At the end of my past life, I earned the right to be the first flat track derby announcer with the Texas Rollergirls.
What follows is a very old, very unauthorized, and very unedited version of the document I produced describing my experiences during the genesis of flat track derby. It would be some of the last moments of my past life.
LOUDMOUTH: Confessions of a Flat Track Derby Announcer
Bowie V. Ibarra
Copyright 2007 Bowie V. Ibarra
Chapter XI: Announcer Pay
If its not abundantly clear to the reader at this point, I enjoy becoming Julio. Glasses: Iron Announcer Texas several times a year and calling flat track bouts with Whiskey L’Amour, Jim “Kool Aid” Jones, and even Chip Queso.
In case it has not been made clear, my other half does not appreciate my participation in flat track derby. From my wife’s perspective, flat track is degrading and the sport does nothing for women because the women dress like sluts.
At this point, I can pull a Bill Clinton and ask her to define “slut”, “dress”, and “degrading”. The message of empowerment and the balancing of the femininity can be very confusing. Slut is a very strong word, and it is really hard to defend the “dress like sluts” issue with a woman and spouse, as the outfits can, and usually are, very provocative and sexually stimulating. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
At any rate, it’s hard to defend that point. Anything else brought up about charity work, community service, or the actual athletic ability and training is a moot point.
When I first auditioned for this job, it was under the assumption that there would be compensation. I assumed announcers and other staff were compensated.
As mentioned, I was wrong.
But at the same time, I did not have much of a problem with it. To me, it was like community theatre. I would get a chance to perform a role I had desired my entire life (that is, announcer for a sports entertainment event) and have some fun doing it. It was a start up group at the time, and I assumed money was going to be tight. Perhaps it was, and perhaps it still is.
I joined around the time I was to make XXXXX my fiancée and, ultimately, my wife. She knew what I was doing and I thought, at the time, she didn’t mind it.
However, she attended one show and was appalled. One of her first comments to me was, with the smile of a woman holding back rage, “No wonder you like to come to this.” With the likes of Dinah Mite walking around in long white boots and Catholic School girls with their butts hanging out from under little mini skirts, the assumption was harsh, but fair.
Sure the sights were amusing. It was part of the spectacle. But the truth was I was there to do a job, and do it well. I was not there to pick up rollergirls. I was an engaged man. I had given my word to XXXXX’s father, her mother, to her, and to God that I would forever be there for her and never leave her. You know, “For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death…yada, yada, yada.”
So for me to keep this job and my wife and family, it was necessary to conduct the job of announcing as professionally as possible. That meant not going to every after party and not participating at other rollergirl events. To me, that’s not a big deal. I really have no business at an after party anyway, and am usually just another face in the Jim Jones cult following. The parties are not about me anyway, they are about, and for, the girls who went to battle that evening. Like I said, I really have no business there.
But the anger and animosity toward the organization continued to grow in my home, especially when I found out by accident that the DJ gets paid a very significant amount each bout. I was a little upset, as I initially thought EVERYONE was working for free.
The conversations at the house became heated. “You’re a professional performer. Why do you continue to work for free?” she would ask. “You’re good at what you do, and they should pay you.”
“Because it’s something I enjoy doing,” I would reply.
“You like looking at the girls. That’s why you do it for free.”
Was she right? To a certain extent. I would be Elton John if I told you that looking at the strong and powerful legs of the rollergirls was not a turn on. But that is not what I was there for. The real reason I was there is because I loved announcing. If it was for the girls, I would be attending more rollergirl functions, and there were plenty of them. Pep rallies, charity work, fund raisers. But attendance to any of those events outside of the actual game day would be perpetually tied to “looking at the girls.”
So the arguments would move forward.
“If you really did it because you loved announcing, you’d quit the rollergirls and get an announcing job that respected your work and professionalism enough to pay you for it.”
It was hard to debate that. The fact was I was good at it. Was I the best ever? I can never say that, as I believe a person is always growing and can always learn something new.
