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Alabama Billboard's Message Changes

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Regular drivers on I-65 north of Montgomery, Alabama, were in for a surprise this week. The past 10 years, quite a famous roadside billboard on the land of W.S. Newell has warned, `Go to church, or the devil will get you.' On Monday the billboard featured a new message: `We love Lucy Baxley, governor.' Lucy Baxley is a candidate for governor in 2006. W.S. Newell joins us from his office in Montgomery.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. W.S. NEWELL (Alabama Resident): Good.

SIMON: And that was your sign, `Go to church, or the devil will get you'?

Mr. NEWELL: That's right, and had a picture of the devil on top of that sign, even though ...(unintelligible) the devil very much.

SIMON: Yeah. What made you put up that sign?

Mr. NEWELL: Well, my mother, she told me, `On Sunday, if you don't go to church, the old devil's going to get you.' It always stuck in my mind.

SIMON: But why did you put that up on the sign as opposed to `Welcome to the Newell property. Have a good day,' or something like that?

Mr. NEWELL: I'm just trying to wake up the people. So many people have dropped out of churches, I'm just trying to get them back to churches.

SIMON: What kind of reaction have you gotten to that billboard over the years?

Mr. NEWELL: Ooh, I've had lots of publicity on that. It's a pretty good-sized sign, that old devil's sign. And now Lucille Baxley, she's going to run for governor, and she's got a good chance of getting it. Of course, I'm a Republican, but I'm going over to Democrat. I know Lucy Baxley for a long time, and she's always--she came up in the ranks of the government, and she's always done a good job for everywhere she's been.

SIMON: Have any idea how she feels about the sign?

Mr. NEWELL: Oh, she loves it.

SIMON: Did you decide that people didn't need the message about church and the devil after all these years, that you'd kind of made your point?

Mr. NEWELL: Well, that sign's been up about 15 or 20 years. Just trying to get on the good side of a good lady.

SIMON: May I ask, Mr. Newell, has it ever occurred to you to not put up any sign at all? You know, some people just don't like billboards along highways. They say they mar the view.

Mr. NEWELL: I don't think I put up anything people didn't enjoy. I had a sign, `John 3:16,' and they liked that, too.

SIMON: That's a biblical citation you had up on the billboard, right?

Mr. NEWELL: Right.

SIMON: Could you share that with us?

Mr. NEWELL: Well, `God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' John 3:16.

SIMON: Mr. Newell, very nice talking to you.

Mr. NEWELL: All right. Thank you.

SIMON: Take care.

Mr. NEWELL: Farewell to you, Scott.

SIMON: W.S. Newell is a road builder and owner of one of the state's best-known billboards, along Route I-65 just north of Montgomery.

Twenty-two minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.