Put up or shut up…
Seven years back Waldo businessman Gary Evert brought operators of the Country Club Plaza and KCP&L to their collective knees. By counting the Plaza Lights Thanksgiving night crowd for the first time, Evert and UMKC math and statistics professor Yong Zeng put the kibosh on a long held popular belief that more than a quarter million people attended the event.
However the Plaza and KCP&L have continued to claim that the holiday lights strung – if laid end-to-end – would stretch from Kansas City to Sedalia.
And while local news media have every reason to be skeptical given the companies track record for fudging numbers, the claim continues to be repeated by everyone from clueless local Web sites to the Kansas City Star.
"Today, electricians hang 80 miles of wire with more than 280,000 lights," Star reporters Laura Bauer and Mark Davis wrote last week.
Bauer and Davis forgot to check the Star‘s clips library. If they had, they’d have seen that Evert actually counted the lights a few years back.
Evert calls the "estimate" that the lights stretch 80 miles and number more than 280,000 an urban legend.
"I heard KCP&L senior vice president James Shay state that ‘statistic’ last night on the KCTV5 broadcast," Evert emailed Channel 5 on Friday. "I’m sure that Mr. Shay as a representative of KCPL and The Star do not intentionally misreport these numbers but are just continuing to pass down the myth.
"In 2006 I took on the task of performing an actual count of the lights and a calculation of the length of the light cord. I have attached an MS Excel spreadsheet documenting my findings and the modalities used to support them. Even if my count of 46,322 lights and calculation of 13.82 miles of cord is off by an unlikely margin of 20% there is absolutely no justification for the publicly stated numbers."
There are only 46,322 lights spanning 13.82 miles on the Plaza. Not 280,000 and 80 miles.
Making the grand total of the Plaza Lights Last Big Lie off by more than 200,000 bulbs and 66 miles.
"The count was sectioned into blocks," he explains. "On the strings of mixed colors, a specific color was selected, counted and multiplied by the number of colors and then the number of strings. On towers the number of lights on one face was counted and then multiplied by the number of faces. When only a single color existed each light was counted and, where applicable, was multiplied by the number of duplicate areas (example, the Hall’s Building).
"The distance between lights was measured in selected areas and variances were taken into consideration as well as an estimate of ‘unlighted’ cord (5% of total) to calculate the length of cord. A very liberal estimate of
18" average length of distance distance between bulbs was assigned to the calculation."
Columnist insert: Does anybody actually believe the good old boys the Plaza hires to string these babies or the suits at Highwoods ever went through such a calculation?
That said, there’s little doubt they could easily set this record straight. They have to purchase the strings and bulbs from somewhere. So clearly, as was the case with the phoney crowd counts, they choose not to.
Why organizations like the Star mindlessly play along is another matter.
Other than it’s easy and sounds sexy, I guess. And let the record show I’m actually doing the reporters a favor by not calling for a comment, embarrassing them and putting them on the spot.
While at the newspaper I tried to pin down the stringing company but was told they were forbidden from addressing the subject. Question is, why?
Is the only way to sell the Plaza Lights schmooze to lie? Why not just come clean – is KC so small-time insecure?
Evert’s take: "The Plaza Lights are internationally recognized Kansas City treasure. For eight weeks each year the actual number of lights that reflect in the eyes of the men, women and children who are fortunate enough to view them in person, need not be exaggerated to make the event enormously meaningful."