But, in my humble opinion, I was one of the best. And I did take my work very seriously. When visiting teams would come to Austin, I would make it a point to learn their names. Even early in my announcing career, when I thought Wednesday practice
attendance before the bouts were mandatory, I was there to work and learn names, and not necessarily to schmooze. Sure I talked to some to get to know them. But that wasn’t about picking up. It was about discovering some side of them that I could use for announcing.
I took my wife’s words to heart and sought out to find announcing work that paid. Like “The Secret” says, you send out the energy, opportunities come to you. I found a small time professional wrestling outfit in Austin that was looking for an announcer. I made a call and before I knew it, I was in.
I made sure to dress the part in my blue business suit and tie. I was to be a professional wrestling announcer, my lifelong dream. But one last hurdle needed to be jumped, a challenging hurdle that I was afraid to face down.
For those unfamiliar with the professional wrestling world, especially the small circuits, it is a tough world to negotiate. There are many promoters around that seek to take advantage of “marks” and wannabes, people who will do anything to just be in the show.
Fortunately for me, I knew a very good friend who had worked many of the wrestling rings across Texas who I called with advice as I ventured into the world of professional wrestling. His name was Jeromy Sage, and I owe him immensely to the advancement of my announcing career.
Jeromy made very clear that before I do any work, I make arrangements to be paid. He advised me that, in general, the going rate for work in the indies is about twenty-five bucks. However, once that rate is established, there should never, ever, be a reduction in pay. It goes unspoken that if twenty-five was paid once, the pay after that should be the same or higher.
If the time comes when a promoter refuses to pay, then you can do several things, depending on the kind of wrestler you were and how many of your friends did not get paid as well. You can 1) Walk out with $25 worth of stuff, 2) You can threaten them with physical harm if you do not get your money, 3) You and your friends can kidnap the promoter’s wife/girlfriend, take her back to her house, tie her up on the stairs, rough up and then tie up her promoter husband when he returns, and force him to watch as you, your friends, and a dog have their way with his wife.
Well, a lot of those options were really not palatable for me. At least not the married me, that is. So I hoped there would be some honor when I went in to discuss my first night.
As Jeremy predicted, they did try to immediately get me on the mic. I chose to begin working my magic. The fans and the workers were impressed. I hoped the promoter felt the same way.
I mustered up some courage and used the words Jeremy had suggested.
“Sir, I understand that this is a business and I need to get compensated for my work.”
He was ready with a question. “How much does roller derby pay you?”
I was not a liar. “I do it for free.” I had to save the conversation, as it was going south pretty quick. “Listen, if you like what you hear, I hope you will compensate me appropriately.” That was not a good save.
He replied, “I’ll pay you a quarter.”
A quarter? What?
Trying not to be too suspicious, I went ahead and continued with the show.
By the end of the evening, when the booker approached me inconspicuously with my pay via a handshake, I learned what a “quarter” was in the business.
I was overjoyed. My wife would be happy. I immediately celebrated by purchasing a 32oz can of Busch beer and putting the rest straight into the truck. I saved one dollar and placed it in a picture frame that held the flyer for that particular show.
The shows continued every Saturday night and to my surprise my pay was actually going up. For several weeks the pay raised up in increments of $5. I was very happy with the way things were going. My wife was right. My work was respected and compensated in kind by one of the hardest bunches of people to please.
But that created a kind of resentment in me. The professional wrestling show was very low budget. The workers put a lot of heart and soul into the matches, like most every professional wrestler in the world. They do it because they love it.
Unfortunately for them, our crowds were very small. The venue they performed in was attended by maybe 30-50 people every Saturday night, with most of the people being family and relatives.
Yet they were still paying me very magnanimously.
I announced the Texas Rolllergirls championship game with heart and soul. I was on fire and really felt it was my best performance in describing the action, getting the girls over, and cracking a few jokes as well.
But I looked at the arena and saw the crowd of 700 to maybe 900 people standing and watching the Gold Standard of Flat Track Derby and was very upset. How could a league of rollergirls who drew close to 800 people on a regular basis at $15 a ticket not pay me when a ragtag group of courageous professional wrestlers who pack a house with maybe 40 people not only pay me, but incrementally raise my pay each weekend, depending on the gate?
