Air & Water Show announcer shows he's true blue
Every year in August, millions of Chicagoans, suburbanites and tourists flock to North Avenue Beach for the Chicago Air & Water Show.
Herb Hunter is one of the them, but he has a job to do. For the past 25 years, he's been the voice of the show — the man who narrates the dazzling aerial feats above the lakefront.
Chicago Air & Water Show
Where: North Avenue Beach, Chicago
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18 and 19
Parking: Public transportation recommended, but there will be parking at Millennium Garages at 5 S. Columbus Drive, Grant Park North Garage at 25 N. Michigan Ave. and Grant Park South Garage at 325 S. Michigan Ave.
This weekend's show marks a quarter century at the mic, and Hunter says he'll remain there as long as organizers will have him.
The 62-year-old Indiana native came by his love of flight when he was young, though a college education and a career in the skies seemed a long shot when he was growing up in a poor family where a job after high school was expected.
"I always wanted to be a pilot," Hunter said. "Aviation was born into me."
He worked toward his dream and eventually flew for United Airlines. However, after being laid off, he decided to work as a flyer for the Air & Water Show in 1979 and 1980 as a way to make a quick buck.
He moved to the platform, but his ascent to announcer was an accident.
Hunter was introducing a military act and couldn't find the broadcaster. He had to keep stretching out his words, ending up narrating the entire flight. Little did he know that counted as his audition for the job; two years later he was made the announcer.
"I love every second of (flying)," Hunter said. "I dreamed of seeing the world. Now at 62, it's just a job, but announcing will never be a just a job."
Over the years, the show has changed, and Hunter has seen his share of acts come and go.
Among those to go was the lifeguard competition, in which the guards would race each other in boats. They dropped the act because of location changes and dangerous waters.
Hunter's personal favorites were always the smoke-and-noise propeller planes, such as the T-6 Texan. He especially enjoyed wing-walking acts like Dave Dacy, who will be flying in this year's show.
"All the big stars want to come to the city, so we have the best of the best," Hunter said. "The size, site and heart are what make (the show) different."
This year's headliners will include the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Army Parachute Team The Golden Knights and the Navy Parachute Team The Leap frogs. Civilian aircraft performers are the returning Aeroshell Aerobatics Team and the Lima Lima Flight Crew.
Hunter's favorite viewing spot is right on the beach, but if you can't get to the prime seating, the show will be broadcast on WBBM 780-AM and 105.9-FM.
Like Hunter, the Air & Water show had humble beginnings. It was started in 1959 as a way to entertain children in the Chicago Park District's day camp. The first show featured an air-sea rescue demonstration, water skiing, a water ballet, games and diving. The original budget? $88.
Now, the show is a city tradition — a massive event that draws more than 2 million people over two days.
"(The show) makes a difference," Hunter said. "A young kid sees (the show) and says, 'Well, maybe I can do it too.'"
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