Pyrotechnic legends Jim Widmann (Guinness World Record holder for largest aerial fireworks shell and inventor of the W.A.S.P. machine) and Ken Nixon (creator of PyroDigital, the first electronic firing system) chat with Sam and Peter at Western WinterBlast 2023. We also chat with Steve Wilson, a founding member of the Western Pyrotechnics Association (WPA), and Cherry Bombs’ (all-female pyro crew) leader Amber Mayfield and member Connie Widmann.

Enjoy the BoomCast episode video above, listen on Spotify, or read the transcript below.

Podcast Episode Transcript

[Sam] “Hey pyros! Welcome to Boom Cast. In this episode we went to Arizona for the Western Pyrotechnic Association’s Premier Winter event. We are out at Lake Havasu City at Western. A winter blast.” 
[Steve] “We’re at Sarah Park. We moved here in 1995 for winter blast, too. We’re now at winter blast 34.” 
[Sam] “That’s Steve Wilson. One of the WPA founders.” 
[Steve] “I’ve been here, I think, 32 times or something like that.” 
[Sam] “We’ll catch up with Steve in a bit. But like he said, this was the 34th annual winter blast, and the desert was as beautiful as ever. It was my fifth year attending. I got to catch up with a lot of my good friends within the WPA, get my hands dirty, and Peter and I snagged a couple one on one chats with some pyro legends.” 
[Sam] “We’re speaking with Jim Whitman, the man, the myth, the legend. And we’ve got a WASP machine going behind you pasting. What are we pasting here today?” 
[Jim] “It’s a 12 inch triple petal shell made by a couple of volunteers who did a great job. Yeah.” 
[Sam] “Taught by the best teacher ever.” 
[Jim] “Thank you” 
[Sam] “Jim. Well, you did a beautiful job. That’s right. I, along with my friend Clara, got to build a 12 inch shell with Jim Whitman. For those of you unaware, one of Jim’s big accomplishments is inventing the wasp. That’s the big, noisy machine that you hear in the background. Correct me if I’m wrong, it stands for Whitman Automated Shell.” 
[Jim] “Yes, exactly.” 
[Sam] “For shell builders, the WASP is a huge time and labor saver.” 
[Jim] “It’s uses step motors, computer controlled motors that typically it takes 200 commands to do one revolution. So you can very accurately control how they turn. And it spreads the paper evenly around the shell.” 
[Sam] “I can’t imagine how many hours it would normally take without a lost machine.” 
[Jim] “Well, this one is going to take about 12 minutes to do. And before I started using this machine, it took 3 hours and it’s very laborious.” 
[Sam] “The WASP is not his only creation. Thanks to his expert show building skills, Jim is part of a small team of experts who currently hold the Guinness World Record for the largest aerial fireworks shell.” 
[Jim] “The shell was fired in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and we started this process about eight years ago and first in 24s , 36, 48, and eventually did the world record 62in shell.” 
[Sam] “I just so happened to be in Steamboat at that launch and at the attempt the year prior. Here’s a livestream clip of the successful launch that I published to The Spirit of 76 YouTube.

“We could feel the impact of that thing for miles. You could also feel the weight being lifted off of the team’s shoulders at the success that took years to prepare.” 
[Jim] “The team consisted of Tim Borden, Eric Krug and Ed McArthur. Tim Borden was the financial guy. Ed McArthur set the mortar and Eric designed the mortar and I pretty much made the shell. Putting this mortar in the mountain. The side of the mountain was a monumental task. It weighed 13,000 lbs, was 27 feet long and 62 inches in inside diameter. A 62 inch fireworks shell. I mean, it’s hard enough to get a 16 or a 24 inch out of the ground.” 
[Sam] “The final weight of that shell came 2,797lbs and was responsible for pulling that up the mountain and really boring into the rock of the mountain. And that tube still out there, right?” 
[Jim] “Yes.” 
[Sam] “What are you doing with that tube, Jim? What are your plans?” 
[Jim] “Well, my point, unfortunately, that’s somebody else’s concern.” 
[Sam] “That’s Eric Prude’s concern.” 
[Jim] “Well, I think what they’re going to talk about doing was to make some sort of an exhibit so people could climb up the mountain and see where this shell was launched from. Regarding the manufacture of the shell. I had a lot to do with making it, but it definitely was a team effort. Eric was involved quite a bit. Barry Coleman and some of the people from Raasay came up for a weekend and helped make it. So we had a lot of people pitching in to get that done. 
[Sam] “Here Peter asks Jim about the assembly of the Shell.” 
