July 27, 2016

Indianapolis' Most Iconic Local Commercials: 21st Century Paging

Indianapolis' Most Iconic Local Commercials: 21st Century Paging

This profile is an extension of our Curious Indy story on memorable Indianapolis-area commercials. Read it here

Mickey Levy has been a lot of things—a carnival connoisseur, an automobile salesman, a grandfather.

But around Indianapolis, he’s best known for his 12-year reign as Crazy Mickey the Beeper King.

Levy—who says he’s nearly always been self-employed because he “doesn’t play well with others”—started his beeper venture, 21st Century Paging, after he got out of the automobile business in 1991.

His first pager store was located on west Washington Street in a 300-square-foot storefront he shared with a barbershop.

But by 2000, his little pager business was booming. It grew to eight locations around the city and was grossing $4 million a year.

“It was like it was Christmas every day,” he said.

In the peak years of his beeper business, Levy said he was spending $250,000 on advertising—the medium that propelled him into Indianapolis stardom.

Levy’s advertisements were off-the-wall. They were low budget, yet strangely high profile.

He was even written up in the papers as one of the best advertisers in the city, named along with Don Davis of Don’s Guns and Buddy Kallick of Buddy’s Carpet.

And the best part is, Levy was in on the joke, planning to make the spots as “stupid-looking” as he could.

“I mean, I could’ve made other ads, but I made these ads myself,” he said. “Some of these ads I shot with my own camera equipment and recorded them myself. I tried to make these as dumb as possible—and some days that’s not that simple. But I wanted these to be so different. I’ve always wanted to be different.”

Each of his commercials included his singing jingle: “I’m Crazy Mickey, the Beeper King, sellin’ pagers for a buck 19. Call 390-3000 right away. Stop at 21st Century Paging today.”

One of Levy’s friends helped him develop the jingle in the beginning, but it was Bill Shirk—a guy who used to own a radio station and who Levy called his “wing man” back in the day—who took him to the next level.

But some of the most basic elements of Levy’s brand came from his days in the carnival business.

He got the “Crazy Mickey” nickname while discussing his first business idea with a friend, to start a T-shirt business and follow the carnival with it.

His friend replied, “That’s crazy, Mickey.”

The rest was history.

Maybe it was his name, or maybe it was the crazy commercials, but something about Levy made him magnetic around Indianapolis. People were drawn to his genuineness and silliness.

Mickey said he used to go to Pacers games, sit courtside and bribe one of the camera guys with a 21st Century Paging wristwatch in order to his picture up on the jumbotron at half time, crowd cheering.

“I was, really, reasonably popular through every barrier—white, black, Hispanic,” he said. “It didn’t make any difference. Old people, young people. Everybody just seemed to like the silly commercials that I was doing and the way we operated. It was pretty neat.”

Business was really rocking in 2000. But by 2003, he closed his doors.

“And then at 58 years old, I got an opportunity to start over,” he said.

Levy now owns a sign company, and in his office, he keeps around remnants of his days as a commercial king.

His office phone ringer is his Beeper King jingle.

His old, plastic jeweled crown sits in his office window.

His face sits plastered on a bus bench advertisement in the back room.

To this day, Levy can’t put his finger on why people liked his commercials so much—and why they still do.

“I have no idea to tell you the truth,” he said. “I don’t know. I mean, I tried to make this funny stuff. I tried to make it so that it crossed every barrier. I tried to make it simple.”


Take the quiz to rank Crazy Mickey the Beeper King's commercials amongst other iconic campaigns.

This story is part of WFYI Public Media’s Curious Indy series, a news experiment that includes listeners in our editorial decision-making to strengthen multimedia coverage of Central Indiana.

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