Bob Urhausen: Alumnus Helps Keep Goodyear Blimp’s Mission Afloat
Bob Urhausen (Class of ’94, B.A., communications/public relations) says that he pursued his degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills with the same zeal as a student just out of high school – except that he was in his thirties with a wife and two children and a job that kept his head in the clouds.
As airship public relations manager for “The Spirit of America” Goodyear blimp that is moored in Carson, Urhausen has a job unlike any other in the public relations profession.
Goodyear blimps have been around for more than 80 years, beginning in 1925 as a helium-filled public relations airship with the Goodyear Tire Company’s name painted on its side. Present-day Goodyear blimps travel over 100,000 miles across the country each year and have become an American icon. Urhausen’s main responsibility is coordinating the flights for the tire company’s executives and clients, the airship’s appearances at public events, and its alternate use as an airborne vehicle for public service messages.
Urhausen says that the company is committed to giving back to the community through use of the Blimp and its Eagle Vision lighted message board to deliver public service announcements (PSAs).
“For years, Goodyear has devoted much of its flight time to nonprofit local and national organizations,” says Urhausen. “The Goodyear Blimp travels throughout Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County with these PSAs. We hope people are looking up and taking notice of the messages.”
The Goodyear Blimp’s crew took the first photographs of the Loma Prieta earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 – they happened to be flying over the World Series at the time of the disaster. Noting how well the aircraft could survey the damage caused by the earthquake, Urhausen realized that the Goodyear Blimp had great potential as a means of sending public messages to citizens on the ground during an emergency.
“Let’s just say that in our neighborhood, we can’t go into our homes, but there are shelters everywhere. We would fly in specific areas [showing messages] advising those on the ground where to go to find those shelters and the Red Cross, to boil drinking water, [and survival] hints.”
As part of the blimp’s PSA program, Urhausen has established connections with local emergency services operations that contact the airfield in the event the Blimp can be useful during an emergency. Urhausen and the Goodyear Carson crew have expanded awareness that they are able to help in crisis situations beyond the Los Angeles area. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Blimp ran messages overhead in Southern California urging the public to make donations to the Red Cross.
Public service announcements comprise 50 percent of the aircraft’s use. The Blimp displayed messages on where to get help after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, information about a Rotary Club campaign to eradicate polio, and most recently, helped spread awareness of the 2010 Census in Southern California.
“We’re working with the Census Bureau [now], basically letting people know that they count, that it’s important for everyone,” he says. “It is another way of getting the message out.”
In February, the Carson airfield held a press conference announcing the Blimp’s involvement in spreading the word about Census 2010. Dr. Bill Blischke, emeritus professor of sociology and one of Urhausen’s former professors, was in attendance along with Mayor Jim Dear of Carson, Mayor Michael Gin of Redondo Beach, Julie Lam, deputy regional director, Los Angeles National Census, and Frank Reccia, manager of the local census office in Torrance. The CSU Dominguez Hills campus also hosted representatives from the Census 2010 road tour.
A byproduct of the Goodyear Blimp’s presence in Southern California and long history as an airborne advertising and public relations vehicle, is the volume of emails that Urhausen receives daily from Southland residents who remember it fondly as an icon of their childhood.
“People drop by the blimp base daily, just to get a look at the 192-foot-long airship,” he says. “Many of them bring their children or grandchildren and tell us of how they remember the Goodyear Blimp when they were children. We love to hear the stories of how the Goodyear Blimp touched their lives.”
Urhausen credits Blischke and Anita Gash, an emerita staff member who assisted him in the Educational Opportunity Program, with helping him on his path to a degree. He also appreciated the flexibility that his instructors at CSU Dominguez Hills afforded him as a working adult getting through college.
“I started with one class just to step in slightly, a little bit at a time,” he says. “It was convenient, there’s no question about it. I might be out an hour-and-a-half away from work to slip a class in.”
Although Urhausen had already spent eight years in his public relations position when he became a student at CSU Dominguez Hills in the early ’90s – he now has a total of 39 years at Carson airfield – he says that his education “helped me with what I was doing.”
“I learned an awful lot,” he says. “In a sense, what I knew about public relations I had picked up from the person before me. This is a unique position. I write maybe one or two stories for our internal publication a month. I might do five press releases a year. Most of what I do is coordinating the television coverage that we do that takes most of our time. I really did pick up a lot that I wasn’t getting [at Goodyear].”
Looking back on his career with Goodyear, Urhausen says that he was lucky to be able to begin there as an untrained crew member and work his way up to his current position. He says that today’s job market and opportunities, even at the Goodyear blimp airfield, require specialized training and a college degree.
“Back then, they were just looking for good, hard-working people and that was me,” he notes. “Now, that’s no longer available. As we all know, you need [an] education.”
- Joanie Harmon