[Peter] “Explain on how that was done. It’s not the traditional format of Hemmings, right? You had to go through side of the shell drill hole and basically crawl inside, right?” 
[Jim] “You know, the construction was just a bigger version of what is traditionally done with even a three or four inch shell. We made some modifications just because of the sheer size and weight of it. Just moving. It was a challenge. Some of the stats are also interesting. The wall thickness was about seven inches thick. Wow. It took, I think, nine days of watching the thing go around and around on a bigger machine than that. The stars inside were bound with a phenolic resin hexagon binding system, which is sort of like an epoxy. So they don’t dry out, they cure. We heated them to a little over 200 degrees and it’s cross-linked. And so they were super strong. My concern was you send this thing up in the air and it pulverizes the contents within and there’s no way to test that. So a lot of these things, you sort of made your best bet and hoped it worked out.” 
[Peter] “Wow. I didn’t realize there was that much like bad hedging in there. Right. You’re thinking about all kinds of dynamics.” 
[Jim] “And one of the things was, was choosing a black powder based composition for the stars because if it does detonate in the gun, you’ve got the chance of going very close to higher order if it’s got perchlorate base stars or something like that.”
[Peter] “Wow. That’s a great point. And, you know, that’s stuff you don’t think about until you’re forced to face it.” 
[Jim] “My biggest fear, you know, you always try to anticipate what could be the worst thing that could go wrong. The worst thing that I could envision was that the shell pops out of the mortar for whatever reason, and we’re a mile and a half up. This ski mountain comes out of it, starts rolling down the hill, gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And at the bottom of that hill, you know, they get bars and all these ski lodges and whatnot. So, yeah, when I went up there, I was very relieved.” 
[Peter] “Oh, man. Yeah. When that shell went off, from the moment it launches to the moment it bursts, how long of a period did that feel like to you that those moments. 
[Jim] “You know, once it got out of the border, I wasn’t too concerned about it. Fusing a shell like I said, it’s the same from a four inch to a giant one. People ask, how many fuzes did you put in it? I put in two, and the reason, the way that is, is let’s say a failure rate is one in a thousand for a single fuse. Yeah, well you put a two in the failure rate now is a thousand times a thousand. So it’s one in a million.” 
[Peter] “That’s very cool. And that was made with a custom built wasp for that challenge.” 
[Jim] “Yeah, I had ten motors on it. And actually that was a concern too, because you build this thing and let’s say I put it together, I make the shell on the machine just for moving it, you start it up and it doesn’t have enough power to turn the mortar, then that would be another colossal problem. But fortunately it worked out.”
[Peter] “And what did you use as a former for the hemis (hemispheres)?” 
[Jim] “A horse ball. And I didn’t know about this either. Horses apparently like to kick balls around. Who knew right? Okay, so it’s a giant inflatable sort of exercise ball.” 
[Peter] “Really? Yeah. For horses?” 
[Jim] Yeah. To play with, and I got it from an equestrian supply company.” 
[Peter] “So you just pasted that and then cut it open, I take it or…” 
[Jim] “Yeah, I created it on that balloon, if you will, the ball. And then the casing was about three inches thick. So you cut a hole in it, you withdraw the ball and there’s the casing and it’s got a patch on it or a portal.” 
[Peter] “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve seen some photos of you like crawling in there and you were gluing the stars to the to the inside.” 
[Jim] “Yeah, right. I’m probably a few brain cells left. Sure. Because we use construction adhesive on that. And, you know, inside a sphere with polyurethane.” 
[Peter] Haha oh, hotbox to yourself to make it a shell. Yes. Oh, awesome. Any any other zany things in the near future?”
[Jim] “Well, I’m always looking to do another big shell. Yeah, the record is done by weight, we can beat it. Yeah. So if you’re so inclined and have the wherewithal, give me a call. And let’s make a record.” 
[Peter] “A cylinder shell. A big cylinder shell” 
[Jim] “Yes. Yeah, that would be tough.” 
[Sam] “So what’s Jim Whitman up to these days? What’s exciting you right now, Jim?”
[Jim] “What’s exciting to me is I’m setting up a facility in Connecticut, which is not the most fireworks friendly state. In fact, it’s one of the least fireworks friendly states. Second, probably to Massachusetts, and California, California’s in there. There hasn’t been a permit issued in 38 years in Connecticut. And I am going to get one. I’ll probably have it in a couple of weeks. And the facility I’ve got is on 138 acres sandpit. So it’s couldn’t be safer, more ideal. And it’s in a town that is very accepting of fireworks.” 
[Sam] “Oh, that’s wonderful. So by the time people hear this, you might already have that permit?” 
