The Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Parade, an annual fixture since silent film star Francis X. Bushman led a meager line of antique cars through the city's streets in 1959, makes its commercial television debut Saturday.
The city has allocated $155,000 to televise the community-sponsored event via KHJ-TV (Channel 9) in Los Angeles. According to Garden Grove officials, the object is to polish the city's image and attract new business.
"We felt like having a broader approach to presenting the positive aspects of the city," explained Kathy Roth, a Garden Grove senior administrative assistant. To make sure viewers get the point, the city has commissioned a series of 30- and 60-second promotional messages about Garden Grove to be interspersed with the parade coverage.
"It's a very positive, upbeat approach to the city," Roth said of the commercials, which total six minutes. "We're focusing on the community and the people--their activities, cultural events, business and industrial developments."
Garden Grove is not the first Orange County city to use a parade as a public relations vehicle. For the last two years, Santa Ana has spent city funds to televise Toys on Parade, a December Christmas-themed event that features huge helium-filled character balloons like those in New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"They (Garden Grove officials) saw the Santa Ana parade and said, 'Hey, why don't we do something like this,' " said Candy Kay of Baker/Winokur, the Beverly Hills public relations company that handles the Strawberry Festival and Toys on Parade. In addition to handling publicity for the Garden Grove event, Kay assembled the parade's celebrity lineup and is serving as supervising producer for the television broadcast.
The money Garden Grove is spending for the parade broadcast includes a flat fee for the 1 1/2 hours of air time, production costs associated with televising the event, the cost of producing the city's promotional spots, Baker/Winokur's fee and payments to on-air talent, including parade co-hosts Meredith MacRae and Eric Boardman.
In February, the city allocated $155,000 to cover the costs of televising the parade, but the total spent may be less. "That was the very high end of the quote that we did get, so more than likely it won't come in that high," Roth said. No commercial time will be sold during the broadcast, and the parade will not be seen outside the region. "It's very difficult to syndicate on a first-time event," explained Kay.
Unlike Toys on Parade, which was inaugurated in 1984, the Strawberry Festival and attendant parade have a long and sometimes colorful history. In 1968, presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy made a campaign stop at the parade, two days before he was assassinated in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel. From 1968 to 1971, the festival was marred by violent clashes between youths and police, which led to a shortened festival (from five days to four) and a ban on rock music. And in 1983, the parade made local headlines when an unchartered drill team made up of youths from Garden Grove's Buena Clinton barrio was barred from participating.
The festival was started in 1958 in honor of what was Garden Grove's most famous crop. The city made its name in the strawberry business by taking advantage of its climate with an earlier planting and harvesting time than other producing areas. Garden Grove's strawberries hit the market first, and the city earned the moniker "Strawberry Capital of the West."
The strawberry fields have dwindled to 78 acres, but the festival has managed to maintain and even expand its popularity--yearly attendance is reported to be between 200,000 and 300,000. Although the city is paying for televising the parade, the festival is organized by an independent group, the nonprofit Strawberry Festival Assn. The festival raises about $120,000 every year for community groups and projects.
This year's festival opens today with carnival games and rides, an arts and crafts show, 30 food and games booths and more than 100 exhibits. In an annual tradition, a strawberry shortcake billed as the world's largest will be sliced and served to the first 4,000 guests Friday night. The festival schedule also includes live entertainment.
The 150-unit parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and will conclude at noon. According to Larry Shaffer, president of the Strawberry Festival Assn., the parade used to run more than two hours but had to be streamlined to fit the time allotted for the television broadcast. "There aren't a lot of big changes, though," he said.
Celebrity participants have played a big role in the parade, and this year Kay has lined up 36 television and sports figures, including grand marshals Lyle Alzado and Richard Moll. The celebrities are not paid, but "it's good exposure, and since the money goes to charity, it's also good will," explained Kay.
After a recent taping of a commercial for the parade, Alzado, a former star defensive end for the Los Angeles Raiders, and Moll, who plays bailiff Bull Shannon on television's "Night Court," gave their reasons for participating in the event. Alzado said he was attracted because this year the parade is focusing on the Special Olympics, a program for handicapped youths with which he has been involved for 15 years. Moll said simply: "My involvement came because I love a parade." The actor was also a celebrity participant in last year's event.
Kay said she tries to choose a spectrum of television actors to take part in the parade: "A little daytime, a little nighttime, a little children's television--something for everybody."
Hours for the Strawberry Festival are: today, 1 to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, noon to 11:30 p.m.; and Monday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The festival will take place on the Village Green, 12762 Euclid Ave.