While there may have been earlier magazines about running in the U.S. Runner’s World magazine founder Bob Anderson was the man who truly helped make running big time. I have a copy of the first Runner’s World magazine, which featured a shoe review by Jeff Johnson, then, an employee of Blue Ribbon Sports….
Bob Anderson was a pretty good high school runner in his day, who dropped out of college with the idea to start a running magazine. His cohort in this adventure was none other than Joe Henderson, who had been writing for Track & Field News at the time.
I started reading Runner’s World in 1973, and began working there in the summer of 1982. By this time, RW was in it’s first heydey. The magazine had grown from several thousand subscribers to nearly 400,000 by 1982.
Bob Anderson was an innovator. I use the term now, of entremanure. This is not a derogatory term. Please let me explain. An entremanure, as opposed to an entreprenuer is a person who is willing to pick up and try something, actually try alot of things, and see what works and what doesn’t . What does not work, goes bye-bye. What does work, is expanded on and thrown to the waiting crowd again, to see if it works.
Let me give you an example. The shoe review was one of Anderson’s developments that he continued to refine over the years. By 1980, the Runner’s World shoe reviews could make or break a company. I remember watching one company owner after another come to Bob’s office, show him the new product, and asking for his comments.
Bob Anderson was, in my mind, a complex individual. He was a runner thrust into a business role. He was proud of his development of RW, he was proud of his team, he was proud of his company, but he really did not know how to show it. He made good hires, he made great hires, and he made some terrible hires. Among the best hires were Bob Wischnia, Marty Post, John Brant and Danny Ferrara. All superb journalists, all developed at RW and its unique culture, and then they went off to their own worlds. Bob and Marty were two of the longest employed at RW, surviving the old RW, then the first Rodale version and finally, the newest evolution of the magazines. Wischnia and Post made it past twenty-five years, I believe. John Brant is a fine book writer as well as one of the best sports journalist in our sport and Danny Ferrara became a managing editor of Worth and I believe held a similar title at Outside.
RW, at the time, was one of the best selling magazines’ on newstand-with sales of 60 percent some months! One of the innovative ideas that Bob Anderson and his crew brought to the table was two covers. He developed a cover for newstand, normally with some attractive Hollywood starlet, and then a serious cover for the subscriber copies. It was the beginning of an estrangement between Anderson and his reader, that I do not think Bob ever recovered from. He was aghast that his readers would be upset by such a thing.
RW was the first job out of college for many of us. The sales department was virtually a call room, and there were anywhere from five to eight sales men at a time, doing mostly cold calls on the phone, and making sensational amounts of money for the time. However, when the sales rep made too much money, it was time for them to be cut back and we saw the constant moving of sales reps, in and out of the RW offices in Mountain View ( right across from where Silicon Graphics now is located) as a reminder that time in this job was fleeting.
Working in a media culture anywhere is tough. Working at RW in the early 1980s was looked at in longer than dog years. You know, one year of a dog’s life is like seven human years. I was told that it was quite similar at RW, when I started. I would have to agree: Sales people made it an average of fifteen to sixteen months, editorial staff were half that time. Art people were months, if the were lucky. It was hard, it was fast moving, but it was also exhilerating.
For the few of us who were true running geeks, RW was an interesting mix of the sport and business. We could go into Marty Post’s cubby hole and find Athetic Weekly magazines or TFN. We could go see Wischnia and get a good story on some new athlete he had just interviewed. We could visit Dan Gruber or Danny Ferrara and read a letter from some subscriber who regularly sent poems about his happy colon–I am not making this up. My favorite letter, with pictures, was of a guy who felt that guy’s Aerobics clothes were just not innovative enough, so he began wearing spandex women’s fitness outfits to class and, for the life of him, could not understand why he was looked at with less than admiration for his challenging of sports cultural totems at the time.
It was Bob Anderson who gave all of these people their starts in the magazine business. From Robin Wolander to Rich Benyo, from Bob Wischnia to Bruce Morrison, to countless thousands of others.
Bob Anderson’s fatal flaw? He did not want to see negatives, or challenges. As George Hirsch was developing a wonderfully iconic magazine called the Runner, Bob Anderson refused to give him or his title the time of day.
The feud between Runner’s World and Nike, which dated back to shoe reviews in the late 70’s, was not settled under Anderson’s watch, and cost him, not only millions of dollars in advertising, but was one of the primary factors in the success of the Runner magazine. As soon as the ink was dry on the RW-Rodale sale, Nike was on the phone, working on getting advertising into the title. This had been a feud between Bob Anderson and Phil Knight, and neither man would back down. As I was the one taking the phone calls from Nike when they inquired about advertising dates, I was shocked at how quick (this was now 1985), the word had gotten out about the sale, but also fascinated with NIke’s desire to return to a book that they had abandoned for five years.
Bob loved the idea that his magazine could make or break brands. Hind sports, the real developers of sports tights, had worked with Gary Goettelmann, a Santa Clara running store owner, on the product in the late seventies. Hind became a real player in the apparel industry thanks to Runner’s World. Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, the brand names are countless (remember Osaga?), that came through the doors in Mountain View.
It was the best of times, it was the only times. RW, in the seventies and early eighties was a camel with a heavy load on his frail back. The pressure from many things, competition, the changing media landscape, the drop in the popularity of running, the aftermath of the 1984 Olympics, which really depressed the sport of running, the death of Jim Fixx, and the personal tragedies in Anderson’s life forced him to sell RW, his baby, to Rodale Press.
By the time Rodale Press purchased RW, World Publications was down from 160 to about 50 employees. Six employees went with Rodale to work on RW. That was the fall of 1985, and I stayed around through November 1986.
I would never have had my career without Bob Anderson having started Runner’s World and the need for runners to read about themselves and others in their community. While things change, the culture has stayed pretty constant. Bob Anderson read that cultural tidal wave of running and grabbed hold of it and rode it for nearly seventeen years through many changes, and gave us a true cultural icon. He also gave many of us our starts in this business. To that end, and for that start, I thank Bob Anderson.
Only six? I think there were four still at Rodale (including Wischnia and Post) when I started in 1996. (Amby’s the only one left now, of course.)
In 1985, Bob Wishnia, Marty Post and Dan Ferrara were the ONLY people from Mountain View in editorial. The
designer, Kay Douglas and proofers, and rest of team
were Rodalians. Amby had just come on as a full timer,
after having lived in Ct for ten years, freelancing.
Vern Walther, the Circ deity was the business guy, and I
was the ad production/ad sales department with ONE
sales person, Stan Singer, who came from New York.
So, believe it or not, only six old RWers were at Rodale full time, and Stan Singer was let go, sadly, pretty quick after the deal was done.
Our first publisher was Mike Perlis, a great guy, who guided RW through some terribly challenging times, 1985-1986, when running was being hit from all sides.
It was a fascinating time to be at RW, and Rodale was a good home and a wonderful place to be.