[Jim] “And yeah, by the spring, I expect to be producing things. And this is a commercial venture, so we’ll see what comes of it.” 
[Sam] “Awesome. Do you have a name for the business?” 
[Jim] “Connecticut pyrotechnic manufacturer LLC? You know, I’m always tinkering with stuff and to make nice shells, sizing stars is essential. It’s crucial. I made a series of star sorters that sort them by 64th, which is pretty, pretty accurate. So yeah, it’s one of the things that I’m going to employ at my factory. I’m going to be doing very high quality stuff and that will ensure that that happens.” 
[Sam] “Maybe next vacation, we got to go check out this community.” 
[Peter] “I think so. 
[Jim] “Please do”
[Peter] “It sounds like a field trip.” 
[Sam] “When did you catch the fire bug? I’m curious.” 
[Jim] “I can remember getting in trouble in second grade.” 
[Sam] “How did you get in trouble? Firecrackers?” 
[Jim] “Yeah, firecrackers. You know, part of The passion is in Connecticut. Fireworks are illegal. So it was the forbidden fruit. And that probably has a lot to do with my continued fascination with them. Not that it’s forbidden for me any longer. You know what? I’ll tell you one thing I was my favorite day was the 5th of July because I’d go to where the big kids had been shooting fireworks and collect the duds and cobble something out of them. And in a lot of ways I’m doing the exact same thing here since 58 years later.” 
[Sam] “Where can people find the why?” 
[Jim] “My website:, I’ve sold over 728 countries. I think it was one of the interesting stories. I sold them to a Japanese, a very well-known Japanese company. I eventually asked them what they use it for because the Japanese are very finicky about the finish of their shells. As much as I like what my machine does, it doesn’t do it to Japanese standards aesthetically. However, what this gentleman used the machine for was to make insert shells in his 36 inch shells that wouldn’t be seen. So I thought that was kind of neat idea. So yeah, exactly.” 
[Sam] “WASP inventor and world record holder Jim Whitman was not the only pyro legend. We had the opportunity to speak with Winter Blast.” 
[Peter] “So, Ken, funny story. One of the first memories I have of meeting you really is you blowing up my cup of beer with Gavin Dickinson at PGI, I have an afterglow.” 
[Ken] “I’m famous for that.” 
[Sam] “The man Peter is speaking with is none other than Ken Nixon. He’s one of the original innovators who created one of, if not the first digital firing system.” 
[Peter] “These guys had perfect timing. Devon sets it up, and then you just dropped it right in.” 
[Ken] “That’s right. Well, with the earlier water crackers, you know, they floated, so you had to get the timing just perfect.” 
[Peter] “You killed it. I wasn’t even momentarily upset because the timing of it was so good. It was such a beautiful moment. I wish I had it on camera.” 
[Sam] “Like most pyros, Ken likes to have some fun at these events, but his accomplishments are no joke. His system Pirate Digital was instrumental in making it possible to choreograph and shoot what we consider modern pyro musicals. So Ken’s mechanical background started as a kid, along with his fascination with locks.” 
[Peter] “How did you go from a career in fireworks stuff to a locksmith?”
[Ken] “I remember being a little boy, maybe five years old, and I have a little padlock on my pocket and I was like, the little mechanisms inside.” 
[Peter] “Just something. You always like to tinker with them.” 
[Ken] “Yeah, that’s right.” 
[Peter] “So when you were a kid, you were walking around with locks all the time. Were you into fireworks as a kid too, or…?”
[Ken] “Sure.” 
[Peter] “Did you ever think you’d work in the fireworks world or did you want to do something else? What did you…” 
[Ken] “Oh, no, I don’t know. I always had the mechanical stuff. I’m a degree in mechanical engineer. I mean, I grew up in Nebraska, and, you know, we moved to California when I was a teenager, so that became a fireworks and drought.  Yeah, that there’s the unsafe and no fun brand in California. Yeah.” 
[Sam] “Ken talked about getting involved in fireworks through display companies in California in the seventies.” 
[Ken] “Well, originally it was with Dewey holding it, Thunderbolt fireworks out of San Francisco. I mean, he invited me to the Santa Clara Fair. You know, first my first foray with commercial fireworks, shooting a show for the fair. And that’s where I met Bill Page and Dan Heineman and Bill Page to go. They had that facility and we were making fireworks legally and all that and display company. And so how are we going to shoot the fireworks to music? You know? I mean, yeah, you get out there with a fuze and a flare, you can’t even make the finale in at the same time the music does. Right? Right. Impossible.”
[Sam] “So Peter asks him if there was any other e firing at all during that time.” 
