back to the original colonies


It has been over 20 years since I was in New England.  And I go back next week (May25-27).

No place could be more deja-vuish for me.

Photograph by pablo0713 from stock.xchng.com.

Back in the days of Roller Derby in the 60’s we were on about 10 television stations in that region, and because of the wonders of videotape and our shipping department, each saw a different game each week;  some tapes might have been a year old, some 6 months, and some hot off the Kezar Pavilion telecasts from SanFrancisco.

And each week Walt Harris, he of the wonderful voice, Verle Starry and I would show up at 6 PM at KTVU, channel 2, Oakland,  for a one hour recording sessions to cut spots to insert in each of those telecasts for our upcoming tour.  And we did it all with written copy and signs that Verle would create and sort each week.  Walt would have 30 different 1 minute spots of copy, the engineer would start the two-inch tape machine, and for the next hour we would record an amazing 30 1-minute spots, each for a different station or a different week (for example, “on January 17 see the Bay Bombers and Chiefs in Springfield at….., next week see the Bombers and Chiefs……tomorrow the Bombers and Chiefs tangle..).

The station would cut them, box them, and Verle would send them off to the stations with instructions when they should air.  And in each of the New England spots, because there was such a cross over of markets that each station covered, there would be one card showing all the games in that area, sometimes as many as 6.

We would accumulate the commercials during the year in return for showing our tapes, and we would run full schedules within our games and without on the stations prior to our “live”  appearances.   And it worked; each game was a sellout whether at the Boston Arena, Garden, Springfield Coliseum, New Haven Arena, and various colleges and gyms throughout the area.  If I had to pick a hot bed of love for Roller Derby, it was New England.

The fans were great, highly opinionated (one sign:  The Bombers eat —–), but unlike anywhere else in the country.  Can you say Bruins, Celtics and of course, Red Sox?

So now I will be able to meet all the skaters and personnel of the modern era.  I will be with my good friend Doug Martin in his Roll Models booth displaying his highly professional uniforms (please have your league start growing with the game!) and we will have all kinds of fun and contests, and I will greet each one of you with great enthusiasm.  I  am also representing Mogotix, which is the paperless ticket service of the future…..in case you all somehow don’t know, I am considered a true pioneer in the computerized ticketing business, having entered it in 1974 (right after Roller Derby) and eventually becoming the executive vice president of Ticketmaster.

And of course on Saturday afternoon I will speak on something to the assembled group, and for those who would like a copy, I am bringing a few of “Roller Derby to Rollerjam“.

Buddy Atkinson Sr (the legend) and I were together during the last Roller Derby tour of that region in 1973.  It certainly was the winter of our discontent:  no gas, no money, arenas cancelling on us because they couldn’t get fuel to heat the buildings in winter;  we had our usual sellout at the Rhode Island Arena in Providence, but Springfield, Nashua, even Boston were disappointments;  people were not willing to drive because of the gas shortage.  And finally, I had to do what I had come on this trip for;  tell all my personnel that this was the end of the road.  No funds, and we could not continue.

I guess it seemed odd to me at the time that it came as a surprise to most of the skaters;  couldn’t they see the empty seats in the buildings?  They figured, as did I, that Roller Derby would always be there.  Many were quite angry and expressed it to me, and I understood and accepted it.  But I will  always remember Joan Weston – who made the most money and was most affected – coming to me, putting her arm on my shoulder and saying “Does anyone here realizes what this means to Jerry?”.  Nobody who knew her could say that Joan was anything but a class act.  the tour continued for several weeks, closing with a huge crowd at Madison Square Garden.

The skaters went on to other activities;  we had actually set up profit sharing for years, so even those who didn’t believe that the money was actually there received anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000, depending on their salaries and longevity in the game. These were 1973 dollars.  Some started businesses, others just blew it, but all were appreciative.  And you ask any of them today, and they will tell you that Roller Derby was the best time of their life.

I came back to New England in 1975 as part of  Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder review (no, not as an artist, but as the ticket manager).  Touring with Rock and Roll was so different from Roller Derby;  we were on the cheap, they certainly weren’t.  And with all the entourage and hangers on, there were probably 80 people in the group.  That six weeks taught me what I needed to know about the music scene, and I was part of it and loved it for the next 18 years.

