Hettinger puts his own touch on
Thunder Over Louisville
the Derby Festival's largest event
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 2005) Each year when
the Kentucky Derby Festival rolls around, Wayne Hettinger gets the best
seat in the house in the Thunder Over Louisville Command
Center atop the 24th floor of the Galt House Hotel & Suites
West Tower. It is there where the Prospect, Ky., resident orchestrates
the largest fireworks show in North America.
KY Edition Cover
Its a show he helped create 15 years ago after being
tapped by one of his clients, Kroger, the shows former sponsor.
Since then, he has developed the show into one of Louisvilles
largest and most favorite festivals, combining the elaborately staged
fireworks by the famed Zambelli family, booming music across a fleet
of loudspeakers placed on both sides of the Ohio River and, of course,
the nearly all-day air show. This years show payed tribute to
50 Years of Rock n Roll.
Were a bunch of middle-aged guys safely doing 13-year-old
things, said Hettinger, 59, who produced his 16th Thunder show
on April 23.
Hettinger has help from a staff of 15 people during the show. But it
is the buildup to the show date that has the group working overtime.
My work comes in the days leading up to the event. When the show
day finally arrives, I just have to sit back and stay out of the way
and let these guys do what they do best, he said.
Hettinger sits in front of a large computer monitor that illustrates
the air show grid over the Ohio River. He and his technicians key the
various music and watch as the show unfolds before nearly 750,000 spectators
below. Due to cold, rainy weather, this years Thunder attracted
about 300,000 people, officials estimated, less than half the usual
number. But the excitement and awe was still there for those who braved
the elements to take it all in.
by Don Ward
Hettinger (left) with his Thunder team that includes (from left)
Dave Crites, audio engineer; Mike Reardon, assistant air boss;
and Larry Huber, marine operations.
Hettinger got the job of producing Thunder after Kroger
officials asked him to become involved. Kroger was a client of Hettingers
30-year-old company, Visual Presentations, which produces corporate
slide shows and video presentations among other things.
This has been my toy all along, but technology has really changed
everything for us, Hettinger said.
One example is in how the sound is broadcast across dozens of loudspeakers
on both sides of the river by microwave now instead of wires.
And the music sound tracks are digitized now instead of played using
magnetic tape in the earlier days.
It takes the crew about a week to set up. Hettinger said the pilots
and his crew will start making plans for next years Thunder at
a dinner held the night before this years event.
Were always talking about new ways and new things to add
to the show, he said. It is always evolving.
Hettinger used to use about 15 of his own employees to work the show,
but now they come from other sources and backgrounds. He and his stepson,
Marcus Cambron, do much of the work, along with his computer and audio
visual expert Tim Creed, who helped develop the show with Hettinger
over the years.
What started out as a fire What started out as a fireworks show at Cardinal
Stadium at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in 1990 has now grown
into an elaborate affair that must be rotated each year among the four
Louisville TV stations for broadcast rights. It is also re-broadcast
in 158 other countries and across the U.S. Armed Services TV network
on the Fourth of July. Believe it or not, our biggest TV audience
is in Russia, Hettinger said.
by Don Ward
the marine operations.
In 1991, the fireworks-only show moved to the riverfront.
It became the signature opening ceremony for the Kentucky Derby Festival
in 1993. When Kroger saw the potential of those early shows, they took
on the event and doubled the $40,000 budget at the time, said Ben Harper
of the Kroger. By policy, the festival does not disclose actual event
Its fascinating to watch on the ground, but what these guys
do in here is a miracle, Harper said. Whats really
unique about this show is that its free. But here, you get a fireworks
show and an air show. Anywhere else, youd have to pay $7 to $12
just to see an air show like this.
Thunder attracts about 100 aircraft each year, and pilots line up to
participate, Hettinger said. They are directed by at least three air
bosses, who control the action from neighboring rooms atop the Galt
House. The U.S. Coast Guard provides marine and safety support.
Its great to sit here and see that many people out there
enjoying something these guys produced, Harper said.
Hettinger, meanwhile, attributes the shows success to the citys
great attitude toward staging the event each year. I
defy any other city to do it because its all about attitude,
he said. And the support we get here is terrific.
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