Remembering Cary Harrison; Radio Talent's Parachute Didn't Open
February 16, 2016
The difference between life and death is sometimes the variable of what takes place in a millisecond.
In 1992, what started as a radio bit took a turn toward tragedy when, then 970 WFLA Tampa host Cary Harrison plummeted toward the earth, microphone hooked up, all of the incident being caught live.
A radio guy wasn't the only thing falling from the Tampa sky in those days, as Love Bugs were everywhere. An insect and its mate, locked in constant fornication as they descended gracefully, like a skydiver whose parachute had opened without issue.
My white '88 Ford Festiva had dead Love Bugs all over the front end, and these bugs weren't normal, as their guts ate away the paint on my roller skate with wheels, creating rapid depreciation...or maybe Ford did that when they rolled the car off the assembly line.
More Rampant Than HSV
Love Bugs were a constant topic on radio airwaves throughout Tampa Bay, with talent up and down the dial working the WHAT into their daily commentary, the overpopulation, but NONE fitting in the WHY?
That was, until, one Saturday night, when Cary Harrison's alter ego, 'Harry Dangler,' graced what was his normal weekend timeslot with a variety show on WFLA, that used news as its base, but humor as its launching pad; NewsGrenades.
Truth be told, Cary's platform was before its time, as decades later, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report would use this model as a viable source of information relay.
"There is a nursery rhyme about an old lady who swallowed a fly, and then, many other delectable animals, one right after the other, and with each, perfectly logical reasoning for her consumption," Cary, as his alter ego, Dangler said, as he began to succinctly put the WHY, into play.
If you knew the nursery rhyme, you were ahead of him, as he began to recant the order of the woman's gluttonous insectivore and carnivore behaviors.
"She swallowed the dog to catch the cat, the cat to catch the bird, the bird to catch the spider, the spider to catch the fly -- I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die!" he said, "But if I were a betting man, my money is on her living."
"NOW, had it been a Love Bug and its mate she swallowed, she's dead already."
And then Dangler gave me the WHY, and while Cary Harrison may not have believed all of what Dangler was saying, Dangler believed every word.
Andy Kaufman And Tony Clifton Were One
Yes, Dangler and Harrison were one and the same. But when Dangler was on the mic, Harrison stood a couple paces behind, similar to the characters in Sybil or The Minds Of Billy Milligan.
Dangler explained that in a lab at the University of Florida, scientists cross-engineered species to create one that could rid us of two increasing problems in Tampa Bay -- algae and mosquitos.
And they succeeded when they created a new form of insect that had been around Central America already, the Plecia Nearctica, which I can type but can't pronounce. Dangler had no problem with the name.
So, the University bred the bugs, tested their appetites and upon success deployed them into the market place, and soon the algae decreased and with that, the mosquitos, and all was good in Tampa Bay...until...
Let My People Go
These Love Bugs began to grow in numbers, like something out of the Egyptian plagues, and long before Cary Harrison's attempt to jump from a plane, the rest of us in Tampa were thinking, 'The End was near.'
But Dangler made it simple to digest., when he pointed the finger at scientists for overzealously populating the market to later find out that there should have been other tests.
Before Tampa and their neighboring cities were to erect a statue of a Love Bug in their town squares, like Philadelphia did with Sylvester Stallone, they might have wanted to test to see which bugs or animals would eat Love Bugs.
Had the old lady who swallowed that fly, first swallowed a mosquito, or had algae growing on the bridge of her denture, it might have made sense that a Love Bug and its mate was next, but even she didn't have an appetite for it.
Like Putting Your Tongue To A 9 Volt
Truth is, because of the Love Bug's acidic metallic genetic makeup, nothing does, and that's why my Ford Festiva is more likely to be forever enthroned in a statue on 4th street in St. Pete than the Plecia Nearctica ever would.
Dangler was the first person I heard discuss this UF lab theory, but once he did, it spread like the Love Bug itself and even today if you Google Love Bug and Tampa, Dangler's version of the story is footnoted in the annals of Love Bug history, and if his life were to end tragically, well, at least Cary Harrison would be known for something.
My father always said, "Bad things can happen to a man who tempts fate."
Cary Harrison didn't know my father, but those words would ring truer to him than they did to me, as Cary thought logically, "They do these jumps everyday, what could possible go wrong?"
When you're free falling from the sky, the time from jump to parachute is short, but when the chute doesn't open, as was the case with Cary, the timing between life and death decreases its window.
Eulogies Are Overrated
When Cary's body landed at the sky diving facility, tethered to the body of one of their instructors, it was noted that his incident was the closest call in the state of Florida that didn't end in death. With no time to spare, and all failed attempts to trigger the chute, with very little ground left, it opened.
In August of '92, after the winds of Hurricane Andrew wreaked havoc in Homestead, and crossed the state into Tampa, it spun off mass tornadoes, flooding and power outages, leaving the area paralyzed, but, more so, leaving them dependent on 970 WFLA. To me, I was about to learn the most important thing about Cary Harrison.
Cary handled the pre-storm, then the late night when the storms raged the most, but then, when the next shift began, nobody came to relieve him, so Cary kept on, with non-stop, in-depth reporting, which highlighted Cary's knowledge of the area, and also his ability to stay calm when nobody else was. Two more shifts had passed without relief and Cary never wavered on-air, he never sounded tired, he just kept on.
I remember Peter Jennings during 9/11 and I remember Cary during Hurricane Andrew.
What Comes Down Can Go Back Up
So, when Tampa's 98 Rock came calling Cary to bring his NewsGrenades to AM Drive as 'Reality Checks,' ratings weren't the only thing that launched into the stratosphere. Soon thereafter, CBS Radio created a home for Harrison in Chicago at WMAQ, who showcased his goods four times a day, and before long, "Reality Checks" was syndicated on 170 stations.
Today, Cary is one of the most trusted, respected and utilized sources for red carpet stories and interviews at Hollywood events and award shows. He is presently the host of Celebrated on the Reelz Network, tracking America's biggest stars from humble beginnings to superstardom.
This past Halloween, Cary hosted Howard Stern, Robin Quivers, Dr. Drew, Adam Carolla and others for Howard Stern Presents: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, which aired nonstop on Howard 101 on SiriusXM.
While Cary hasn't given up airplanes altogether, it is highly unlikely, he'll ever jump from one again. At press time, we are happy to report Cary Harrison is alive and well.
Harry Dangler, while not as vocal these days, spends his time fighting for the rights of the GMO'd skeeters in Florida. He says if you won't believe him, at least Google it.