Published Sunday, May 12, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

After a hectic 30 hours: `We're good to go' Air & Sea Show promoter brings it all together

Herald Staff Writer

The first planes are set to fly by Fort Lauderdale beach in about 13 minutes. Shell Air & Sea Show promoter Mickey Markoff brushes his dark hair, then heads onto the beach and straight to the VIP viewing stand.

He politely shoos away kids, families of performers and two couples, then methodically begins straightening the two tiers of white chairs facing the water.

As he comes down off the platform, Markoff looks down one side of the beach and then the other. Hundreds of thousands of people line the shore in either direction. The sun is strong, the predawn rain forgotten.

Markoff smiles.

``It's show time,'' he says.

The 40-year-old promoter spins on his boat shoes and heads to the VIP tents, the sponsoring corporations' skyboxes on the beach. Now it's time for Markoff to schmooze with the sponsors, time to watch his air show.

An almost unimaginable amount of work has brought Markoff and his staff of 20 to this point for their second air and sea show. The last 30 hours were the most intense:

7:02 a.m. Practice day in front of 5,000 schoolkids. Billowy clouds roll in as Markoff pulls into the staging area at Fort Lauderdale's Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area in his white Porsche. Markoff has had three hours of sleep between his midnight staff meeting and his 5:30 a.m. air and sea operations briefing. Tall, good-looking, self-assured, even on little sleep, Markoff, a native of suburban Chicago, talks nearly as fast as the speeding jets in his show.

``We have a good time, and we work hard. But you have to remember: This is war making one of these shows happen,'' he says.

7:28 a.m. Outside the operations trailer of his company, MDM Group Ltd., Markoff finds the slick green turbocharged four-seater golf cart waiting. It won't run -- until he remembers to step on the gas. ``We're good to go,'' he says. It's one of his favorite expressions. And he's off to micromanage -- moving trucks, placing food tables, repositioning corporate banners. This is important. Markoff makes his money from the companies that pay to get their names in front of hundreds of thousands of people on those banners.

7:35 a.m. The first trouble call of the day comes from Fort Lauderdale Recreation Director Tom Tapp. Officials are complaining that vendors can't put their tents along the new beachside sidewalk south of the show center at Sunrise Boulevard and State Road A1A. ``If they're an issue, I'll tell them to move it,'' Markoff promises.

9:06 a.m. Markoff comes across a teenager roller-blading through the village. ``YOU,'' he booms at the apparent trespasser, ``turn around and head out.'' The kid calmly points to his T-shirt. He'll be performing at the skateboard ramp. ``YOU,'' Markoff booms with a laugh, ``keep right on going.''

9:54 a.m. Markoff suddenly realizes he didn't plan the deck big enough for VIPs arriving out of the Birch Park tunnel. He collars the recreation department city carpenter who made it. ``This is unbelievably nice,'' he compliments. ``But you know what could make it better?'' And within minutes, the carpenter has radioed the shop for another 120 square feet of decking. This is Markoff's style -- intense, do-it-now, nice.

10:24 a.m. As the 5,000 kids arrive, Markoff begins doing what he does best -- hail-good-fellow schmoozing the sponsors who help put on the $2 million-plus show.

Markoff is standing eating fruit bars with Broward School Board member Miriam Oliphant, First Union Bank President Buddy Johnson and North Broward Hospital District officials Wil Trower and Ed Benton. ``It's a great day at the beach,'' says Trower.

Now it is, anyway.

``It's organized chaos,'' Markoff explains, ordering Powerade drinks for his operations staff. ``It's like a circus coming to town. They scramble and put everything up, and then it's time for the circus to go on.''

7:27 p.m. It's sponsor-schmoozing time, time for a party on the fashionable pool deck at the Radisson Bahia Mar Hotel. Markoff is dapper in a light green double-breasted suit. Mammoth ribbons float above the pool to the light jazz of a five-piece combo. The guests are mostly sponsors, dressed in South Florida finery.

Markoff and fiancee Debbie Lawlor work their way around the pool, stopping to pose for pictures with anyone who asks -- and some who don't.

