Willem De Ridder ‘De Grote Oto Derby’

Grote Oto Derby - tape box n°1

De Grote Oto Derby
01 Part I (61:48)
02 Part II (61:50)
03 Part III (63:11)

Total time 3hrs 6mns
Recorded 1978. Retrieved from VPRO.


The 1978 Death Fear Escapade, drawing by Peter PontiacIn 1977 and early 1978, Willem De Ridder organized ‘Doodsangst Therapie’ (Terror Therapy) radio shows on VPRO Dutch national radio, using provocative and questionable tricks (including torturing a mouse, according to Paul Kuiper). With these shows, De Ridder was taking part in a typical Dutch trend, known in The Netherlands as thrillerhoorspelen, or thriller radio plays. The last episode was titled ‘Death Fear Escapade’ and was aired January 10th, 1978, asking car drivers to put a skull on their windshield and honk several times when coming across other participants on their way to a then unknown destination, eventually Loevestein. The drawing above, from a Peter Pontiac comic book titled Retrospective Comics, illustrates the episode. A dedicated website archives the Doodsangst Escapade episode – including a complete list of previous episodes here.


To the Grote Oto Derby GoogleMapDe Ridder conceived an even more spectacular event during the night of Monday 18 to Tuesday 19 September, 1978, the instantly legendary Great Auto Rally. To the volunteers who wished to take part in the experience, De Ridder had devised a trip from Amsterdam to Harderwijk, in the centre of the country, through the polders of the Flevoland province, notoriously below sea level – in a way, the very essence of the country: ‘In Nederland, het land van de Neders’, says De Ridder (The Netherlands, the Low Country). The circuit included going through Utrecht, Hilversum, Muiderberg, Almere, Hollandse Hout or Holland Forest, Lelystad and Lelystad-Haven, and finally the Knardijk dike or Knardijk dam in Harderwijk, separating Flevoland from Gelderland (see Google Map). 7,500 cars alleguedly took part and 30,000 listeners were hooked on their radio (3,000 cars and 20,000 listeners according to other sources). Participants were asked to put sacred objects on their dashboard, stickers on their windshields and to use their lights to signal each other. During the first episode, De Ridder also requires participants to carry a house plant with them upon arriving in Lelystadt. Later during the night, hundreds of people were asked to get out of their cars at a meeting point and make use of the flashlamps from their photo cameras in a kind of Fluxus event. The purpose of the event for De Ridder is not to reach the last stop, the trip itself is the experience, hence the motto used to advertise the event: Zoekt niet en gij zult vinden, or Seek not and thou shall find – more or less inspired by Deuteronomy 6.4.


The Grote Oto Derby heroesThe whole show is no doubt one of the greatest experiments in radio art of all times and its large scale and ambition only comparable to the Mercury Theater’s War of the Worlds (1938). During the first hour, De Ridder apparently sets the mood for the events to come, with a mix of energetic rock numbers and electronic sounds (think Spooky Tooth with Pierre Henry). Vangelis’ Spiral (1977) reappears several times as a dotted line, possibly as a warning that the trip will not be rectilinear.  The second hour is 95% instrumental and is presumably meant to be listened to during the trip to Lelystad through the desolate Pelvo polders. The DJ plays a mix of kosmische musik like Vangelis and Klaus Schulze, including the whole B-side of the latter’s Blackdance, 1974. In Part III, De Ridder leads listeners to Lelystad Haven, the port of Lelystad and then Knardijk dam, the actual endpoint, with yet another great pop-rock and electronic mix.

Download (256Mb): option 1 / option 2

6 Responses to “Willem De Ridder ‘De Grote Oto Derby’”

  1. 1 433 October 15, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    hey man, fantastic! i didn’t hear it back then, i discovered willem 2 years later (when i was 15) and thought his programms were amazing. you should try get his radiola improvisatie salon recordings

  2. 2 continuo October 15, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks, 433. I’m very pleased to have you interested in De Ridder again. At the moment, I’ll buy any recording that has De Ridder written on it. Please let me know if you spot any inaccuracies in my article. Some of my information comes from Google translations, I’m afraid.

  3. 3 planktone December 14, 2009 at 9:54 am

    this is really great !!!

    i still remember me listening it on the radio.
    vpro was one of my favorite stations that time
    i remember also some great radio protest the day the dutch government decided to place 48 American atomic weapons. on the first November 1985 from 07:00 to 16:00 vpro broadcasted without interruption air-raid alarms.
    i recorded one hour on cassette, i can send it as mp3 if i have a mail-address.


    ps. great blog, thx, w.

  4. 4 continuo December 14, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Yes, I’d be interested by one hour of air-raid alarm. Please send it to:
    teepeesfrp [ at ] yahoo [dot] fr
    Thanks for your comment, w.

  5. 5 planktone December 14, 2009 at 11:30 am

    it is on its way …
    i still remember VPRO started the action, and most radiostations changed their programs and had a ot of people calling with reactions on this event.
    it is a nice example of the power of radio

  6. 6 janet Slade January 13, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Like to talk to willem de ridder, An old friend I lost contact with. Met in Paris at the newspaper. Think it was in 1969/70

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