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Newscaster's memoir boosted by his whale of a story.

Byline: Paul Denison The Register-Guard

The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News

By Paul Linnman (WestWinds Press, 224 pages, $16.95)

Paul Linnman, a "market specific" Oregon television journalist, had his 15 minutes of nationwide fame. To his delight, and his chagrin, it has lasted more than three decades.

In 1970, a Portland station sent Linnman and cameraman Doug Brazil to Florence to cover the event that gave this book its title: the state highway division's attempt to demolish a dead whale with dynamite.

Still learning his trade, Linnman incorrectly identified the whale as gray instead of sperm and failed to interview excited onlookers before the blast. Then he and Brazil ran for their lives in a downpour of blood and blubber when the highway engineers pushed the plunger. They even went back to Portland without their main canister of film, left behind in a borrowed car.

But their story made it onto the air and was picked up by the national network. It has fascinated and amused people since, a bit of urban folklore that happened to be true.

Syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry, who first wrote about it in 1990, later explained to Linnman why he considered the exploding whale film the single funniest thing he's ever seen.

`` `Hey, Paul,' he shouted, as if trying to get my attention. `It was a whale! There's just something about blowing up a whale. It's just an odd decision to make, and in the end, it's sort of wonderfully harmless. Nothing really terrible happened at anyone's expense.' ''

In this memoir, Linnman tells all you'd ever want to know about that strange event and its long afterlife, and a little more than you'd want to know about his early days in TV news. But starting with the sixth chapter, "And Now Some Other Amazing Mammals," Linnman also shares the kind of human interest stories in which he has long specialized, about ``ordinary people doing extraordinary things.''

He starts with Ron Post, the businessman who started Northwest Medical Teams. Linnman says "this guy who was propelled from his easy chair by the evening news" is the single most important individual he has ever covered.

"Because of him," Linnman writes, "none of us can look at the seemingly unsolvable problems in our world, from starvation to war, and say, `Hey, I'm just one person - there's nothing I can do.' ''

Among the more interesting profiles are two guys named Arthur: Art Pease, who went to Portland to run in a five-mile event and ended up running a full marathon by mistake, and Arthur Lee Wilson, an outstanding minor league infielder and batting champ who played with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League and "made it to the big show for a cup of coffee - 19 games with the New York Giants," at the age of 31.

Alternating such stories with his exploding whale narrative, Linnman pulls us along through a career memoir that otherwise might not draw much attention, sharing his heart-warming stories about people whose lives have had more impact than a whale that fell from the sky.

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Paul Linnman broadcasts near the dead whale on the beach near Florence in 1970.
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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 18, 2004
Words:537
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