Roller derby was one of the first sports to appear regularly on network TV starting with a 13 week run on CBS in 1948. Roller derby was a staple of network TV until 1951 when attempts to remove the theatrics from the “sport” generally resulted in a decline in public interest. During the rest of the ‘50s, roller derby was only to be found on a few local channels, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco. By 1958, the sole bastion of televised roller derby was independent Oakland TV station KTVU which broadcast roller derby matches kinescoped in a deserted garage.
In 1960, KTVU switched to a videotape format for recording matches for broadcast. One of these tapes made its way to a Portland, Oregon TV station which aired it once. The owner of the roller derby league received over 300 letters from Oregonians pleading with him to bring roller derby to Portland. Two teams were promptly sent to put on a match in Portland which drew over 9,000 fans; well in excess of the few hundred showing up for matches at San Francisco’s Cow Palace.
The league quickly began syndicating videotapes of games to other independent TV stations, and by 1961 over 40 stations carried roller derby. The syndication format worked so well, that by the end of the year, a rival league, Roller Games was created in Los Angeles where new teams like the Los Angeles T-Birds and the New York Bombers sold out arenas like the Olympic Auditorium. It was in the Olympic’s broadcast booth that announcer Dick Lane would respond to every fall or crash with a whooping “”Whoaaaa, Nelly!!!”