A man on the edge of space. A freefall that broke the sound barrier. Hurtling into the black from 24 miles up. Millions were transfixed this week by the daring jump by Felix Baumgartner and his Red Bull Stratos project. But while jump veteran Joseph Kittinger shares the limelight having been the previous record holder for highest free fall, I just wanted to bring up a guy that you are not hearing about in all the media hype. A long-haul truck driver from New Jersey named Nicholas Piantanida.
I thought it was very cool that Baumgartner allowed the 84 year old Kittinger to play such a role in the drama that unfolded, creating a trending frenzy on Twitter and attracting viewers to YouTube beyond the numbers of the Presidential Debates. I had to think that Nick would have liked to have been there to witness it all and maybe field some questions from the likes of Brian Williams, Oprah Winfrey or Matt Lauer. Nick would be 80 today, and no doubt would have been competing with Baumgartner to make that jump from 24 miles up. Because 46 years ago, Nick was poised to make a leap from nearly the same height.
Kittinger lept from 102,800 feet in 1960. He was a colonel in the US Air Force. He was a command pilot, and he had military resources behind him as they researched high altitude bailout scenarios for military pilots. Piantanida was a thrill seeker, drove truck and raised exotic animals. He once jumped from his apartment building with a man-made parachute, and broke his arm in the experiment. But breaking Kittinger's record became his passion, especially after he fell in love with skydiving. He took up studying meteorology, balloon technology and survival skills. He was a charismatic man whose bigger than life belief in what he wanted to do motivated friends and business owners to sponsor him in his dream. He convinced a senator to help him get a pressurized space suit from the very company that provided them for NASA, and he set out to eclipse the world free-fall record, and touch the sky like no parachutist ever dared.
It is interesting to me to see how Red Bull has partnered with Baumgartner. Nick had visualized the commercial benefit of pulling something like this off. He envisioned endorsements with Timex and Coca-Cola. But that would hopefully come after his achievment. To think he did something so literally out of this world on a shoestring? With assistance from his rag-tag team of volunteers, he left Earth on October 22, 1965 in Strato-Jump I. He was pulled through the atmosphere by a giant balloon, but it malfunctioned just 18 minutes into the flight. Most likely wind shear tore the top off of the sphere and he parachuted back from 16,000 feet. Strato-Jump II was February 2, 1966. He lifted off from Sioux City, SD and ascended without a hitch. The gondola, just about the size of a porta-potty, floated to 123,500 feet, just 5000 feet less than Baumgartner. Nick had set the new world altitude record at nearly 22 miles above the earth. His jump would obliterate Kittinger's mark, and barring a catch or catastrophy, he would become the first supersonic man...capturing a record that 46 years later, Baumgartner could never claim. But there WAS a catch. After removing his seatbelt, Nick had only one more thing to do. Disconnect the hose that fed him oxygen from the tank in the gondola and re-hook to his pressure suit. The "quick disconnect" tube would not release. He had no choice but to return to Earth with the gondola. That required the ground crew to jettison the massive balloon and rely on the cargo chute strapped underneath the main veil. The crew instructed him to re-connect his seatbelt, but his gloves were so big, he could not do it. So he wedged himself into a corner of the gondola and held on for life. The gondola free-fell, door open, for 25,000 feet, reaching speeds of over 600 mph. Finally the cargo chute deployed and the first man to touch space, glided back to the ground to live to tell. On his third attempt, he would not be so lucky.
On May 1, 1966, Nick took his last shot at his dream. Strato-Jump III lifted off and began a climb high above Minnesota. After climbing past 50,000 feet, all seemed to be going well before the ground crew heard a sudden "whoosh" on the radio. Nick made some verbal attempts to alert the crew to an "Emergen..." just before the transmission went silent. His mask had decompressed. Again the main balloon was jettisoned. As before, Nick glided back to Earth below the cargo parachute. It took 26 silent minutes before he touched down...still alive...but beyond help. Having no experience with high-altitude decompression, local doctors could do little for the brain damaged spaceman. Four months later on August 25, 1966, he died at the age of 34 leaving wife Janice and three lovely daughters.
Oddly, I first heard this story a couple of years ago as I was getting my hair cut by a gal named Donna Marie. She had been a hair stylist at Changes in Ghent in 2001 when my then-infant son Colby had his very first trim. I had miraculously been re-connected with her on 9/11 while I collected funds for the Red Cross at the intersection of 21st and Llewellyn. She was now driving a Winnebago and cutting hair out of the back. Hair By Donna Marie. She gave me every bit of money she had and handed me her card. From then on, the very gal who trimmed my son's hair would now come to us in her travel-all and keep us looking good. You know how conversations go with your stylist. Well, she told me this story of the first spaceman. The story of her dad. Told me to Google him. I didn't even know her last name after all these years. Piantanida.
So do yourself a favor. Google it. Especially now that the world is really impressed with the corporately funded media phenom Felix Baumgartner. I certainly mean no disrespect to his daring, courage and vision. But it would be a shame if we forgot Nick Piantanida. Nice to know the Smithsonian has not. Next time you are there, please seek out the gondola that first made it to space and back, nearly half a century before extreme athletes were getting jacked up on energy drinks. On the side you will see the letters JADODIDE...the initials of all his girls...including my friend Donna. In the meantime, you can check out the book "Magnificent Failure" by Craig Ryan. Sure would be a cool movie idea. Anyone know Jerry Bruckheimer? Ron Howard? Tom Hanks?