[Ken] “It was Mickey’s match down and Disney and Mickey’s match? Yeah, it was called. It was called that Mickey Aronson, you know, developed this little box here. It had an E problem, that was the electronic part that they would program a show and plug in that E from and oh, wow, it would just fire the sequence to this next shot. So I gave him credit as the first electric electrical firing system because it was a digital device. Absolutely.” 
[Sam] “Ken’s being pretty modest here. Over the next few minutes, he gave us the story on how he and his brother developed the first digital firing system, Pyro Digital.” 
[Peter] “So when did you start experimenting with firing system stuff?” 
[Ken] “Well, it was in the seventies. You know, my brother, he’s the electronics guru. I’m a mechanical engineer. So the first firing system used to determine dual tone modulated frequency, the touch tones and your phone pre blew, bleep, bleep, bleep. You know, that gives you 16 cues, but you can cut the frequency in half between the two frequencies and then you can matrix it. So now you get 256 shots. So that was our first firing panel. And but then it became pretty obvious in being able to get the cues to fire at the right time was almost more important than having an electrical firing system.” 
[Peter] “So that was the big thing is getting something to cue automatically.” 
[Ken] “Right so that we that that system would put out the tone pair a bloop to automate the firing panel and then we decided we needed a more elaborate system that built a really super powerful old, really, really fast system with giant capacitors on every circuit can fire 20,000 shots a second. You know how millionth of a second precision. And that was kind of overkill. I mean, I had Gene Evans and somebody else came out. We were considering using that system for the the Statue of Liberty reopening restoration show. What was that, 76 or something like that? But we weren’t really ready for that. But Dan Himmond, he was willing to write some software to do it for the PC. You know, at those days, the you know, you had the sewing machine come back with a floppy disk. You would write software and we built an interface. My brother did an interface box. I mean, we developed the FM3 firing module later on, you know, and in the early nineties I wanted the feel controller, I wanted it all contained in one box with its own batteries because we had to have all these cables and stuff.”
[Peter] “So you had to have a PC onsite?” 
[Ken] “That’s right. Shoot before. So you needed a 110 volt generator. Yeah. And, and you got to rely on up here, you got to rely on Bill Gates that he doesn’t have to go away. You know, that was MS-DOS in those days. Yeah, yeah. Something would crash, you know, and you had all these cables and everything else. And if you forgot this cable and that cable.” 
[Peter] “And PCs aren’t really built to be in the field, right?” 
[Ken] “Let’s put it all in one box for the batteries and everything. And yeah, I developed that whole thing, but I wanted it in the packaging and everything. And then my brother built the circuit boards to do what I wanted and put it inside. And that was the field control that’s still in service today. You know.”
[Sam] “The pyro digital firing system was a monumental development in the fireworks world. Made it possible to shoot elaborate pyro musicals like those seen today.” 
[Peter] “Yeah, it’s an amazing piece of equipment. I mean, it’s incredible that it’s been in use this long and it’s so robust.” 
[Ken] “Right. That’s a that’s a blessing from God, really, that an eight chip, eight bit machine. But that’s all you needed for that job.” 
[Peter] “Yeah. Was longevity part of the design process when you first put it together?” 
[Ken] “The quality, you know, just making and using, you know, glass epoxy, PC boards and yeah, mil-spec components and yeah, that’s why it still lasted. It’s not cheap perhaps. Yeah, you know, I was, I was the target. That was the most expensive system. Nobody’s going to try to build one more expensive. Right, Right.” 
[Peter] “So what, what were some of the early shows that you guys shot with Pirate Digital back in the day.” 
[Ken] “Well, I mean, the first really big thing was, you know, the World’s Fair in Vancouver. And then in 1986, I wrote a spec and proposed it to Austin Fireworks and Paul Austin and he passed it on to his associate, Jack Harvey, in Omaha. That was a love of rich hobbyists. So let’s say you love fireworks. He looked it said, go for it. So they bought the first system in it and it fired the second half of the World’s Fair there. And that was in Vancouver.” 
[Peter] “And at that time, were you able to just buy the system as a standalone unit or did you have to come out and operate it and teach people how to run it?” 
