How It Works: Fireworks Synched to Radio This 4th of July

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As a kid, I remember watching the 4th of July fireworks every year. It was tradition to listen to the local radio station’s selection of music synced to the fireworks show. If you forgot your boom box, you’d have to settle for the car radio. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to seeing the colored lights explode in the sky in unison with “God Bless the USA.”

Radio has always enhanced the 4th of July Fireworks. It’s an amazing tradition that is still around today and continues to get bigger and better with each year. Have you ever wondered how a show like that is pieced together? I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how Hank FM makes their IPL Downtown Freedom Fest happen in Indianapolis, IN.


It all begins with the music

Selections for the playlist start as early as January. This year, Hank FM is  featuring 30+ songs, each song lasting between 30 seconds to a minute, the entire show lasts roughly 20 minutes. So that’s 20 whole minutes that need to be choreographed to fireworks!

I got the chance to speak with Bob Richards, VP of Programming, who plays a big part of making this all happen. He gave me a sneak peek at the song lineup for this year’s show, and let me tell you, I am beyond excited! Along with 4th of July classics, you can expect to hear a variety of genres. The playlist has a wide array of picks, including hits from Star Wars, Katy Perry, Blake Shelton, and even Aerosmith. That’s quite the mix!

Now, coordinating the firework show to music! But how does that happen?


Choreographing the Show

After the playlist is finalized in mid-March/early April, it gets sent to Zambelli Fireworks, who have been working with Hank FM since 2011 to make the fireworks happen for this event. It’s very important that the playlist does not change after it’s been sent to the company. The fireworks need to line up to the beat perfectly.

Zambelli Fireworks then decide which fireworks work best and choreograph the entire show. Richards said “They’re the experts and they do a fantastic job. They choreograph it all.” With the playlist, Zambelli makes an unannounced beat track, which is used to keep track of when the fireworks are set off the night of the show.


The Day of the Fireworks Show

It takes Zambelli Fireworks between three and four days prior to the 4th of July to get the fireworks on the Regions Bank Tower in downtown Indianapolis and wire everything up. When it’s time for the fireworks display, the technician setting off the fireworks will have on headphones. The radio station playing live music in one ear and the beat track in the other so he can follow along to the music and set off the fireworks at the correct time.

Unlike some fireworks companies who use electronic methods to set off fireworks, Zambelli still does theirs manually. The Technician uses a magnetic wand to touch each specific shell when it’s time to be set off. From the moment the fireworks burst into the sky and “Ooo’s” and “Aaah’s” erupt from the crowd, it truly feels like Independence Day.

So enjoy the long weekend, time with your loved ones and enjoy the classic radio synched fireworks this 4th of July. Remember, we’ve passed the days of needing to only rely on the car radio to enjoy the fireworks show on the radio.