Thanks for reading...and listening to my little radio show.
Interaction. It is perhaps the glue that holds most of the magic this medium called radio has...even in a day when Pandora, Sirius/XM and even your iPod clamor for your listening attention. Heck, millions even go to video site YouTube to "listen" to some of their favorite music. But none of those services or music apps can provide interaction for you the listener, or me the host.
For fans of radio, nothing established a one-on-one connection between listeners and hosts like the request line. Then came the fax. Then the email. Then the social networking. And while this technology helps connect us neighbors, the same technology opens doors that are just as special. Such was the case when I opened an email on June 21st from Kimberly Gretton. Kim lives in Boston. Her folks, Bob and Teresa Gretton of the Washington D.C. area, had just celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary. As a gift, Kimberly wanted to send her folks to see the Beach Boys, their favorite band, and staple of their courtship and happy lives together. Kim tried to get tickets for the nearest venue, Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it sold out quickly. So, the next-closest show was at Farm Bureau Live in Virginia Beach on July 3rd. Roadtrip! Kimberly meanwhile, randomly sent out a mass email to every jock at every station in town, looking for a proverbial "cherry on top." Perhaps one of the DJs could somehow arrange a backstage meeting or a shoutout from the stage...something to cap off a month of anniversary celebrations for the Grettons. One jock responded...that would be me.
To date, Kimberly and I have exchanged 29 emails outlining everything from the giddyness these two had about the trip to the fact that her folks are professional clowns. No, really. They have made children and families smile for a lifetime. In addition, when out of costume, Bob actually looks a lot like Mike Love of the Beach Boys (see photo below). I contacted Dee Larion of Live Nation at Farm Bureau Live, and she was awesome in getting the word to Beach Boys management. After about the 14th email, I was really starting to get into the whole spirit of the thing. The gesture from a daughter was so sweet, and the added attention she gave to make the beach trip in their 'Little Duece Coup" as special as possible reminded me how important it is to do so while they are still here. Having lost both of my parents in the last five years, I silently wished I still had the opportunity to do sweet things for my mom and dad.
Well, in the end, sadly, despite the efforts and tons of correspondence, the shout-out never came from Dennis, or Al, or Mike. But did that diminish the magic? Hardly. As it happened, the story came full circle when I opened my email this morning, only to find a nice note from Kimberly's mom, Teresa. I'd love to share her perspective with you.
I am Kimberly Gretton's mother, Teresa. I have been following your emails that Kim has sent me regarding the planning she did for our anniversary. As if the concert were not enough, she tried to get more. God bless her. But then I understand that you did more too! Thank you so much. That was sweet of you to try so hard to make our evening even more special than it already was. The concert: It was spectacular! They may have aged (as we all do) but their voices have not changed. I kept a very close eye on all of them as they sang. The music, the arrangements, the total package was fabulous. It truly did bring us back to our teens (if that is possible to imagine!). I'd like to share with you three things, one involving your radio crew:
1. Prior to the concert, we found a nearby shopping center (Landstowne Commons?) where an Irish pub caught our eyes (Finn McCool Fishhouse). We noticed one of your vans parked in front and it brought notice to us because of the name BOB on it (since my husband's name is Bob). We went inside and sat down, ordered, and while waiting for our food, a DJ's voice came over the microphone that 2 tickets would be given away within an hour so two lucky people could go to the concert. We didn't think much of it other than the realization that we already had tickets and we would be going. We left and upon arriving again we see another identical van setting up a tent outside the gate. We remarked that the van was the same at the restaurant. The incidence, however, is still ironic to me that you are the one station/one radio personality that responded to my daughter's request. Thank you so much for that.
2. The second amazing thing was finding a parking place (handicapped accessible) next to the fence which separated the parking lot from the arena / stage. We had a pre-concert pleasure of hearing them do sound checks and practice some of the songs. It was like an insider/VIP opportunity. Couldn't see a thing but heard everything.
3. The third super thing was the concert itself, of course! BUT it was the time when the audience began to join in on the songs. It was like Woodstock all over again (and no, we never participated in that experience!) as when I turned and looked all over the arena to the huge number of people, like us, standing, singing wildly, and clapping to all the favorites "Help Me Rhonda," "Little Surfer Girl," "California Girls," etc. The avg age of the audience was probably 55 to 65. (Who says we "older folks" can't be young again?) We truly did relive our teens again thanks to the Beach Boys... We actually left sweating to death as the temp was already near 100 degrees, but it was worth every second.
