Not a Flippin’ Good Idea

On paper, I’m sure members of the Seafair Committee thought this would be a brilliant way to call attention to Seattle’s long-standing summer celebration.  I can hear it in the brainstorm meeting:  “We’ll have celebrity racers, get into aluminum boats with motors and have them do their own version of the hydro races!  Brilliant!”

So, when KOMO Radio’s Larry Nelson was asked if he wanted to participate, he said he would, as long as his partner was his faithful producer, Tim Hunter.

It was a gray, overcast Seattle summer Sunday (Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!).  The rules were simple.  One celebrity in the boat, the other at a start line.  A start gun would fire, I would run down, push the boat into the water, hop in and Larry would man the motor.  We had a simple course–just out and around a couple of buoys and back.

In the first heat, we smoked the competition.  I pushed Larry and the boat out, hopped in and Larry cranked that little as we flew across Lake Washington and back to the finish line.

That amazing performance put us in the finals and we could smell victory.  I wondered if we had impressed hydroplane racing legend Bill Muncey with our performance.  No matter.  It was time to really dig deep, to show our stuff, to show the small gathered crowd who the real champions were.

Everyone was set.  I stood at the start line, Larry was in the boat, the gun sounded and the championship heat was underway.  In my eagerness to win, I pushed the boat out hard and just did a backflop in the boat so I could get in quickly and Larry could give it the gas.  Unfortunately, my plan wasn’t perfect, because as I flopped in, the boat tilted; the boat tilted, Larry lost his balance.  The only thing he was holding on to was the throttle, which he cranked as we tilted. That sent it directly into a collision course with KOMO TV’s Ruth Walsh and Harry Sloan.

You can see my foot sticking out!

You can see my foot sticking out!

I don’t remember much about it, because it happened so fast.  There was the clunking of aluminum colliding, the rev of the motors and then silence.  As I looked around, I found myself in water, underneath an overturned boat.  I had air to breathe, and knowing that there were spinning props out there somewhere, I was in no hurry to poke my head out.

Of course, by that time, everyone else had come up and was walking to shore when they realized I was nowhere to be seen.  After a couple of minutes where I was relieved but the crowd panicked, I left the safety of the boat and came up to see the others.  We walked to shore to the applause of the crowd, soaking wet and not really fully realizing yet what exactly had happened.

If you're wondering why they didn't do this again, blame us!

If you’re wondering why they didn’t do this again, blame us!

I believe it was a guy named Dennis Law who took these pictures and mailed them to us.  Larry’s widow, Gina, came across them the other day and thought I might enjoy having them.  Thanks, Gina!  Amazingly, not a single person was injured in that mishap.  It was the first and only year Seafair did that event and I can say I was there.  Better yet, I can say, “I survived it!”

Tim Hunter

October 16th

Probably one of the most significant dates on the calendar for me.
Sure, it’s my nephew Matthew’s birthday. This year, it falls on a Friday and those are always good days.
But the particular October 16th that resulted in making that date significant for me actually occurred a couple of decades before I was born.
It was October 16th, 1937, when Larry Bryan Nelson entered the world. Our paths crossed for almost five years in the early 80s: Larry at the peak of his radio career, me, in the “just starting out of the gate” days.
For four and half years, we had amazing times in the world of radio and as friends. Some day, I’ll go into as much detail as I can remember. The increasingly smaller circle of friends I met through him still reflect on this date on one great guy. Not perfect, none of us were. But his command of communication, of taking a fun moment and becoming the biggest kid in the room, of being able to play the corporate game to the tee…I was proud to call him a friend. Although, I like to tease him by saying that he was always like a great-great-great grandfather to me.
When I think of how many different paths our two lives could have taken, I have to realize that we were destined to have become friends.
He could have easily gotten into his dad’s trucking business or followed the path he was on to join the police. He could have hit the big time with his Doowop group, “The Shades”.
The morning guy who got drunk on the air and was fired could have stayed sober that morning…but he didn’t…and Larry found himself thrust into doing mornings for KOMO radio.
Larry had the pipes for radio, but he had the heart for so much more. Seattle was lucky to have him haunting the airwaves for all those years, with Katherine Wise (“The Happy Cooker”), The Teds doing traffic (Garlatz Sr. and Jr. and Potter) and a long list of characters, reporters and personalities.
I was fortunate enough to have been a part of that stretch of Seattle radio history and for that, I will always be greatful to Lar.
Happy Birthday Larry.

Tim HunterLarry Nelson