9:15 p.m. A darkened Bahia Mar ballroom. Suddenly, laser lights and throbbing music explode and the Blue Angels, stars of this year's show, are introduced just like basketball's Chicago Bulls. ``And now our commander in chief, Mick-ey Marrr-koff'' booms the announcer. It's a brief ceremony. Commemorative plaques are exchanged. Sid Luckman, the great Chicago Bears quarterback and Markoff's godfather, gives an emotional speech.

``This event is truly a winning situation for everyone,'' Markoff reminds the roomful of sponsors. And jazz saxophonist Tom Scott kicks off his band.

10:49 p.m. Markoff is talking to Beverly Hills 90210 star Ian Ziering in the lobby about Ziering's celebrity ride with the Blue Angels. Markoff's PR person, Elaine Fitzgerald, appears at his side with a cellular phone. It's an Air Force major -- the Stealth Bomber will not be flying to the air show. Markoff listens politely. ``There's nothing I can do,'' he says folding his phone. ``It's OK. I've got more show than I know what to do with.''

11:08 p.m. Markoff has gathered 15 staffers in a hotel meeting room: ``OK, so far this is a home run. The event is going absolutely perfect.'' Then he spends more than an hour going over every little detail that is not going well. ``My gut feeling,'' he says, ``is that we need to tighten up.''

6:40 a.m. It's been raining buckets for two hours. Puddles of water are standing in the display village and along the edge of the VIP area. It is the least of everyone's worries.

7:03 a.m. Markoff is back in the high-powered golf cart with two Fort Lauderdale police captains zooming through Birch Park. They find park ranger John Frosbutter pounding stakes. Two Water Taxis that Markoff chartered to bring VIPs to the west side of the park will not be allowed to dock there. Markoff begins his hail-good-fellow, everything's-OK spiel. ``We told them two months ago they can't dock there,'' Frosbutter says. Markoff makes promises and prevails.

7:10 a.m. Traffic at the entrance to Birch Park off Sunrise Boulevard already is starting to back up. VIPs have shown up two hours before the scheduled opening -- and they're not happy they can't get in. ``We've got to get someone on this gate, clear them out of here,'' he yells to one of the young staffers. And off Markoff zooms again.

7:37 p.m. Behind the VIP tents, Markoff slows his cart to greet a man picking up trash. ``You're doing a great job. We really appreciate it.'' ``Thank you, sir,'' says the city of Fort Lauderdale maintenance employee, appreciative but puzzled.

8:07 a.m. Markoff is tooling past the Holiday Inn and spots yards and yards of Miller Beer flags strung through the palm trees in front of the hotel. He's incensed. Budweiser is his sponsor. He slams on his brakes, jumps out, frantically pulls down the string of flags and drives off.

8:17 a.m. The promoter is starting to get progressively testier. People are seeping into the village and VIP section. Heading north along A1A, Markoff begins rattling off what's wrong: trucks blocking fire lanes, missing picket fences, trash everywhere. Fort Lauderdale police district commander Dan Doughty tries to calm him: ``Mickey, it's going to be OK. It's going to be your best show you've ever had.'' Markoff disagrees: ``No, everything is not right. It's just not right yet. It shouldn't be like this.''

8:53 a.m. Crowds have gathered at both ends of the village. The village is not ready. Markoff orders caterer Hugh McCauley into the golf cart and begins screaming about everything that's wrong as he zooms down the fire lane. Most of it is not McCauley's responsibility, so he just listens. ``Mickey, I'll take care of it,'' McCauley promises, and he jumps into the truck of another vendor and begins solving problems. ``Sometimes,'' Markoff says, ``you have to yell loud to get things done.''

11:04 a.m. More sponsor problems. An executive from one of Markoff's 39 major sponsors shows up at the VIP entrance. A day early. Refused admittance, he is livid. Security puts him on the two-way radio with Markoff, and Mickey politely explains the problem. He spins and instructs a staffer: ``He's important to me. Put him in my tent. I'll deal with it.''

11:32 a.m. Markoff is not happy. The Goodyear blimp -- Goodyear is not an official sponsor -- has been sailing over the show all morning. Markoff's air boss explains that without prior FAA approval, he can't keep the airship away.

``This is an air and sea show, guys,'' Markoff reminds them. ``You've got everything on the air, you've got everything in the sea. Everything I'm working on is on the land. We're good to go.''


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