filling out the rosters

Unknown newspaper clipping of male skaters.

When many people think of Roller Derby of the 60’s and 70’s, the names of stars come to mind:  Charlie O, Joan Weston, Ken Monte, Ann Calvello, Ronnie Robinson, Margie Laszlo, Bob Woodberry, Cliff Butler, Bob Hein, Buddy Jr, Bert Wall, Bobbie Mateer,  and more.  (Where’s Loretta?  She wasn’t skating Roller Derby when I took the helm.)

Actually it was the secondary players that made the game what it was.  It is not really fair to call them secondary players, but since we were concerned with who would draw the fans in, we knew the teams would have to be led by one or more of the skaters above to be meaningful to the box office.  And it was a very different game:  a maximum of 8 players of each sex on a team.  The rules were different:  the pivot skater could be a scorer if necessary;  there were two blockers and two jammers, and they could change positions between jams.  The players were penalized, not the helmets, and a maximum of two could be in the penalty box at one time.

Here are some names you may have heard:  Mike Gammon, Judy McGuire, Pete Mangone, May Mangone, Nick Scopas, Jan Vallow, Frank Macedo, Eddie Krebs, Lydia Clay, Cathy Read, Sandy Dunn, Carol Meyer, Delores Tucker, Lou Donovan, Judy Sowinski, Larry Smith, Francine Cochu, Jerry Cattell, Judy Arnold, Rosetta Saunders, Sam (Lia) Tiapula, Dewitt Quarles, Joe Foster, Gil Orozco, Ann Bauer, Pete Boyd, Bobby Seever  and don’t get mad if I didn’t list you;  just remind me.

You could only have so many  “stars” on a team or the game wouldn’t work.  I always thought our worst games were the annual All Star matches between the top stars of the East and the West, because all the roles of the game weren’t properly executed.

The secondary list probably would have become the superstars of the future, but our time ran out.  The real game was in the pack:  helping your players get out on a jam, stopping the opposing team from doing so; chasing down the jammers that had gotten out, and of course helping your players get points and stopping the opposition.

Roller Derby was and is a game of the pack.  If you control the pack, it makes no difference how great the opposing jammers are, you will have control of the game.  And the above skaters made the game exciting so that the stars looked good.  Of course there was a reason they were stars;  almost always defined so by the fans, but their skills depended on the team, even in the exhibition style of skating.

I loved watching Bill Groll in the pack; Roman and Gammon jamming, the physicality of Sandy Dunn, Lydia Clay who had greater skills than anyone realized.

Today’s Roller Derby is a complete team game.  The skill level will  only get better and better and right now most don’t have to worry about pleasing the audience, only themselves.  The future has not been defined yet, but it will.  Today there are 14 more leagues than there were just two weeks ago (approaching 800).  It is well on its way to becoming the major sport it should, and you all must work toward increasing your local audience.  Your game will bring them in… just have to let your community be aware of what you’re doing.

Annie, Charlie, Joanie and me

It’s time to regress.

I haven’t spoken much about the skaters in my time.  They are probably still very well known today because of you tube and the wonderful book “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” by Keith Coppage with photos by Rock and Roll legend photographer Baron Wolman (

I am constantly asked why the 1973 season is the only one available and on you tube.  In the late sixties and early seventies there was virtually no home use of video tape and no cable to speak of.  So we made an arrangement with our videotape distributor (we were serving 120 stations by shipping videotapes to them every week) Technicolor TAV  that they owned the videotapes and we owned the program.  So at the end of each year, the tapes were erased (Ugh) and used for the next season.

Therefore Hal Silen and I were able to keep only the final 1973 season but unfortunately we were scammed out of them and couldn’t use them ourselves (that is another story).