[Ken] “Yeah, they had a PC in the barge and they ran it every night. I went out for the closing show and I was looking at it, you know, Well, wait a minute. You have the orders in there how to order pizzas and stuff, and then you shouldn’t really have that. And they’re firing software. But then, you know, got into it in 1988 with the World’s Fair in Brisbane, Australia. But in the meantime, in 1987, you know, we went to Montreal, the world’s most prestigious fireworks competition. Yeah, yeah, we fired that show. Paul Austin show. I went through the whole script and fine tuned it. Yeah, because he brought with him notes and, and it was an awesome show and it won one the world championship. That’s cool. And so PGI was a few months later in Rochester, North Dakota. And so we did a big show there called Let’s Dreams. People still talk about it, it was just a little too Van Halen song Dreams Little four minute show. No computer fired. Yeah, Dave Pryor came out and he’s Mr. Hollywood. And then you got to have this stuff. So he told me to go down to Thane. Thane Morris was part owner of Boss Films. Was this the biggest film studio in the world? So I flew down to L.A. with the prototype field controller. Everybody in the world is trying to talk to Thane. Go away. I’m talking to him, you know, And he showed. Here’s the optical printers that did Star Wars and here’s the model shop. And I see the Ghostbusters building. And then that’s when they were filming the bud ball, you know, with the little beer bottles they play football and see, Yeah, that’s good. Okay, just leave it here. I’ll buy it. We still have that serial number one. Serial number one. That’s right. It was used in a couple of gigs. Storage was the plant, you know, they found. Oh, look here. We can shoot Van Halen. So the next thing, all these fireworks are cool. Oh, wait a minute. You know, TV is for entertainment. Yeah. Yeah, You should hook it up. All the fireworks and the cables and everything else that goes with it.” 
[Peter] “So you were delivering pyro digitals to the marketplace from the late eighties till mid-nineties before anybody else really started. Right. Was fire one the next one after that?”
[Ken] “Yeah. Fire one started. I went to the PGI maybe in the late eighties or something, they sort of developed it on their own. So they’ve done well. You know, we don’t talk bad about each other.” 
[Peter] “No, no, not at all. It’s just interesting. I mean, it sounds like Pyro Digital was out there for several years before anybody else really caught up. So were you traveling around to a lot of fireworks companies and showing them how it all worked out?”
[Ken] “I did some of that. But, you know, Eric Tucker bought one of the first units and he was working with AMP and he did a theatrical procurement, took it all over the world. And yeah, he showed it off all over the world.” 
[Peter] “So Eric Tucker was your ambassador?” 
[Ken] “That’s right.”  [Peter] “Nice. Your champion. That’s good.” 
[Ken] “Well, Eric Tucker. Yeah, he designs all the Disney shows. Yeah, he’s the guy. He’s the guy. He works with Don Dorsey to do the soundtracks and all that stuff. So I know Eric well, you know, I went to Montreal with him several times. He’s won Montreal more than everybody else. I know. I  mean, yeah, he’s the champ. I think PD’s fired more winning shows than anybody else.” 
[Peter] “Absolutely. Yeah. I used to watch his shows when I was a kid. When I was a teenager, I’d watch k fog, kaboom. Those were so cool. Yeah, Those are like my inspiration. All our musicals when I was a kid. So what? Where’s pie? What’s the state of Pirate Digital now?”
[Ken] “Well, you know, I’m getting older, and, you know, I wanted to get out of that. Yeah, I mean, there aren’t many people that get out of the fireworks business with all their fingers alive. You know, Bjork and Berner that owns IP, innovative pirate technique over and in Germany. Long time friend, long time customer. His son Marcel sent me a new firing module and you know how it is. This is great and I checked it all out. This is really great. So this new move firing module has a lot of advantages. Super job and yeah well we’ll make it for you you sell it and and I said, well, why don’t you buy the company and you sell it package do. And that’s what happened. So there you go.” 
[Peter] “When did that happen?”
[Ken] “That was like I think we finalized at the end of 2017.” 
[Peter] “Okay. So relatively recent, right? Only a few years ago.” 
[Ken] “So they’ve carried the legacy of new equipment, better stuff.” 
[Sam] “And now that Ken’s retired, he can actually hang out and enjoy himself at fireworks events just like WinterBlast. Let’s hop back to our conversation with Steve Wilson, who is the current chairperson of seminars for the WPA. So you have been with the WPA for quite a while. Steve Right. Maybe one of the founding members. Maybe the founding.” 
[Steve] “Yeah. I actually kind of came up with this idea in 1988. We have a lot of great pyros that live out in the western United States, and we were all going to the PGI conventions, which tended to be in the eastern U.S. and we thought, well, gosh, I wish we could do that further West Coast, closer to home. And I and I came back from the convention and thought, well, who could I talk to to kind of throw this idea out at them? And I wrote a bunch of letters to some prominent pyros and got some feedback. And they said, Yeah, let’s try it, you know. So the club was first incorporated in 1990, I think 89 or 90, something like that, and the club has grown considerably. There was a time when I actually knew every member and everybody by name.”
