Dori remembers ‘Balloon Boy’ coverage on hoax’s 10th anniversary
There are moments you will never forget watching on TV: Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon, the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics … and, exactly 10 years ago, the day we all met “Balloon Boy.”
It may feel like just yesterday that a UFO-shaped, helium-filled balloon captivated viewers across America as it floated rapidly over the steppe of Northern Colorado. At that point, it was believed that a 6-year-old boy named Falcon Heene was flying inside it and was very much in danger, having climbed into the experimental balloon that his parents had made in their Fort Collins backyard.
Dori remembered the event unfolding during his show, as he and legendary KIRO Radio anchor Tony Miner narrated every move the balloon made.
“This is one of those stories that will never leave you — I remember this vividly, that day was just insane, it was crazy,” Miner said. “Number-one, that balloon looked kind of like a UFO.”
The event could not have been timed better for exciting radio — it all happened while Dori was on the air. No one knew whether the balloon would stay in the air for hours or days, or whether its landing would be soft or tumultuous.
“We didn’t know if this kid was going to go way up in the atmosphere or not, or was he going to come crashing down to Earth?” Miner said. “It was nuts, we were doing a blow-by-blow until the thing ended.”
The balloon traveled from Larimer County to neighboring Weld County before finally landing.
“We thought, ‘Oh my God, is the kid okay, what’s going on, was he able to breathe up there, was he hurt?'” Miner recalled. “And they look all through the balloon, and guess what? The kid isn’t there.”
As it turned out, Falcon Heene, soon dubbed “Balloon Boy” by the media, was not in the balloon at all, but was hiding in the attic. He soon let slip on live TV that his family “did this for the show.”
The entire story unraveled, revealing itself to be a fame-seeking hoax set up by his parents, who had been on reality TV before. They later served jail time for their crimes.
“They deserved it, because, talk about loser parents,” Miner said. “To not only do something like this, but to drag your kid into it — I mean, come on.”
Falcon and his two older brothers later formed a metal band and released a song (warning: mature content) about the experience titled, “Balloon Boy No Hoax.”
What differentiated KIRO Radio from most other news shows in the country, however, was that Dori and Miner both predicted when the balloon was still aloft that Falcon was not inside.
“I truly think we were the first media outlet in the country to say, not definitively but almost with certainty, that there’s no way the kid was in the balloon,” Dori said.
A listener had emailed in his calculations, taking into account the weight of the boy and the lift of helium. He concluded that it was impossible for the balloon to lift Falcon Heene.
“He sent us the formulas of how big the balloon would’ve had to have been,” Dori remembered.”And the guy was so awesome with his calculations that I think an hour before the balloon came down, we were saying, ‘There’s no way he is in the balloon.”
Miner agreed, calling their reporting “cutting-edge.”
“I’m not surprised that we knew that way ahead of time — we beat the national media on a daily basis,” he laughed.
The bizarre tale was a memorable one during Miner’s last few years of radio. In 2013, after a KIRO Radio career that won him a whole collection of Edward R. Murrow awards — including the naming of his Big Story at 6 as Best Newscast in America — he retired.
Instead of the daily commute from his home in La Conner to Seattle, he now spends his time creating a travel podcast titled, “Exploring the Northwest” and playing with his grandchildren.
“Hard to believe it’s been six years, but life is good, I’m super busy, I’m involved in the maritime industry with a couple things that I’m doing,” he said. “Not having to drive to Seattle every day is really good.”
Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.