Today marks the biggest celebration of Cincinnati, the end of the Summer and the WEBN Labor Day Fireworks. It's the largest fireworks display in the Midwest, and it's held every year the Sunday before Labor Day. Last year's attendance was more than 400,000, and that was with poor weather. While competing with nearly half a million people, finding a desirable seat can be difficult. WEBN will celebrate its 40th birthday the same way it has for the last 30 years - shooting off fireworks for a few hundred thousand of its closest friends.
When the station first staged a fireworks display on Aug. 30, 1977, to celebrate its tenth anniversary, Riverfest was born. I was there that night with my best friend at the time as we watched the fireworks from the Roebling Bridge.
The initial event, publicized only on the station, caught city officials and police off guard when 50,000 people showed up. There was so little organization that a freight train pulled along the Cincinnati riverfront and stopped, blocking the exit for thousands after the show.
Cincinnati's recreation department quickly picked up organizing the day-long Riverfest and WEBN was content to produce the pyrotechnics. What started as a little birthday blow-out quickly became an end-of-the-summer tradition, now attracting almost two dozen corporate sponsors. The event is heavily touted as a tourist attraction.
This year's Cincinnati Bell WEBN Fireworks (9:05 p.m. Sunday) will shoot off some 5,200 shells, with 40 percent of them packed into the finale. Many of the shells are custom-made by the award-winning Rozzi's Famous Fireworks of Loveland. The fireworks family has staged every Riverfest show since 1977.
Wireless technology allows a musical soundtrack to be synched with the booms to the millisecond by embedding computer chips in many of the shells. They trigger those shells' explosions by detecting a signal placed at key points in the soundtrack.
This year's soundtrack is more thematic than in past years, said WEBN production director Joel Moss. He says it will include more audio bites than usual, as it is designed to be a pop-culture history lesson, from LBJ to George Bush, from Sgt. Pepper to Korn.
For the first time, the fireworks will be seen around the world, as the show will be streamed at Cincinnati Bell's Zoomtown.com. Also, the Pentagon's Military Channel will carry the show on the cable channel seen in bases around the world.
Personally, I stay close to home on this particular Sunday as I really don't want to fight the crowds. It is actually more enjoyable to watch from the comfort of my living room. Yes, I am getting old.