But because of this programming America and Canada followed the Bay Bombers and the other teams in our league.  And the stars shown.  There was “Bomber Great” Charlie O’connell, Joan “Golden Girl” Weston, Ann Calvello (too many nicknames, none flattering) and “Peanuts” Meyer, Tony Roman, Ken Monte, Margie Lazslo,Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer, Mike and Judy Gammon, Frankie Macedo, Lydia Clay, Ronnie Robinson, Sandy Dunn, Bob Woodberry,  Carolyn Moreland, Lou Donovan, Cathy Read, Bob Hein, Delores Tucker, Nick Scopas, Cliff Butler Avery, Bill Groll and on and on and I don’t want to offend anyone, but there is just not enough room to mention all who made Roller Derby great.  Road Manager Hal Janowitz; announcers Don Drewry and Ken Kunzelman,   Referees:  Bill Morrissey, Gene Moyer (also our advance man), Jimmy Pierce (also our truck driver) and our great management staff.

Charlie had been the bad boy of Roller Derby.  He came in very young and cocky, was immediately grabbed by Calvello (bet you didn’t know that!  I think Derby invented cougars) and bounced around and was finally put on the Bombers, which was kind of a catch-all team as there wasn’t that much skating on a consistent basis in the Bay area.  That certainly changed in the late fifties when I took over.

I can’t remember why Joanie had been on the Bombers as she certainly was a star.  The Bombers were coached and captained by Russ Baker and Annis “Big Red” Jensen, two talented skaters whose daughter Barbara skated on the team in later years.  After Russ left to start a business in Santa Rosa, Bill Laurino became coach.  Bill had two fingers he had lost in a construction accident but was quite a skater.  When he disputed a call on a jam and thought there should have been 4 points instead of two, he held up his hand and Charlie yelled “Bill, we should have gotten more than two points”.Figure it out.

Charlie and Joan were athletes.  Charlie had played football, Joan was a softball star at her women’s college in Southern California.  Eventually Charlie became coach and the team and eventually the whole league took on his style of skating which was wide open, full-blast effort.  It really made for exciting games.  Not much finesse, but when you saw skaters flying around the banked track at breakneck speed doing amazing athletic moves it more than satisfied the audience, both on hand and on television.  And Joan, to see this beautiful tall blonde (although in today’s Roller Derby her 5 foot 9 inch height would be dwarfed by a number of skaters) was not only a great blocker, but also could jam.  Remember in that game a player could switch positions between jams.

We built a tremendous audience around the country who could watch a game every week and then once or twice a year could see the stars in person.  If you can imagine going into an arena, setting up the track, skating the game, tearing it down and then moving on to the next city. Hopefully it was not too far, but it still was a very tiring life, skating 4 games a week in different cities.  Also, sometimes it seemed to make no sense:  skate one night in Milwaukee (which is 90 miles from Chicago), the next game in St. Louis, and then come back to Chicago.  The reason? available dates in the arenas.

Joanie was a mother hen, worried about her girls, making sure all problems were taken care of, in addition to her responsibilities as woman captain.  Plus she was always requested for television interviews and this took more of her personal time.  If she complained, you know she would come through as she was definitely a trooper.  One night after we had a game in Richmond, Virginia, Ken Campbell, our southern promoter from Richmond, VA (he also was the Nascar promoter), had arranged an interview in Greenville, North Carolina, and since he was a pilot he flew us in his plane to Greenville.  Joanie hated the flight, but both she and Ronnie Robinson (Sugar Ray’s son) did the newspaper and TV interviews.  As we passed through the airport I said loudly to Joan and Ronnie “I think this will be a great place for you lovebirds to get married.”  (Greenville, North Carolina 1969 not the best place for mixed marriage).  They both would have killed me if I didn’t sign their paychecks.

Charlie was surly and wanted to be left alone.  He rarely would do interviews (unless on our telecasts, you can watch one or two on youtube) and that only added to his persona.  Autographs? almost never.  Scowling constantly, but what a great skater.  There is no doubt he and Joanie and Ann (more on her later) were the reason for our great rise in popularity and why we were able to sell out arenas and stadiums across America.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

What is there about animals?

If you are an animal person, you tend to judge other people by whether they are or not.

As you might have figured, I am such a person.

And today was a tragic day for me.

17 years ago when I first moved to Sonoma I wanted to get an animal again.  I had been in Santa Monica the past 10 years with Ticketmaster, but the apartment building did not allow dogs, and though I would occasionally sneak in one of Judi’s silky terriers, it was only for a very short time.

