Miller Reports a Slightly Above Average Start to 2012 Show adds Wave Swinger & ARM Rock Star for 2012
By Don Muret
Reduced fuel prices couldn't have come at a better time for Miller Spectacular Shows as the carnival heads into the second half of the season.
The Greenbrier, Ark. show carries more than 50 rides and attractions and plays 13 states from Michigan to New Mexico.
The carnival faces its longest jump of the season in October of 1,100 miles from the Eastern New Mexico Fair in Roswell to the Yazoo County Fair in Mississippi. It's a date Miller has played for more than 50 years.
In early September, the show tackles another 1,000 mile trek from the DuQuoin State Fair in Illinois down to Odessa, Texas for the Permian Basin Fair.
Who knows where regular gas and diesel costs will be at that point but the recent decreases have been encouraging news for Freddy Miller, a fourth generation showman whose family has been in the business for 60 years.
In mid-July, the show had 32 rides set up at the Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria. The carnival is in the first year of a five-year deal with the fair after playing the date the past two years subcontracting for Belle City Amusements. Belle City had assumed the fair after purchasing the route from the old Jim Murphy's Mighty Blue Grass Shows, but it had a date conflict in July and worked out an agreement with Miller Spectacular Shows to hold down the spot, Miller said.
The same was true with some Texas dates held by Reed Exposition. Miller Spectacular Shows covered for Jimmy Reed for a few years before purchasing fairs in Odessa and Lubbock, where Miller plays the Panhandle South Plains Fair before making a short trip west to Roswell.
The first half of the season was slightly above average compared with previous years, and if diesel prices keep falling "we can reap the reward with a lot of trucks and a lot of miles," Miller said.
All told, the economy appears to be holding its own except in Michigan, where the carnival played the Fourth of July at a hot-air balloon festival in Battle Creek, Miller said. "Things are as tight there as anywhere else; thats' the only place I noticed a downswing," he said.
The show's two newest attractions are a Wave Swinger and an ARM Rock Star, an upgrade that has been getting the thumbs-up from fairgoers in 2012. In addition, the carnival carries a Fabbri Eclipse, one of only three in North America, "like a Crazy Dance on steroids," Miller said. The Mulligan Giant Wheel and Majestic Extreme also carry their weight as showcase pieces among an arsenal featuring the Pharoah's Fury, Orbiter and Drop Tower.
"We have got the show to a size we feel comfortable with," Miller said.
The show bought some property outside their hometown of Greenbrier to build a new winter quarters with more space to refurbish rides. The public should see a difference with the offseason work after the carnival moves into facility, Miller said.
It is located right off the main highway into town, Interstate 65, making it easy for trucks to move in and out of the building. It should be ready by December, shortly after the show comes in off the road the Sunday after Thanksgiving, he said.
One thing Miller's patrons have already recognized is the carnival's new sound system. Miller's two sons, Trey and Johnny Miller III, developed an in-house program tied to an FM antenna signal that transmits the same music to every ride on the midway.
The system has its own frequency that can be adjusted if it conflicts with a station in the local market with the same frequency, Freddy Miller said. The two sons, combined, have 12,000 digital songs that can be transferred to iPods that are plugged into the FM signal.
The system gives the carnival more control and flexibility over which tunes are broadcast on the midway, which has effectively cut down on customer complaints over inappropriate lyrics. In turn, the fair boards are also happy with the system, Miller said
Freddy's father, Johnny Miller, remains active running one unit with assistance from his wife Sue. Trey Miller's wife Katie also works for the carnival.
The show is the process of ordering credit card machines for the midway and Freddy Miller recognizes the need to go cashless with other carnivals such as Ray Cammack Shows taking the lead.
"The problem is finding a system that works," he said. "Nobody is 100 percent satisfied with the system they have. With smart cards, the downside for me is the part of the country I travel in the southwest is different with people [not] accepting it. But it is definitely the future. More people are not bringing cash to the fair."
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