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Computerized Fireworks

PLASKON: Last year the skies over the strip were uncommonly quiet for new years eve with airspace closed amid heightened security. This year, officials hope to send a B1 bomber right down the strip merely seconds before midnight.

SOUND: B-1 Bomber

PLASKON: That will trigger this Clint Holme song blasted from trucks with speakers below.


PLASKON: The song's timed to fireworks including a never before seen kind of countdown. Hundreds of explosives will be shot into the sky and at precise moments they will explode taking the shape of numbers for every one to see and count along in unison. It was demonstrated on a video screen at a press conference this week.

SOUND: Up and Under

GRUCCI: We will do a quick countdown to our practice new years. 10, 9, 8 . . . Bang!

PLASKON: It looks like primitive digital clock, seconds combusting in the sky. Fireworks by Grucci trademarked and developed what's called the Rumble Digit. Company president Phil Grucci says it's made possible by the recent addition of computer chips to fire-works.

GRUCCI: Without that it would be the push of a button and you wouldn't get that 100'th of a second timing tolerance that you need in order to place a shell 150 feet in the sky and another one 165 feet in the sky, that is what the added strength of the computer systems do to us.

PLASKON: Not only are there computer chips in the fireworks, they are virtually connected. The count-down will be fired simultaneously from 5 rooftops. Getting the timing right at each one means that computers are networked to speak to one another.

GRUCCI: Fireworks have changed tremendously.

PLASKON: The 10-digit countdown alone will take 500 fireworks. Grucci says recent advancements allow new hues of explosions like Magentas and Tangerines and what the company calls a Centennial Diamond Chip Shell. During the eight minute show Grucci will fire 5-thousand fireworks, among them 100 of these Chip Shells. He says they commemorate Las Vega's 100th birthday.

GRUCCI: The wedges of white and gold are the original minerals that we have that were discovered in the Las Vegas community and the 6 wedges also represent the original 6 licenses that were given for gaming in this community also. And then we surrounded those six wedges with ten 1 karat diamond pyrotechnic bursts a centennial celebration for those of us that make our 100 wedding anniversary is a 10 karat ring, so we have surrounded this with 10 fire bursts."

PLASKON: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority spends a half million dollars on the 10-minute new year's display - 10 times more than most other cities like Times Square in New York according to Grucci, who's produced that new year's celebration. But this year, Las Vegas is firing another 100-thousand into the project. Chip Shells, lasers and Rumble Digits wouldn't be possible without the extra money according to Grucci. The extra money comes from 3.5 million dollars earmarked for historic preservation and Las Vegas' 100-th birthday. Louise Helton is a member of the Centennial Celebration Committee that oversees the funds.

HELTON: So if it takes spending some of those dollars on a fire works show that will make someone more excited or more open to the possibility of learning about the centennial that is a worth wile investment.

PLASKON: Among revenue the Centennial Committee has collected is 80-thousand from small contracts and a couple of hundred thousand from Clear Channel Communications. Centennial celebration organizers are still confident the company will follow through on a contract to deliver 1-point-9 million dollars in sponsorships during national media coverage. But so far most of the money for the centennial committee has come from the sale of black and white license plates with a picture of the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. They were approved by the legislature in 2001 after a lot of questions says Helton.

HELTON: They kept on wanting to know exactly what we would spend the money on.

COFFIN: What we had in mind was historic preservation, not fireworks.

PLASKON: State Senator Bob Coffin led the charge to get the plate sales approved in the Legislature. It has since become the most successful plate in Nevada history, raising more than a million dollars. The revenues from the plates aren't being spent on fireworks. The Centennial committee of 70-some Las Vegans has used the money to fund 28 historical markers. Also to restart the Hell Dorado - a parade dating back to the 1930's organized as an anything goes festival meant to retain residents in the desert city when it was shrinking after the building of the Hoover Dam. At one time it out ranked the Parade of Roses says Stacy Allsbrook Executive Director of the Las Vegas Centennial Celebration.

ALLSBROOK: It was an event that was technically our birthday every year.

PLASKON: License plate money is also being used to fund school curriculum and stipends for 100 public artworks. A small contingent of Las Vegans also benefits, ones who have been here more than 30 years, aptly dubbed the Old Timers Union. The new years fireworks to kick off this love affair with Las Vegas history are paid for by a Clear Channel Communications merchandising subsidiary. Following the success of the commemorative license-plates, Clear Channel is so confident in the marketability of the Las Vegas brand, its fronted a half million dollars for the right to hawk it. The money's a fraction of what Clear Channel expects to earn selling Las Vegas centennial products like t-shirts. That memorabilia will be available in two weeks.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9, KNPR

TAG: And a note, Nevada Public Radio is a recipient of Las Vegas Centennial Celebration funding.