My first year in Sonoma Judi gave me this wonderful collie tri-color pup named Vicki (which is the name of the first pet I ever had, a collie named Vicki in Portland Oregon).   Six months later when Judi stopped by I Magnin in Union Square when they were closing the store, she came upon a homeless man with two beautiful orange kittens which she bought and then told me about.  The were named Fanny and

Lily Spring 2010. Photo by Jane Philip

Lily, after two Pagnol plays.  Vicki loved them and became their surrogate mother.  They would follow her out of the house onto the 15 acres in the hills and managed to survive in spite of the coyotes, foxes, rattlers and bobcats.  Then the following year I bought Larry, the goofy Golden Retriever who became Vicki’s protege.  When you would throw the ball for Larry to chase, Vicki would take off after him biting him in the ass to make certain he did a good job.  She would come back smiling with a mouth full of hair.

The dogs and cats devised a game to play together.   The dogs would chase the cats as fast as they could, the sisters would then run up a tree, and later come down.  They would repeat this, then eventually all lie down near each other in the sunshine on the grass.

Since it was a gated property the animals never really saw many other dogs (and no cats), and they were friendly with whomever came by.  When we would go for walks up Norrbom Road, I would have the two dogs on the leashes, and the cats would automatically follow about 10 paces behind.  If a car came (rarely), I would get the dogs off to the side of the road, but the cats didn’t care, didn’t take orders, and would just saunter.  Most of the drivers were amused by their behavior.

About 5 years ago Vicki started failing;  she was losing her vision (common in collies) and had organ failure.  She died shortly afterwards.   Larry immediately went into mourning, or so we thought, and then noticed he definitely wasn’t well.  So we took him to our vet who determined he had cancer of the anal gland, operated on him, and removed a tennis-ball- sized tumor.  Subsequently Larry had chemo (this was four years ago), and when I moved to the wonderful cul de sac I live on in West Sonoma, he became the hit of the neighborhood kids and would wait until they were home from school or on summer vacation, and he would play with them for hours.  When I was invited to the neighbors’ houses for an evening, Larry would go with me and usually stay longer than I did, and then come home when he was ready.

The last two years Larry had trouble walking, and then after that I accidentally ran him over with the Jeep.  He recovered nicely from that incident (early last year), but cancer came back again after four years,  and he passed away last month.  Then two days ago Lily, who is now 15, suddenly became very ill and was put to sleep this morning.

So are animals worth it?  They love you without demands, they live too short lives, and they are almost as much trouble as children.  But I still have Fanny, and I am sure I will get a rescue dog within the next six months.  We often seem to feel a greater amount of empathy with someone who has animals and loses them than with other situations in life.

Joan Weston, the Golden Girl Superstar of Roller Derby, forced us to make an exception in our rules for our road tours.  The rules were no animals, but Joan had Malia, a beautiful little cocker, who did travel with her, and we felt it was definitely worth it.

Sometimes we can show and receive affection towards animals that are too difficult in human relationships; no reasons or explanations are required.

Lily, I hope you don’t think it is unfair that both Vicki and Larry are chasing you up a tree.

When is PR not really PR?

My friend Dennis Erokan and his wife Lori have been reading these posts, and I really appreciate his comments.  Dennis published BAM, the music magazine of Northern California (and eventually Southern California) when we really were the music scene and very ambitiously held the Bammies every year which was a really entertaining version of the Grammies, and many great performers showed up.  At the last one I saw even Tim Russert was there.

So Dennis has his blog and website (, and I suggest you check it out if you really want to learn to do this thing properly.  I never did and I think it is too late to start now.

I learned early with Roller Derby that you had to reach a target audience for whatever it is that you are doing.  And what you are sending out had better be of interest to that audience.  We found out early on that it was a waste to send information to the sports editors (on the whole) as they had a holier-than-thou reaction to anything to do with Roller Derby (with the exception of the Twiggy stunt I referred to in the earlier blog).  So we would try and get features on our skaters, especially when going into a city for the first time.   And sometimes we even fudged a bit:  a jammer would find out that he or she was born near Topeka, Kansas, when in reality he came from Saskatchewan (they talk the same)

In the Bay Area, we actually were quite friendly with the sports editors of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, and they would list our schedules and game results.  In fact, the Oakland Tribune suggested to Frank Deford when he came to Oakland to do a story for Sports Illustrated on the teams of Oakland that he see us, and he did and wrote a long and wonderful piece on Roller Derby for Sports Illustrated (15 pages!) which became the basis of his book, “Five Strides on the Banked Track”.  And later on he suggested to Wayne Valley, the then majority owner of the Oakland Raiders, that they have me head the group of American Football League owners who wanted to by the Oakland Seals National Hockey League team (NHL turned us down, gave it to Charlie Finley, it folded within two years).