[Sam] “This is a hugely volunteer run organization, and event, right? How many volunteers do you think they have?” 
[Steve] “Gosh, there’s quite a few. I’m guessing it is somewhere between 50 and 100 on our staff.” 
[Sam] “And then how many people come out here just for winter blast pyros every year?”
[Steve] “In terms of the membership participation and so on. I think the average is something like 600 in any other industry. And there’s people that are particularly good at stuff and we’ve had the best of the best here from time to time. We also tend to attract some of them. And one of the nice things about the WPA is we’re not as political. It’s more of a kickback. Enjoy yourself. But, show your stuff kind of event.”
[Sam] “Yeah it is very laid back among the members. It seems like everyone’s just here to see their friends and, you know, see some really good pyro, make some really good pyro and learn.” 
[Steve] “Well, I always look forward to this because for instance, in being in charge of seminars, I get to talk to some of the best pyros in the world. We do a lot of seminars. There’s a lot of great information being exchanged during that time period. But there are social events we have here, our afterglow parties and things that have a parking lot and people get a little bit looser and the secrets start coming out. And when that happens, the art develops and grows.” 
[Sam] “Yeah. And the fun stories, the pyro failures and learning moments and yeah.” 
[Steve] “We’ve had a number of failures here. I was talking to Jim Wooden last night who has the world’s record for the largest shell ever shot, and he had a catastrophic failure here about 20 years ago. But he was telling us last night that, that led to him improving a whole bunch of stuff. And you know, you pick it up and go.” 
[Sam] “Funny enough, I had just asked him about that particular mishap.” 
[Jim] “I forget who said it, but you learn more from mistakes than you do from successes. And I’ve certainly had my share of failures. We’re at the Western winter blast here, and one of the first ones I came to was 25 years ago, I shot my first 24 inch shell well, and it didn’t go, it didn’t get out of the gun. It just blew up and created a hole about the size of a VW bus. And I was devastated. But it was probably one of the best things that happened to me because nobody got hurt. That’s what matters most. And it’s only fireworks. You gotta keep that in the back of your mind. It’s only fireworks. It’s devastating, sure. But it’s not for the long run and you move forward. And subsequent to that, I’ve made, I think, over 80 of them. So I’m feeling a little better about it. But I will say that isn’t the only 24 I’ve blown up. So these things happen.” 
[Sam] “How did you get involved coming out here?” 
[Jim] “Well, I just heard about it.” 
[Sam] “You showed up? Yes. And you’ve been coming for how many? How many years now?” 
[Jim] “I don’t really know for sure. Probably 25. 30, I think. When I did that, 24, it was about my third or fourth year here. So now I don’t come every year, but it’s been about 30 years.” 
[Sam] “Why do you come to winter blast?”
[Jim] “See, friends having done all this for so many years, it’s not so much about the fireworks. Of course, that’s a wonderful side to it. But it’s friends seeing your wonderful friends once or twice or three times a year. And yeah, that’s what I think a lot of us really look forward to.”  
[Sam] “Definitely, really the people here are awesome and it’s such a treat to be able to come out here and to see everyone again.
[Jim] “And I can’t wait to see the shell you’ve made.” 
[Sam] “I can’t see it either. I bet I know that Clara’s half is going to be gorgeous. My heart might go off. We’ll see. But I’m really excited for it. And it was such a treat to get a private lesson from you, Jim. Okay. You’re probably wondering how that opportunity landed in my lap. So Peter and I roll into winter blast on Friday evening. When we got there, I caught up with a bunch of WPA members and organizers. A few of them were helping organize one of the shows for Saturday night by a new pyro group called The Cherry Bombs.”
[Announcer] “Take a bow, ladies. The Cherry Bombs.”
[Sam] “So the cherry bombs are an all female led pyro group led by Amber Mayfield. Come Friday night, when we arrived, tensions were pretty high because they had a lot to do on Saturday before the show. So they were talking and one of them said, Oh, we need another 12 inch fireworks shell for the show tomorrow and we need it to be built by women. So I’m standing there. My friend Clara is next to me, and they turned to us and they were like, Do you want to build that 12 inch shell, that last one that we need in the show? And we were like, Absolutely, yes. Now Clara and I are fairly new to manufacturing, so of course we needed some assistance. They were like, Jim can show you guys how to do that. So we got a private lesson Saturday morning with Jim Whitman. He showed us each how to build a half of that triple pedal shell. So we combined them, we rolled them together using that wash machine, and it only had a few hours right before it was being dropped into a tube and set to launch that evening. And it went off. It went off and it looked great. So later in the weekend, I actually sat down with Jim’s wife.”