I vented to Whiskey, who politely listened to my rant, and sympathized with my position. Chip was curious as to why I was upset as well, but I kept it vague. I didn’t want to put a damper on the rest of their evening.
I went to the MySpace announcer group, the Voices of Reason. The group was a collection of flat track derby announcers from around the nation. The responses to my question, “Flat Track Derby Announcers: A fine perfume, or chopped liver”, in which I asked if it was reasonable for announcers to get compensated, especially if other people in production are getting paid. The responses were varied and passionate. I touched a nerve.
*** “We’re there for the rollergirls. We don’t have to meet formally and they give us beer to drink once a month.”
*** “If the DJ gets paid, you should get paid. You can do derby without a DJ, but not announcers.”
*** “You’re a sellout if you take money. You do it because you love it. Period. In my league, the rollergirls voted in their second season to pay me, but it was unnecessary because I’d do it for free.”
*** “There’s no price tag on the real rewards of announcing. Meeting people from all over the nation, going to states you would never go to if it wasn’t for derby, and having the privilege to go into most any city in America to a fellow announcers house and say, “I’m with (team), is there a place for me to stay? Besides, if the girls don’t get paid, we shouldn’t”
*** “You don’t get paid? Suckers!”
I stopped announcing for the Austin wrestling group, taking up another offer to call professional wrestling for more money without having to lose so many Saturday nights with my wife and child. It might have been for the best, as a shift in the political climate of the Austin organization brought to the helm people who I had been warned about. Despite the warnings, I gave them a chance. After all, they had not done anything wrong to me, even though they had wronged several of my friends who worked in professional wrestling.
It was poetic that my last day announcing for the organization, the fears of my friends were made manifest. The new regime leader stiffed me five dollars. I knew the rules. I knew I had to insist on getting that money. That was how it worked in professional wrestling.
But I gave him a chance. Not knowing I was not going to be there the following week, I gave him a chance, even though I probably shouldn’t have. I told him he could get me the five dollars next week, but I was now expecting thirty.
It was not to be. The new gig worked out, and I would be in Dallas working on commentary for the international distribution of the IWA Puerto Rico every few weekends for more money.
I called the Austin group to tell them I wouldn’t be going back. Appropriately enough, the promoter thought it was for the five dollars. I told him if I come back to work, we’ll talk about that then. I did not burn the bridge, and the promoter was amicable in my parting ways.
But the new season of flat track was starting soon, and pressure was coming to bear about pay again. I brought it to league officials, who had allegedly already discussed the issue several times, but were dragging their feet to take a vote.
I really want to thank Sparkle Plenty for her help. I really felt she was an advocate for us in bringing up this issue. I appreciate her going to bat for us in those long meetings announcers are not privy to.
In the end, after the third bout of the season, Sparkle confirmed that the girls agreed we should be paid for our work.
The price tag? Suffice it to say it was competitive with the wrestling association.
After my experience in professional wrestling, it was appropriate.
The first pay night, the third bout of the season, was a great night. I was on fire and really felt in the zone calling the game. But I was a little nervous. How was I going to deal with the pay? Should I do it like I did when I announced for the Austin pro-wrestling group and inconspicuously wait around until the promoter placed it in my hand during a handshake? Would I have to fight it out if they refused to pay?
My question would be answered by Sparkle, who told me Muffin Tumble was writing the checks. I followed Muffin to the front of Playland, where she pulled out a checkbook. Muffin is usually all smiles. Tonight, she seemed a bit severe.
A check! The story of Mickey Finn, Jr., popped into my head when the same promoter that stiffed me five dollars tried to pay Finn with a check. You never take a check from a promoter.
Finn used option 2).
But this was flat track derby. This was not professional wrestling.
This was the Texas Rollergirls.
Watching the moment unfold, I watched the referees and several other people get paid with a check. It looked like the checks were dependable.
Taking the check into my hand, I smiled.
My work really was appreciated.