We would continually contact the media, offer them tickets for our games even though we knew the staffers or pressmen would come and never ask them for anything.  Each year when we had our Championship Playoffs and sold out the Oakland Coliseum Arena and the Cow Palace (almost 30.000 in total), we would have dinner in each facility and send gold tickets to the media.  They were impressed, and even if they did not give us press then, we know we could get something later.

Press releases were often written in the Herb Michelson style, which I described earlier, so we knew that they had a better chance of getting read.  Sometimes we would put strange headlines on them so they wouldn’t get thrown away. One thing I insisted on; in all press releases would have complete game information, including ticket sale locations, phone numbers, etc.  I had one woman who had handled press for Macy’s who argued with me that ticket information shouldn’t be in a release as they would just delete it.  I told her that was the decision of the publication and not hers, and more often than not when we would get copies of the articles from the bureau we hired (no computers, no google). All the information would be in because the editors were to lazy to take it out and maybe they had more space to fill that day.  (Seltzer principle:  put everything in, let others decide what not to use)

Mere mentions on media are not sufficient PR, although often the PR agencies would try to convince their clients that they are.  I always insisted with Roller Derby or the Ticket Companies, that if we were providing people for interviews or tickets for giveaway, all the information for the game, etc be given on the air.  And it is so necessary to prepare the people who you are sending on the interviews.  They are often so anxious to answer the questions and talk about themselves that they forget why they are there.  I would write down what they must say and they shouldn’t bother to come back if they didn’t.  Ann Calvello and Joan Weston were the worst initially because they were so interesting to the interviewer and they were able to talk about everything (except the game!);  eventually both could do these things in their sleep and really promote.  And we always volunteered skaters for PBS auctions, for daytime shows on local TV, etc.  I never cared what question I was asked, I would say “Yes, Jim and don’t forget our big game this Saturday”……..

When we were in the ticket business (BASS, Ticketmaster) we actually had even more leverage.  We had information we could pass on to the media;  for the more influential ones we would get tickets for them even after the promoters or teams had given them their limit (we paid for them of course).  We never asked them to help us all the time, but when we really needed a favor, we would go to the media and most times they would cooperate.  Of course if they didn’t, extra tickets were harder to come by.  We never abused the relationships as they can get upset with you if you are constantly pestering them and asking for coverage.

What Dennis can really help anyone who wants to learn effective PR is what to send out and to whom.  Often PR people try to flatter executives  in companies who have hired them by writing profiles on them and sending them out.  Frankly who cares?  If it doesn’t sell widgets or doesn’t create goodwill or be interesting enough to be utilized, they are having smoke blown up etc.

I used guerilla marketing before I even knew what it was.  When we would send our advance man out ahead of our tour to try to stir up media coverage (remember, 95% of our ticket sales came as a result of our television program), I would give him a hundred dollars, authorize him for ticket giveaways, interviews, personal appearances, etc, but told him if he spent the hundred dollars at the radio station, he would be fired (well, not literally…..sometimes we could get amazing packages that not only involved interviews, but match races between the disc jockeys which they would promote endlessly).  And we expected our local TV outlet who had our show on to support us.   Often times, we would offer them 10% of our gate if they turned the station over to us and ran an agreed upon amount of television spots; believe me, it worked.  We tried never to turn anything down that would help.

We never spent any money on a radio station anywhere unless they agreed to give us a number of free promotional spots and me.  We were rarely disappointed.

To summarize, write well (and funny when you can), keep media happy,  push them as hard as you can (you can always back off) and the more you are involved and know your business, even if you hire an agency, you determine what goes out and to whom and what you want and don’t blame someone else for lack of results.

I think I have told you almost all my secrets, except the really important ones.