Help save drive-in theatres as 'ozoners' celebrate their 80th birthday

When it came time to finally force the digital conversion down exhibitor’s throats, no one bothered to ask drive-in owners to open wide and say, “Aaah.”

35mm prints for theatrical exhibition are becoming scarcer than cue marks. According to Honda, the car manufacturer spearheading Project Drive-In, before the year is out, the majority of American drive-in theaters will be forced to either cough up $80,000 for a digital projector or face closure.

In an attempt to honor and preserve “this iconic part of American car culture,” Honda will donate digital projectors to the five outdoor theatres that get the most votes.

Lest anyone cry Benedict Arnold for siding against the city I now call home, I made sure that both our local outdoor theatres -- the South Bay Drive-In and the Santee Drive-In -- had made the conversion before putting out this plea on behalf of an old friend from Chicago.

Mike Kerz and I go way back. He managed the always jammed One Schaumburg Place while I sat across the street overseeing the ever vacant Woodfield 5-9 art house. Mike taught me (almost) everything I know about the art of 35mm projection. Take my word for it: there was never a focus or sound issue with Kerz at the helm. If you think that a demand for perfect projection pumps through my veins, I suffer from silver nitrate deficiency anemia when compared to this blue blood.

Mike and his wife Mia own and operate the Midway Drive-In in Sterling, Illinois. They need your support in order to stay in operation. Leave it to an old Chicagoan to ask that you vote early and vote often. I know it’s a lot, but you’re allowed two votes per day between now and September 9. Vote once at and once via text message. ("Vote80" to 444999.) Please help out an old carbon arc changer as he weathers the conversion by casting as many votes as possible.

There is one blindingly logical crossover promotion that Honda has yet to pick up on. Nowhere on their website or in their promotional video do they mention that this year marks the 80th birthday of the drive-in picture show.

According to USA Today, outdoor movies made their debut on June 6, 1933 in Pennsauken, N.J., at the Automotive Movie Theatre. Happy birthday, all you wonderful 'ozoners' out there. Good luck to Mike and Mia and their race for the $80,000. Remember, this is your last chance to beat the other couples: vote the Midway!

And while you're at it, why not stop by the South Bay or Santee this weekend? It's been too long since I've been to the drive-in. Time to load the Lickona kids on the family bus and enjoy the stars under the stars.

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Voted - and may consider that suggestion to hit up Santucky before summer's over...always a good time for daughter and friends, and I don't think I've been since...the newest Iron Man? It's been a while, that's for sure.

Of course, there was that one time my mother-in-law came back from the restroom, hopped in the wrong car, and demanded to know what the people in there had done with her dog...

That green Simplex ad actually depicts a San Diego drive-in, the Rancho, in the upper left corner - its neon screen mural depicted a southwestern landscape including a napping Mexican and flashing smokerings rising from his campfire while his ox nodded its head up and down. One of the city's first ozones, it was also the first outdoor theater operated by William Oldknow, who ended up running the company that to this day still runs San Diego's South Bay Drive-In!

Here's a take from "the other side". It's especially rough for owners in climes that are forced to close for 5-6 months each year. Indoor drive-ins, perhaps? Jay, difficult to answer this question, I realize, but do/did you have a favorite theater back in the day?

Indoor drive-ins? Sounds like a large-scale version of carbon monoxide garage suicide waiting to happen. Besides, indoor drive-ins are commonly referred to as walk-ins.

Well, obviously they would require an industrial quality ventilation system, along with a state of the art fire suppression system. And the financial windfall could easily exceed walk-in revenues. Think 7/24 capability. And all this time I had you pegged as an "out of the boxer".

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