A Brief History Of A Good Time
The WEBN fireworks "tradition" didn't start out as one. We decided to celebrate our 10th anniversary in 1977 with a big display of fireworks, turning the Ohio River into the world's biggest birthday cake. Everybody went home with a nice memory of a once-in-a-lifetime event. Or so they thought.
But that first fireworks was so much fun that various city officials came to us and said hey, what if we put on a day-long party next year, cap it off with your fireworks, and call it Riverfest? We said yes, yes again the next year, and now we've got one of the best outdoor events in America. Hey, we're a tradition.
From the beginning, we handed over the hardest part to the best in the business: Rozzi's Famous Fireworks in Loveland. Every time you gasp and cheer, you're cheering the innovative ideas (many of them home-designed & hand-made) that this world-class company thinks up, packs up and blows up.
Maybe you have certain memories of certain fireworks. We sure do. Here are some.
1977 - It's our first blast, and the only one to happen on a Thursday night (as close as we can get to our actual 10th birthday of August 30). Soundtrack by Glenn Gaskins. Even though WEBN is a small station and the publicity comes from only us, about 80,000 people show up. The only glitch: a mile-long train crawls along the tracks of Sawyer Point and parks during the show, trapping everybody on the Serpentine Wall. After the show, thousands of people have to crawl between and underneath railcars.
1978 - The first official Riverfest. More publicity, way more people, and no trains. The only glitch: Glenn's pre-computer soundtrack can't really be synchronized to the blasts, they drift further apart and the music runs out about 3 minutes too soon. From 1979 to 1982, Tom Sandman works up some ingenious techniques for achieving better success in soundtrack synch. We use those procedures until hooking up with a super-hi-tech computer system in the 1990's. More about that later.
1983 - The first year with a sponsor (Pepsi), allowing us to add lots more power and punch to the show. The Rozzis start messing around with ideas and technology to make fireworks do things they shouldn't. They're still doing that. Soundtrack this year and next by Jay Gilbert.
1984 - the only year that bad weather almost stops the show. It rains continuously all weekend, and fireworks can't be safely loaded into their shells in such humidity. At 2 p.m. the day of the fireworks, we're within 20 minutes of announcing our first-ever cancellation, when suddenly the clouds part, the sun shines, the Rozzis bust ass, and the show goes on (with some parts scrapped). We've had other years when weather threatens, but so far the fireworks have never been rained out. If that ever happens, there's no way to have a rain date … see ya next year.
1985 - Hudy Gold signs on for 2 years of sponsorship. Joel Moss inherits the task of assembling the 30-minute soundtrack. He's done it every year since.
1987 - Toyota's first partnership with the fireworks. They've been with us longer than most staff members' marriages.
1988- Renegade Comic Sam Kinison joins Frog for the Big Bang and leads crowd wars as only Sam could, with an emphatic “Does WEBN know how to throw a party!!” Hell yeah, Sam. We still miss you, but we know you have the best seat in the house.
1989 - During the show's grand finale (which typically contains about 2500 shells, more than most entire 4th of July fireworks), a sudden gust of wind blows all the falling debris directly to the deck of Barleycorn's, WEBN's master control center and host to several hundred partiers. Amazing how fast people can run when it's raining fire.
1992 - For WEBN's 25th anniversary, we build a giant "set piece" on the L&N Bridge (now the Purple People Bridge). For about 60 seconds in the middle of the show, it shows a magnificent sparkling WEBN logo, a Toyota logo and a big "1967-1992." You remember that, right? You don't? It was there, but the humidity was so thick and the wind so still that the smoke from the fireworks' first 15 minutes wouldn't go away. When our giant expensive set piece boomed to life, nobody saw it, not even the people who knew to look for it. Oh well, that's blow biz.
ALSO in 1992 - WEBN's founder, Frank Wood the Elder, passes away. Frank the Younger places some of his father's ashes inside the first shell of this year's fireworks. If somebody tries to tell you that Hunter Thompson had this idea first, set them straight.
1997 - The debut of that cool new super-hi-tech computerized system for synchronizing the fireworks and music. Eddie Fingers does his usual rev-up of the crowd, yells his official here-it-is! … and then …. nothing. 2 minutes go by. More nothing. 2 more minutes, lots more nothing. Finally, liftoff. Officially the delay is 8 minutes, but to us it will always be a thousand years. One station exec says after the finale, "I would have enjoyed this show a lot more without all this s*** in my pants."
2004 - The Rozzi's top even themselves by creating fireworks that somehow --- we're still trying to figure this out --- blast the red letters W, E, B- and N into the sky in the actual shapes of our station's logo. We thought we might be hallucinating, but they did it with even more precision in 2005.
2006 – 30 years in 30 minutes…
2007 - First year with new partner...Cincinnati Bell.