Meet the man behind the balloons at the Republican National Convention

Written by

Thursday night, Donald Trump is expected to accept the official GOP presidential nomination. Immediately following his acceptance speech, 100,000 red, white and blue balloons will float down upon the crowd seated in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. Treb Heining is the man behind the balloon drop, just as he’s been for every Republican Party convention since 1988.

“I still get choked up about it, I still love doing it. It is just a very emotional deal. The floating down, and the colors, and the crowd roaring and the music playing, it’s just indescribable,” he says. When the balloons drop the Republicans turn childlike. “Big sophisticated Republicans in their button down shirts and everything. And they’re out there stomping on balloons and they’re having a great time.”

Treb Heining's balloon stand at South Coast Plaza
Treb Heining’s balloon stand at South Coast Plaza (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Heining’s ballon productions have been featured in 16 Super Bowls, seven Academy Awards and two presidential inaugurations. He also sidelines as Times Square’s Confetti King, dropping upwards of 3,000 pounds of shredded paper every New Year’s Eve. Of 50,000 balloon professionals worldwide, Heining is peerless. He started as a Disneyland balloon boy at age 15. He can blow up and tie a thousand balloons in just an hour.

Heining was a band kid, a trumpet player. His musical background has helped him over the years. He conducts drops like symphonies and gets his best ideas listening to music.

The total budget for this year’s RNC drop is just around $25,000. Heining brings in a hand-picked crew of six to supervise local union guys, who will hoist 60 to 70 nets, each one filled with more than 1,200 balloons. But it’s not as simple as putting them up there and letting them fall.

Think balloon drops are easy? Consider the 2004 Democratic Convention. The balloons didn’t fall properly that year.

And Democratic nominee John Kerry not win the general election. Heining didn’t run the balloon drop for the Democrats that year. But this year, he will be in Philadelphia overseeing the balloons there. Whatever his political beliefs, when it comes to balloons, Heining has no party affiliation.

Thursday night, when the GOP candidate accepts the nomination, the music will play, the crowd will roar, many of us will ponder the future of our nation. But one man will only be thinking about balloons.