You mentioned so much in a little bit of time through your emails. Enough for me to realize your beautiful love for your parents even though they are no longer here. Your sensitive understanding of us "older folks." While we heard nothing from the "Boys" about our anniversary, I certainly understand the importance as a performer to deter such announcements as others feel left out. But the extra attention you paid to our daughter's request was very special and meant just as much to us as if they had said something. The concert was so special and we are still playing our Ipad with all the oldies but goodies. I go back and see them again and again. Do me a favor, please! Play one for us if you so desire..."Help Me Rhonda" is a song we played for many many years as we entered our favorite summer beach resort, Wildwood By the Sea in Wildwood, NJ, with the whole family in the car singing as loud as we could with music blasting away. If there is any way to hear this at any given time, please let me know.
Take care, Eric, and the very best to you in all you do.
A proud and happy mother singing and dancing to rock and roll,
Music. The ultimate connection. It links us all. It keeps us young. And while a large volume of tunes you hear on the radio are nostalgic, I hope that we all can maintain the spirit the Grettons carry with them. They obviously shared it with their children and continue to with thousands of others. And though we never met, we made a connection as it was supposed to be. Even down to hearing Holly Williams and seeing the Bob crew at one of our best advertisers, Finn McCool's. Just really cool...right on down to the soundcheck. And radio made it all possible. And we are still playing "Help Me Rhonda."
Lemme go find that tune...
I've been hoping John Brophy was right all week long. Seems his prediction is looking good.
The legendary Admirals ECHL coach and former NHL skipper of Toronto's Maple Leafs simply knows from experience that Toronto doesn't have what it takes to win a cup anymore. He was quoted last week in the Pilot that the Admirals basically had it in the bag. The Leafs, one of the NHL's "Original 6" have 13 Stanley Cups, but are currently on a 45 year skid in their quest for the cup. Of course, geographic location aside, the Marlies should not be compared to the Leafs, though you might wonder if it is justified the way Norfolk has beat up on Toronto in the first two games of their best-of-seven Calder Cup championship series.
Regardless, I'm thrilled the Admirals are halfway to history. After a record-setting year that featured a 28-game winning streak to end the regular season, the Admirals have blown through each round of the post-season showing the league it is no fluke. Thursday night, they resume the assault on Toronto in their house. The Marlies will host games three, four, and five if neccessary. Games six and seven are slated back here at Scope if the Admirals suddenly decide to lay down their sticks just to make it interesting. If that is the case, let's sell scope out again to finish the score. Get information and Join the Battle at http://www.norfolkadmirals.com.
Probably a good thing the Admirals are on the road throught the weekend with all the craziness on the way with OpSail 2012 and Harborfest. Do yourself a favor and take the Tide to Harbor Park and avoid the parking hassle. Lots going down with two Parades of Sail and tons of great music including Bob-FM artists Colbie Caillat, Gavin DeGraw, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers and Edwin McCain. Find details at http://www.opsail2012virginia.com or http://www.festevents.org. Get a link here on our site as well. Celebrate with 93.7 Bob-FM!
And just one more. I just uploaded this image of me on Twitter. I call it "Office Scuba." If you want Admirals updates, fun stuff the station is up to, or just off-beat stuff from your favorite morning guy, follow me @TheGameWorden
Keep your knob on Bob!
My friend Sandra Parker has been a media pal for nearly 20 years. Her work on WVEC 13 News is known the region over (though if you didn't know, she whips up a mean crepe when working at Baker's Crust each year for Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads Celebrity Night). I love gizmos, so when she asked me to try out a new product called the "Music Bullet" you know this consumer was game!
You see the segment each week on 13 News. It's called "Does It Work." Sandra asks folks like you and me to test an item, and short of being asked to review the Popiel Pocket Fisherman or the latest-greatest Ginsu knives assortment, the "Music Bullet" was right up my alley. Basically it is a rather small cone-shaped item that plugs into your PDA. Just use the earphone or ear-bud jack and you are set. This thing is barely bigger than a large Grada A egg, but when you push a couple of catch-releases around the base, boing!...you really can hear the BASS! A mini-vertical woofer floats your favorite Frank, Fun or Fleetwood Mac to your ears. I even pulled up my Bob-FM app on my iPhone and Holly, Jay and the music sounded awesome. It's got plenty of high end and honestly, for it's size, it puts off some pretty full tunage. It's no Pocket Bose system, but it doesn't put you back 500 bills either. Plus, it has this nifty spring-loaded retractable plug line. SWEET! I'd love it more if it came with its own protective case, but at under $15, I gotta say...Yes, it DOES work! I'm gonna go get my own at Bed, Bath and Bob-FM
If you wanna check out the segment, and check out my double-chin...feel free to follow this link: http://www.wvec.com/news/does-it-work/Does-It-Work-music-bullet--151536865.html
Happy listening, and if you wanna check in with me 24/7, follow me on Twitter @TheGameWorden. Have a great DAY!
|Thursday||12/12/13||5:30PM||Winter Meltdown Show||The Ted Constant Center|
|Tuesday||12/31/13||10:30PM||Gin Blossoms||Virginia Beach Town Center|
|Friday||02/28/14||7:00PM||Imagine Dragons w/ Naked and Famous||The Ted Constant Center|
|Saturday||03/08/14||8:00PM||Natalie Merchant||Ferguson Center for the Arts|
|Saturday||06/21/13||6:45PM||Journey, Steve Miller Band, & Tower of Power||Farm Bureau LIve in VB|