“I’m sitting down with Connie Whitman. She’s also very socially involved in the industry. Our sun is going down. It’s going down to sunset here in Lake Havasu. You hear open shooting, going on behind us. And you can see it behind Connie’s head. There’s explosions going on. That’s what I love.” 
[Connie] “You’ll see some amazing fireworks.” 
[Sam] “We get to work on some amazing fireworks shows.” 
[Connie] “We do.” 
[Sam] “You helped the Cherry Bombs this year?” 
[Connie] “I did. I was super excited. My friend Amber Mayfield called me up and said, I want to do a firework show. All ladies. And I was like, That sounds awesome. Let’s do it. And so I worked on the show with her. She did a beautiful job choreographing it.” 
[Sam] “Right before my sit down with Connie, I actually did get to chat with the leader of the cherry bombs group, Amber Mayfield. Amber and her husband Aaron run A&M Pyro, and they also operate out of Missouri just like 76. I asked Amber about this female led project.
“You did something unique this year at Winter Blast, didn’t you?” 
[Amber] “So this year we had an all female pyro group. So anything that was made domestically was made by all female pyros. “
[Sam] “What was the name of the crew” 
[Amber] “Cherry bombs.” 
[Sam] “Cherry bombs. How did you come up with that name?” 
[Amber] “We voted on Facebook.”
[Sam] “I remember I voted for cherry bombs.” 
[Amber] “Did you?” 
[Sam] “I did. Yeah, we had only a little bit to do with the display, but I thought it was so good. The show was spectacular. It’s a five minute display and I uploaded the recording that I got to the Spirit of 76 YouTube channel so you guys can go and watch it. “

“As Amber mentioned, all domestic items in the show were female built. In addition to the 12 inch triple pedal shell that Claire and I made.” 
[Amber] “There were two 10 inch by Ellen Webb, and she had pink champagne on ice and then Sheryl Mathers built a nice 12 inch and Connie Widmann built a triple pedal 12 inch.” 
[Connie] “I got to build a 12 inch shell with my husband, which I hadn’t done. I think it’s been 15 years, maybe longer, since I’ve built a shell. And it was really fun working the show with Amber. I’m often running around doing other things. I don’t get to get in and get my hands dirty and it was great to work the show from the beginning to the end with her, and I did see it all the way through to the end.” 
[Amber] “So the men that were in it at all were just basically we got to tell them what to do for a change. Heavy lifting or just, you know, things that were needed as such. But for the most part, it was all of it, all women.” 
[Connie] “It was so special that it was all done by women and we did have some men around and we decided that it was okay if they got involved because we would be instructing them. We would be telling them what to do.
[Sam] “And there’s so much out there.” 
[Connie] “So when I mean, we help on, you know, male LED shows, so why not the opposite all the time for us to be like in control and the men and they were great, like they really did like, what do you need?” 
[Sam] “And it’s so funny because some guys were like, Oh, now we need an all male pyro group. I’m like, That’s every pyro.” 
[Connie] “Everything is all male. Are you kidding?” 
[Amber] “I’ve always been out there doing noise choreographs and I always work all of their shows or whatever, but I got to choreograph the cherry bomb show, so that was my first one. So that was pretty cool. Oh, my gosh. That was the first of all, that’s my first show that I’ve choreographed using. So the music shoots the show, you know, to a 10th of a second.” 
[Sam] “How long of a setup was that?”
[Amber] “Pretty much from Wednesday to Saturday, it was a little slower going maybe, but we had a lot of fun in the process. 
[Sam] “So are you tired?”
[Amber] “Well, pretty tired. It’s Sunday now, but so everyone’s going home. The adrenaline is leaving.” 
[Sam] “That. That’s right. That’s right. Now it’s just chapped lips and a hangover. Well, congratulations, because it looked incredible. It was absolutely incredible. And everyone says so. It was amazing.”
[Amber] “I’m glad they liked it. I was concerned. I was like, oh, because I don’t I didn’t have a visual. I didn’t get to use the visual software. I only had the old wave file where you have to, you know, I, I say it looks kind of like the heartbeat. Yeah. So that’s how I designed it. I did. I had to put it in my head and envision it that way. Old school. I didn’t get to see what I was doing.” 
[Sam] “That’s old school. Well, at least you had some, like, real. I mean, the incredible fireworks make for an incredible show. So that at least hopefully made it a little easier.”
[Amber] “We got to make our stuff for the show.” 
[Sam] “So how many items did you make back home and how many items did you make here?” 
[Amber] “Everything domestic that was in the show was made at home except for the three. The women that did the three 12s or the two 12s and the two 10s was here on site.”
