PORTLAND, Ore. – It's the story and video many people just can't get enough of – the famous exploding whale on the Oregon coast. But did you know the story almost didn't make air?
On Nov. 12, 1970, a dead whale was blown to pieces on a beach in Florence, Ore. The story made Paul Linnman, a young journalist for KATU News, a part of history.
"I had a columnist ask me this week if the exploding whale didn't define my career," Linnman said. "I hope not."
When asked why he thinks the story has resonated with people over the years, Linnman simply said "it's just so doggone weird."
Today, Linnman (pictured at right) is a radio host at 1190 KEX but back then he was 23 years old and just beginning to build his reputation as a hard-hitting journalist.
"I was getting good assignments and so when they asked me to go to Florence to cover the disposal of a whale, I went 'Whoa, wait a minute – I'm boy wonder here. I do bigger stories. Send somebody else,'" he said. "Then they said they were going to use dynamite and I said 'OK, let's go.'"
The plan was to explode the whale into tiny pieces that seagulls would eat. But as Linnman and former KATU Photojournalist Doug Brazil found out, the pieces were not exactly bite-sized. The two had to run to escape the flying blubber. It was so big that some of it flattened a car.
"It came down as this oil rain on your jacket," Brazil said. "It was horrible,
and the smell – it was just sickening."
Linnman said he "can still conjure it up 40 years later. If I think about it, I can still smell that smell."
However, that wasn't the worst part of their day.
"We almost didn't get it on air," Linnman said. "It was late at night, we were unloading the gear from the news car and realized the main piece of film was not there."
"We both thought the other one had picked up the film and, son of a gun, it got left in the trunk," said Brazil (pictured at right). You see, the two had flown to Florence in a plane and borrowed a car when they got there. Then they had flown back and accidentally left the film in the car.
With the incredible piece of film missing, the two had a boss who was not at all pleased.
"He said 'Gentlemen, I don't know [or] care how you do this," Linnman said. "I'm not going to rent you another plane but that film will be on Channel 2 tomorrow."
So how did they get it back? The son of the car's owner happened to be heading to Portland and they convinced him to make the drive in the middle of the night.
And the rest is history.
Former KATU Photojournalist Doug Brazil on AM Northwest: