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Media Life: Auburn forecast is now sunny with a chance of pumpkin

From a kernel of an idea on KAHI's "Afternoon Report" to the Halloween Eve "Great Pumpkin Drop," fledgling Old Town Auburn event was an adventure
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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“Sploomph” That was the sound when Auburn’s Great Pumpkin hit the pavement on Halloween Eve. Behind the thrill of watching a 1,149-pound, round mound of orange plummet to the ground was a ton of drama that most of the crowd numbering 700 or so wasn’t aware of as they whooped and hollered in the sheer enormity of the moment. What started out as a kernel of an idea on Dave Rosenthal’s “Afternoon Report” mushroomed into a semi-grandiose vision that along the way to Friday’s drop, was very near to being squashed by legal concerns. In fact, Rosenthal ended up stuck at KAHI while the Great Pumpkin Drop hoopla was taking place because the station’s insurance provider threatened to cut off all its coverage if the Voice of the Foothills went ahead with the planned remote broadcast. Rosenthal had bought into my initial idea Oct. 9 of a candy-filled 200- or 300-pound pumpkin dropped off the roof of the State Theater. It was a perfect fit with the Friday afternoon safe trick-or-treat event on Oct. 30 (and just so happened to dovetail into my weekly 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday guest stint on his show). ROSENTHAL TAKES CHARGE The idea of the Auburn drop was inspired in part by my daughter, Hilary’s enthusiasm for the one they hold every year at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a student there and they have pumpkins laden with candy flying off a six-story building on campus. They also have an oatmeal fight, something I don’t think Auburn is quite ready for yet. Rosenthal’s showman’s instincts and fertile imagination took hold and he ran with what was still a kernel of a concept. Rosenthal was dreaming big. Really big. He started out thinking the pumpkin could be dropped from a helicopter hovering hundreds of feet above Old Town. With a window to organize the drop of only three weeks, though, the chopper vision evolved into plans for a crane to hoist and drop the giant pumpkin. Steve Drew of Auburn Crane was more than happy to be part of the fun. What was now being called “It’s The Great Pumpkin Drop, Charlie Brown” really took on ginormous proportions the day of the Auburn Community Festival when Rosenthal was able to convince champion grower Randy Warren into volunteering his record-setting 1,149-pound pumpkin. By this time, KAHI general sales manager Mike Remy had secured a buy-in from the Old Town Business Association to drop what was initially thought to be a 200-pound pumpkin near the center of the business district. With strong support from business owners like Ty Rowe, of Bootleggers Restaurant, the drop idea gained momentum. “GIGANTOR” RULES Quickly dubbed “Gigantor,” Warren’s prize pumpkin was put in cold storage to await the drop and some final niceties like getting a street closure permit from the city of Auburn were worked out. Then things got a little rocky along the road to pumpkin-destruction nirvana. Fears were expressed from several potential participants that “Gigantor” would crash through the street in Old Town. Or send giant chunks of the bright orange gourd flying into plate glass windows. Or careen out of control into a costumed gaggle of pre-schoolers. An ultra-secret test run with a 400-pound pumpkin the day before the drop did nothing to dispel qualms from the city of Auburn and some Old Town merchants that bad things were going to happen. The gourd hit the ground with a tremendous explosion, sending pumpkin shards a hundred feet in all directions. Adding to the jitters, the owners of Sacramento radio station 107.9 The End had just been socked with a $16 million judgment in a suit filed by the family of the woman who had died in the infamous “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” stunt. Needless to say, as the pumpkin drop approached last Friday, with as many as 1,000 adults and children looking on, organizers were taking every precaution. DROP A SUCCESS And Rosenthal was on the outside looking in. As he put it to me minutes before we were about to go on the air that afternoon, the station’s insurers gave them “16 million reasons why we couldn’t take part.” The drop zone was moved to a more secure area along Lincoln Way. Echo Valley Ranch provided straw bales to create a bunker to contain flying pumpkin pieces. Spectators were kept well away for both the first drop – a 250-pounder grown by Randy and Cheryl Maki that was packed with candy – and the second one involving Gigantor. Happily, both drops were successful, with hundreds of children – and adults – witnessing a “sploomph” they’ll remember for the right reasons for the rest of their lives. They just might have been witness to the start of something that could really become a tradition in this community, bringing people together for some low-cost fun, thrills and lasting memories. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or 530-852-0232.