BJI History Part 9 — Fawning Wasn’t Our Style

by Bob Johnson 0


AFTER THE MALAISE of the mid- and late-1960s, the U.S. bowling industry began to perk up again. The PBA continued to generate huge ratings on the ABC-TV network, keeping bowling firmly in the public eye. Although bowling began to falter in some international markets, particularly in Japan, cheap used equipment began flowing from overseas into the America, triggering the construction of new centers.

As advertising revenues began to rise again, I felt we might be able to afford a full-time editor again. The job became something of a revolving door as inept editors came and went. I finally got a call from Jim Dressel in Philadelphia, who assured me that he could shape up the magazine.

I knew Jim because he had written several excellent freelance stories for us. He’d also run the BJ Women’s Championships, an assignment that proved he had patience and endurance. (I’ve always said that running one of the BJ tournaments is one of the toughest jobs on earth. Dealing with contentious bowlers, handling mountains of cash and laboring every night into the wee hours for months on end is a monumental mettle-testing chore. How Pat Holeseth managed to run our men’s tournament for nearly four decades — and still stay reasonable sane — is beyond my comprehension.)

Dressel settled into the editor’s chair and promptly shook up the bowling establishment. Until he arrived on the scene, most bowling journalism had been remarkably compliant. Bowlers, industry leaders and association officials rarely suffered a negative mention in any industry magazine. Bowlers Journal had published some careful criticism and even a few fiery denunciations, but we probably erred on the side of accommodation over the years. The other bowling periodicals, however, were absolutely fawning.

That wasn’t Dressel’s style. He soon enraged just about every executive in the industry with exposes, revelations and unseemly digging into their previously sacrosanct affairs. My telephone rang constantly with sputtering industry leaders demanding his ouster. He is still around after more than three decades and numerous awards. He may still be the raging bull of bowling journalism, but we rarely hear a complaint anymore.

Dealing with bowling leaders has been a challenge for industry journalists since genesis. Although it’s a huge industry that generates some $20 billion in annual revenues world-wide, bowling is largely a first-name business. Corporate presidents and association managers mingle easily with bowling’s hoi polloi at tournaments, meetings and conventions. Bowling people may be congenitally approachable, but some among our leadership seem to be highly sensitive to the smallest crumb of criticism.

Our company’s relationship with BPAA has seen a remarkable metamorphosis. When I attended my first BPAA annual convention in 1953, I was barred from all of the meetings. Mostly, I hung around the bar of the host hotel and gleaned snippets of information from loose-lipped conventioneers. Later, I acquired a friendly spy — a proprietor from Florida — who would take copious notes during the meetings. We’d meet in his hotel room on the final day of the convention, and he’d recite the doings of the group and put them in proper context.

When he retired, I took to hiding in closets and lurking behind backstage sets with my little spiral notebook. My resulting coverage of the BPAA conventions infuriated long-time Secretary Howard Seehausen and his brigade of officers. Bowlers Journal and Bowling Proprietor, BPAA’s then-official magazine, battled furiously for shares of the industry’s small pool of advertising dollars.

A more enlightened generation of BPAA leaders began inviting me to a front-row seat at conventions. Several members of our staff have received BPAA awards. And our company now produces the BPAA’s official magazine, Bowling Center Management, as well as Pro Shop Operator, a magazine for the International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Assn., headquartered in the same building as BPAA.

Technology Arrives

By the mid-1970s, the company was sailing along very nicely, thanks to an industry-wide resurgence and the introduction of some new technology.

When I first arrived at Bowlers Journal in the ’50s, our circulation record maintenance was entrusted to a firm called Automatic Addressing Company. Housed in an ancient building a few bocks from our office, Automatic’s workshop looked like a scene from a Dickens novel.

Dozens of little old ladies patiently typed out addresses and expiration codes for new subscribers on stencils, then fed them into long metal drawers with the rest of our readers’ information. AA would print up long galleys at the end of each month and send them over to the office. We’d check them out and then send them to the printer, who used them as mailing labels.

Ed Daugherty, who had assumed my mother’s role as office manager in the early 1970s, eventually convinced me to buy an in-house automated card system. It not only enabled us to print the labels ourselves, it also simplified some of the subscription renewal process.

We eventually dipped our toes into the computer age by buying a big IBM mainframe. A smooth-talking salesman had assured me that this hulking machine would automate all of our circulation and bookkeeping operations. He neglected to mention that there was no existing, off-the-shelf software for the publishing business.

We finally bought a handmade software package from an eccentric magazine publisher in Montana, and modified it about a dozen times to fit our needs. Nowadays, of course, you can buy a publishing business program, slip it into your tidy little desktop PC, and be up and running by the afternoon.

It was around the same time that we also decided to embrace a digital editorial system. For more than a half-century, we had relied on a notoriously complicated system that was common throughout the publishing world: the writers would type their stories on paper, the paper copies would be sent to the printer, a linotype operator would read the paper copies and “set” the type in lead slugs, the slugs would be assembled in “galleys,” and someone would pull a print of the galley and send it back to the writer for corrections. Most of the process would be repeated several times before the publication went to press.

To expedite this procedure, several of us would drive every month to the Johnson Press, our longtime printer in Pontiac, III., to “close the issue.” Although we complained about the loss of time, spending a few days in a picturesque village some 100 miles from the office was actually a pleasant interlude. We’d bunk at a tiny motel around the corner from Pontiac’s elegant courthouse, and have breakfast with the farmers at Paul’s Log Cabin café.

Although Johnson Press boasted state-of-the-art equipment, it was located in an ancient building that had once housed a shoe factory. There was something very satisfying about roaming through the plant, chatting with the linotype guys and hearing the rumble of the presses.

Those countryside adventures came to a shrieking halt shortly after I bought our first computerized editorial system from Compugraphic Corp. We suddenly had the power to write a story on a computer screen and set it in any size and type style deemed desirable. The early machines had no page formatting option, so it was necessary to paste the type on a “boards,” an eye-straining operation that required a lot of patience. The printer would then take a photo of each board and transfer the image to a printing plate.

Now, of course, our editors assemble entire magazines on their Apple computers and zap the entire product to the printer on telephone lines. The Johnson Press still prints several of our publications.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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