Residents reveal story behind apartment balcony signs on Daniel Street

Balconies are often associated with belligerence. Whether they are screaming at passersby or throwing beer cans, the people on them have a certain reputation. One balcony at the apartments at Third and Daniel streets in Champaign might look like such a place — especially with the creative handmade signs that are constantly hanging from the railing. However, “the sign guys,” as they are known, have only good intentions.

The signs got started in October 2008 in retaliation to a “W” Cubs flag hanging at their apartment building. The guys created their first masterpiece, a large “L” sign in cubby blue to show off to the world, or campus rather, their White Sox pride.

“We really wanted to stick it to them and show our Sox pride,” said Kurt Royer, one of the creators of the sign and senior in LAS. “We were taking a picture of it as a Jimmy John’s guy rode by and yelled ‘Go Sox!’ and we all started yelling back to him.”

Royer and one of his roommates, Craig Podalak, senior in FAA, enjoyed the response so much that they pondered making signs for fun. Their next creation was “Hey Yo Skeeza,” a joke between Royer, Podalak and members of the Illinois Men’s Volleyball club team.

“There was such a positive reaction and we had a ton of comments from teammates,” Podalak said.

Podalak and Royer wanted to design messages everyone could relate to. The next sign to go up was “Happy Festivus,” based on the fictional holiday from Seinfeld.

Austin Brook, a junior in AHS who passes by the apartment regularly, said he initially wasn’t sure what the sign was or who would take the time to change it.

“It’s something you start noticing as you walk by,” Brook said. “It’s usually pretty witty and clever and I get a good chuckle out of it.”

Podalak and Royer’s other three roommates participate in the brainstorming process, but the actual sign making is left to the duo. However, one of their roommates, Tom Quinn, senior in engineering, still notices the attention.

“We’re always getting texts like ‘LOVE your sign’ or ‘I saw your sign and literally laughed out loud,’” Royer said.

The sign guys enjoy the positive feedback, but their creativity has also drawn some negative attention.

This spring, a pedestrian was hit with a beer can from a balcony on an upper floor of the building. Podalak was on his balcony at the time, and the pedestrian assumed it was him who threw the can because of the sign.

“All of a sudden I hear a bang on the sign after the guy threw something,” said Podalak. “I went inside right away and then ‘PSSSSHHHH,’ and the outside pane of our glass door completely shattered.”

The sign guys encountered the police a second time, regarding a display they put up containing a friend’s phone number. Their friend, who attends Northern Illinois University, said he received 10 phone calls in the first seven minutes after the sign went up.

Quinn said he got a call from his friend after the police had called his number, saying they had been getting complaints about the posted number and asked for it to be taken down. Quinn went out onto the balcony while on the phone with his friend to see if the police officer was still present.

“He was down there and he said he knows about the whole freedom of speech thing but asked we take the sign down,” Quinn said. “The cop was really nice about it and we took it down right away.”

The signs receive mixed reviews from fellow residents in the building.

“I notice when it changes,” said Kyle Gruca, sophomore in LAS and building resident. “I don’t think a lot of them are funny but I definitely don’t have a problem with the signs being there.”

Some residents receive comments about the signs when they have visitors.

“Sometimes they can be pretty stupid or even kind of offensive,” said Caroline Novotny, junior in LAS. “But whether it’s a good sign or not, everyone always makes a comment about it whenever they come over.”

The sign guys have an extensive process for coming up with new ideas, keeping a list of them on the fridge.

“My best ideas come out of the shower,” Podalak said. “I usually come running out of the shower yelling ‘OH MY GOSH, you guys, I have a GREAT idea.’”

Royer said people don’t realize how much time goes into making the signs. Coming up with a plan usually takes about two weeks.

“We have so many great ideas but we throw them away because we feel like there are such high expectations,” Royer said. “Our signs are actually more known this year so the ideas take forever.”

The physical sign is made out of metal and the words are made out of Scotch-Blue Painter’s Tape. The guys have gone through six rolls of tape and two bags of zip ties, which they use to hang the sign.

Royer said it takes at least an hour to make the design, as they make the letters proportional and then use an X-Acto knife to make the edges clear.

Podalak said it’s getting hard to change the sign every two to three weeks between classes and homework, but added that he and Royer schedule time to make the sign and dedicate a specific day to creating it.

However, they still do it because they love making people laugh.

“It’s not like we go proclaiming to people that we’re the ‘sign guys,’” said Royer. “We’re not cocky. We just like being appreciated because we put a lot of time and a lot of effort into the signs.”

The guys refuse to reveal any plans about future signs, saying that the anticipation is half the fun. However, as they get more comments and recognition about their display, they hope to change their signs more often.

“It’s a wonderful kind of pressure,” Podalak said. “And we most definitely accept it.”