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Why was the ‘Sound & Light Spectacular’ at the Battleship North Carolina canceled?

Jim Ware
Battleship guns

Guns of the Battleship North Carolina bristle around tourists. (StarNews file photo)

It was on the 50th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day in the summer of 1995 that the plug was pulled on the “Sound & Light Spectacular” show at the Battleship North Carolina Memorial, Assistant Director Roger Miller said.

The occasion was somewhat fitting for the battleship affectionately known as The Showboat and which served in every major campaign in the Pacific during World War II, Miller said.

Here’s how the travel website WelcomeToNC.com described the show:

“One of the world’s most unusual outdoor dramas, a Sound & Light Spectacular entitled ‘The Immortal Showboat,’ is presented during the summer months. The night-time show blends … the spoken word, unique lighting, sound effects, plus visual effects including gunfire and explosions…. The history of the USS North Carolina is told in a 70-minute performance as spectators sit off the ship’s port bow in a 1,200-seat grandstand to view the show.”

Miller said technology and low attendance caught up with the show.

“The show was getting tired, the equipment was getting tired,” he said. “Most people were expecting a laser show.”

Instead, the show featured light banks that illuminated parts of the ship to accompany the narration and sound effects, Miller said.

Audiences for the show continued to decline, dropping to 10,000 to 11,000 per summer for its final years, 1994 and 1995, he said.

Memorial officials looking into what it would take to modernize the show with lasers found that it would cost about $500,000 up front, with annual operating costs exceeding $100,000, Miller said.

“It wasn’t a good business decision,” he said.

Enthusiasm for redoing the show dimmed. Over the years, the light banks and bleachers were removed. Bringing back the show now “isn’t an option,” Miller said.

The Battleship North Carolina was towed to its present location across from downtown Wilmington on the Cape Fear River on Oct. 2, 1961. On April 29, 1962, the decommissioned warship was dedicated as a memorial to the 10,000-plus North Carolinians who served in World War II.

To read more about the battleship, see the Related Links below:

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Terry Blackburn

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2 Responses to “ Why was the ‘Sound & Light Spectacular’ at the Battleship North Carolina canceled?”

  1. On November 21, 2014 at 11:18 am Darryl Smith wrote:

    Mr. Miller couldn’t be more wrong in his opinion and edict that the S&L Show “isn’t an option”. Problem is, doing it all the time is major financial mistake but not doing it on special dates is tragic compounding of that mistake. At least the show could be done on Memorial Day !
    As a kid, I got to enjoy the thrill of the show and I can tell Mr. Rogers; high-tech, modern lasers and such have no place in the story telling of the battleship nor will they ever compare to the firing of the guns. There’s not a kid in the world that would think a laser beam is more impressive than the concussion and cordite cloud I remember…
    Bring the show back !

  2. On November 21, 2014 at 5:11 pm Si Cantwell wrote:

    I enjoyed it also when I was young. I’ll always remember the table filled with cans of mosquito repellent as you filed into the grandstand.

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