In the mid 80s we at Ticketmaster had set up an office in Boston and Bob Leonard  (TM’s president) and I went there to represent the national company.  I arrived just in time for Bob and I and the local Ticketmaster staff to take a photo for the annual program for the Boston Symphony, as Ticketmaster had computerized them and also was a sponsor.  The photo is in that program somewhere.  And certainly no one who saw the photo of that man in a suit would have known of his strange journey to that point.

Bring it on, New England!

throughout the years.


Photo by RAWKU5 from stock.xchng.com.

Things change.

Believe it or not, when I went to high school no one shouted or made any noise when a basketball player on the other team was making a free throw.  It was considered bad taste and just wasn’t done.  That went for college games also.

Since we were post war (The War…..have we ever not been in a war since), I guess we were pretty calm by today’s standards.  Rudeness to a teacher just didn’t occur, although there was some lively interplay between students and instructors.  But many of the teachers (particularly men) had served in the armed forces and you just didn’t screw around with them……no graffiti or anything close to it.

When you went to a sporting event, whether baseball, football or basketball, you dressed up.  Men wore ties and jackets, women dresses or nice suits ( no “slacks”).  I am not referring to student games, but for some reason our pants were not drooping.

Then came the sixties and everything went topsy turvy, student protests, Black Panthers, flower powers, drugs, and more.  By then I was already married with children.  Believe it or not, I took over Roller Derby when I was just 26 years of age and was making $125 a week selling wholesale sporting goods, and we had just bought a 3 bedroom, two bath house in Palo Alto Ca on a sixth of an acre lot.  The house cost $22,000.

Roller Derby kind of wrapped me in an insulated world.  Every Sunday I was at Kezar Pavilion where we had our live telecast and also videotaped the last 4 periods of the game for our 110 station television network.  Kezar Pavilion was adjacent to Kezar Stadium where the 49ers played.  There were no dressing rooms in Kezar Stadium, so when the 49ers played a home game they used the tacky dressing rooms in the Pavilion.  Sometimes there was virtually no overlap between the time the players left and our teams arrived, to really scummy and wet dressing rooms.

Kezar Pavilion was and still is where San Francisco public high schools play their basketball schedule.  It is all bleacher seating with two balconies on the end and you can squeeze in maybe 3500 people.  My first visit to Kezar was during my freshman year at Stanford when some friends and I had driven up from Palo Alto to see USF play USC, as Kezar was also USF’s home court at that time.  And I got to see the champion Dons with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones whip USC.

The skaters liked Kezar…..a small bar called the Kezar Club (what else) was right across the street and was a gathering place for fans after the game.  And the Pavilion was a homey intimate building…..It didn’t take many people to make it look full and we would not open the end where the cameras were for seating until all other areas were filled.  The building was quite noisy and with the bright colors of the uniforms and the track it was quite a neon spectacle.

Ashtray from the Kezar Club.

And on television stations all over the country people would watch as each telecast opened with Walt Harris in his wonderful deep, sonorous voice said “Tonight’s game between the Bay Bombers and the Northeast Braves is coming to you from Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco”.  I am sure viewers thought that the most important place to visit when in San Francisco would be this wonderful arena.

Walt, who had broadcast the 49ers games in prior years on KOVR in Stockton/Sacramento never really got his due from KTVU, the station which carried our telecasts and had a very tight ass program director, who thought Roller Derby, although it had terrific ratings,was not to his taste.  Because Walt was the voice of Roller Derby they would not use him on other sports, although he was the director of the San Francisco Giants when they were televised in their away games.  And when we did any out-of-town telecasts, from Madison Square Garden or other cities, we always used Walt whenever possible.

Walt told one story which I really loved.  The Giants were playing the Cardinals in St. Louis and when Walt got off the plane he was with the two very famous Giants announcers:  Russ Hodges who had broadcast the Giants when they were in New York (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!” when the Giants beat the Dodgers on the fateful Thompson home run) and Lon Simmons who is now in the baseball Hall of Fame.  All of a sudden a bunch of fans came running up to get autographs and rushed right by the Giants announcers to Walt.  After he signed a dozen or so they moved on with Russ and Lon grumbling.  Roller Derby was on Saturday night at 10 PM on KPLR in St. Louis and of course Walt was famous, as were all of our skaters.

So in our own way, we were just as underground as today.  Will Roller Derby ever get its just due?