quite dark out and the picture was in the daylight). Since I knew I was going to marry my girlfriend all that was left was how to propose, and since we loved A Chorus Line, I did the following:"

    "I called the Shubert Theater and asked when the show ended. They told me 10:16 PM. I gave ourselves seven minutes to egress the show. That left three to four minutes to walk the one block to the corner and turn right and look up. I now had a few problems. The show let out five minutes early. The weather had not cooperated and was cold and windy. Not exactly strolling weather in Times Square in 1978, much less now. To make matters a bit more difficult to navigate, the local Times Square restaurant I was planning on giving my girl friend, (hopefully fiancé by then), her ring at was directly across the street from the show. So, acting quickly I told Terry I just had to take a walk to stretch my legs and get some fresh air (in Time Square in the cold and wind at 10:18 (seven minutes before the big moment). Terry was not excited about the idea, but agreed never the less. After all being from Wisconsin she thought I was used to the cold and it was a "thing" we Midwesterners might have done.

    We turned the corner and wham, there it was. The entire block was light up like a used car lot. Terry had suddenly seen the sign as did most of the people at that time who were in Times Square, and looking around for us. She of course immediately agreed, and off to dinner we went, after all it was cold. Dinner went well and she got her ring. We were married 8-22-79 at Tavern on the Green and had our prenuptial dinner at, you guessed it, the then tallest restaurant in the world, Windows on the World."

    The Millers have lived happily ever after in Milwaukee and have seven (7) wonderful children and are now proud grandparents of a little boy a year and half old.

    (Todd shared he was thinking of turning the lights of the Eiffel Tower on and off a few times for their 50th! Good luck with that one Todd.)

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    Readers who wish to follow the entire story of Times Square can follow with these other pieces related to its history:

    One Times Square: A Global Icon Marks Time - 2003-2010, Part III
    In this third and final part of One Times Square, we examine even more of the fascinating, ever-evolving changes to this iconic landmark and how technology plays a very interesting and important role.

    One Times Square: A Global Icon Marks Time - 2003-2010, Part II
    Slowly, but surely between 2003 to 2010, one spectacular display after another on One Times Square has been upgraded with a more modern version of itself or outright replaced with a new client and a new spectacular.

    One Times Square Revisions: Signage in the crossroads of the world through the years
    If any building was to be dedicated as homage to sign displays, honors could easily point to One Times Square. It stands tall not only in height, but also throughout its 100 plus year history with its influence on iconic advertising, on sign displays, with its vinyl and electronic billboards and its timeless metaphors, all wedded to the building from top (the annual New Year's Eve ball drop) to the bottom (the news zipper wrapped around the building's base).

    Toy's R Us Interior EDS Signage
    The Center of the Toy Universe can be found in Times Square and it's operated by Toys 'R Us. With 110,000 square feet of various toy shopping zones, all aligned within three floors of merchandising space, the toy universe is a vast space.

    LED Electronic Message Reader Boards: Watching the world go by in streaming headlines
    The electronic message reader board is the town crier of the modern age. It is a simplistic, horizontal column of light bulbs or LEDs whose intermediate flashes of world watching headlines, slide effortlessly across reader board signs attached to banks and financial institutions and to the front walls of major corporate headquarters.

    King Kong Embraces Times Square with Electronic Signage Debut
    The latest remake of the King Kong epic, directed by Peter Jackson, sought out its east coast premiere in the place where the big ape met his demise, in New York City. Nothing is too good for the premiere of his latest film and only in New York City could a film of such epic proportion have an opening of similar grandeur.

    Hershey’s ­ How Sweet It Is: The Eye-Candy of Times Square
    In the middle of all its surrounding Times Square spectaculars, billboards and sign edifices, stands the flagship Hershey Times Square, a retail gift store which is a chocolate confectionary paradise that is the center of the chocolate universe.

    Minskof Theater
    The Minskoff Theatre (1,597 seats), one of the many major live performing venues along Broadway has recently undergone a signage transformation of its old blade / marquee and window display into a very modern and elegant sign package that was fit for a king: The Lion King that was.

    ABC Times Square
    It may be home to ABC's Good Morning America, but to Times Square passersby it is the building with the curvy front wall that is a gigantic television screen displaying current news and ABC TV previews all day long.

    Signs of Love: A spectacular marriage proposal on the white lights of Broadway
    This is a story of unrequited love converged with New York City's first electronic billboard, where a marriage proposal was displayed in all its glory directly above the Crossroads of the World.

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