[Sam] “I hope the cherry bombs have a grand public display.” 
[Connie] “I would love that we’ll work towards that goal.” 
[Sam] “You really can see some amazing things at Western Winter Blast. It’s no wonder Pyros keep coming back. What winter blast is this for you? What number?”
[Connie] “ I have probably been to 10 or 12. I started coming early, like the first or second year we came to winter blast.” 
[Sam] “Well, what do you enjoy about the winter blast? Why do you find out here?” 
[Connie] “We could see all of our friends from the West Coast mostly who, you know, don’t always go to the things that we go to on the East Coast. It’s simply a little bit of a different group of people than some of the other events we go to.” 
[Steve] “And we have a large amateur element here. And when I say amateur, I don’t mean people that are just starting around. I’m playing with stuff. A lot of pyrotechnics. The best pyrotechnics are actually gleaned at the amateur level from people who really study things and put a tremendous amount of time and effort into refining things, getting their chemical things dialed in, playing with paper and sticks and string and paste and all that stuff, and arts and crafts and making things that just aren’t commercially viable.”
[Sam] “And what are the different kinds of, you know, like handmade stuff.” 
[Steve] “Here we have all kinds of things, rockets of every size. We have round shells, cylindrical shells, multi break shells. We have set pieces. Actually, your company, Spirit 76, put on some darn good component firework shows here with that product line. So we get to see new things that happen and that’s really cool. There’s some brilliant things that happen out here.” 
[Connie] “And you know, it’s February and it’s Arizona and hopefully warm not this year, but hopefully warm. So it’s a nice change of pace for the middle of winter. And it’s beautiful outside. It’s beautiful. Just stunning.” 
[Sam] “Why should people come to us for the Winter blast?” 
[Amber] “Oh, because it’s a blast. But it really is a blast. You have to meet lifelong friends. You’re going to learn things. You have seminars. 
[Sam] “So you’ve been coming to winter blast since oh five. Why? Why do you come back? I mean, besides to shoot amazing shows”
[Amber] “it’s beautiful here and I love the people. Everybody’s pretty laid back. They’re accepting of everything. I, I feel like it’s like a a good club. Yeah, a really good club.” 
[Steve] “The WPA has a mission, and that is. And which is very similar to the PGI’s mission, and that is the sharing of information through example. So when you’re watching the shows or any fireworks show, things to pay attention to are how good are the colors, how crisp are the cues, what’s the geometry, How are things linked up with music? Sometimes it’s better to have a little dark sky and some drama than to just be plastering the sky with a bunch of junk. We call it sky trash.”
[Sam] “I call it sky puke.” 
[Steve] “Yes, yes. So there’s a bunch to learn. And so we try to do that and we’ll be back again next year, hopefully with new stuff.
[Sam] “You’ve done a fantastic job, Steve. I think people love coming here to learn. There’s so much that is possible out here and it’s like a mini PGI except like in like this western paradise while love coming out here. So thank you for continuing your work and helping us have a phenomenal event. You can learn more about WinterBlast  and the Western Pyro Association, at , it really is a fantastic event for anyone who loves fireworks and can appreciate a gorgeous desert horizon. I highly recommend checking it out and going and I hope to see you there next year. Well, that’s all I have for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed it, please share boom cash with your friends, your family, your pets, your houseplants, really anyone you can think that might enjoy a listen and look forward to our next episode coming out in a couple of weeks. But until then, please don’t forget to mark your calendars. Our big spring demo is coming April 22nd in Columbia, Missouri. I hope to see all of you out there. for all the details. We’re going to have a full length demo followed by an amazing pyro musical competition between local fireworks groups. You do not want to miss it again, that is for details and to register for free. We just want a head count. So please, I hope to see you out there and thank you again for listening. And till next time Pyros.” 

Drone Robot Shoots Fireballs! Verge Aero, Spirit of 76 talk Viral 2023 PGI Multimedia Display BoomCast: A Fireworks Chat with Spirit of '76

Circulating the internet is a clip of a giant robot head with laser eyes shooting at the earth. In this episode, we chat with some of the talent behind this incredible multimedia drone + pyrotechnics display that took place at PGI 2023 convention in Oshkosh, WI and is a trendsetting moment in the live entertainment industry.
  1. Drone Robot Shoots Fireballs! Verge Aero, Spirit of 76 talk Viral 2023 PGI Multimedia Display
  2. Digital Marketing Tips for Fireworks Retailers
  3. Missouri Fireworks Club Choreography Showdown 2023
  4. Pyro Legends at Western WinterBlast 2023
  5. Meet Italian manufacturer Giuliani Fireworks