30th Anniversary Throwback

December 2006 cover of Volleyball magazine
December 2006 cover of Volleyball magazine

This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of VBM, which marked the 30th Anniversary of the magazine.

As a youngster in Northern California, 2004 Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh was a frequent reader of Volleyball.

“Growing up with the magazine, I absolutely looked forward to the high school spotlights and how well so and so was doing, who were the teams to beat, the college info, etc.,” said Walsh.

But to her, the magazine had added meaning.

“I simply loved seeing people taking notice of the sport, legitimizing it by having its own magazine,” said Walsh.

Walsh’s sentiments are shared by many in the sport who view Volleyball and its predecessors as important components in the development and advancement of the sport over the last three decades.

And while the last 30 years have featured plenty of ups and downs, twists and turns, sales and even a merger, the one constant that has remained has been the commitment to deliver a first-class and informative product to volleyball enthusiasts worldwide.

The Beginning

While there have been memories of earlier attempts at U.S. volleyball magazines (Hall of Famer Gene Selznick said he put out one that lasted two issues in 1963 and there are stories of California beach players Bob and Pete Hogan trying to start one), the true start of the information age in the sport in this country can be traced back to 1976 when the original Volleyball Magazine was started by Jim Bartlett, a publishing executive in Santa Barbara, Calif., who had purchased the IVA men’s pro league a year earlier.

The original Volleyball Magazine debuted in the winter of 1976 and featured UCLA men’s player Joe Mica on the cover.

The staff included highly decorated player Jon Lee, who was a senior editor of the magazine. Lee played one year in the IVA with the Santa Barbara Spikers before joining the publication’s editorial staff. Former Cal State Northridge sports information director Don Weiner was the editor of the magazine, which started out as a quarterly publication before going bi-monthly. Bruce Hazleton and legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Richard Mackson were two of the magazine’s key photographers.

“I could make a little more money writing year-long instead of playing for two, two-and-a-half months,” laughed Lee, who has taught English and has been the boys and girls volleyball coach for the last 23 years at San Marcos (Santa Barbara, Calif.) High School.

Lee, also a volleyball color commentator for ESPN for five years, said the magazine lasted five years with its demise coinciding with the IVA going out of business.

“We captured the flavor of the sport at a time when it was mushrooming in popularity,” said Lee, who traveled the world covering the sport for the magazine.

Volleyball Monthly

The sport’s next major media player was Volleyball Monthly, a publication started in 1982 by California beach player Jon Hastings and his business partner, Dennis Steers. Volleyball Monthly began in a tabloid newspaper format (14 ½ by 10 ¾ and printed on newsprint) and provided readers with the latest news, results and features from the volleyball world—information rarely disseminated in any media form back then.

“I loved the game and there was a void in the marketplace,” said Hastings.

Hastings and Steers started and ran the publication without the aid of any major corporate backing. Hastings said the magazine was funded by the $9.95 checks they got back from initial subscribers. Hastings said they mailed out 20,000 copies of the first issue to USVBA members with a subscription offer.

“We got lots of checks back,” said Hastings, whose slogan, which he deemed “corny,” was “It’s cheaper than a pizza with more stuff inside.”

Volleyball Monthly would go on to chronicle many of the sport’s defining stories, including the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and the emergence and explosion of the professional beach game.

Another Player

Volleyball Monthly remained the sport’s lone printed media voice until 1990 when Volleyball was founded by Australian Clyde Packer’s Western Empire Publications, which also counted surfing and body boarding titles in its magazine dossier. The magazine started as a bimonthly and evolved into a 12 times a year publication in 1991. “Volleyball Monthly was the magazine. It had no competition,” said former Volleyball editor Rick Hazeltine. “Was there room for two magazines? The sport was growing so well. Clyde Packer decided there was room.”

Hazeltine, who came to Volleyball from the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times, set out to distinguish his magazine from Volleyball Monthly.

“Volleyball Monthly did a lot of things well. We wanted to see what we could do differently,” said Hazeltine, who later logged a seven-year stint as assistant sports editor at the Los Angeles Daily News. “We were heavy on instruction with the premise of players getting better. If you look at golf, tennis and bowling magazines, it’s usually about the players getting better.”

For a time, there was room for both publications.
“I think the magazines were an important link for the sport,” said Don Patterson, former executive editor of Volleyball, who worked for the publication from 1991-2002. “They helped disseminate information and developed stars. They gave people who were interested in playing the sport some context because major mediums were not covering volleyball.”

The magazine, which featured talented photographers Peter Brouillet (who remained with Volleyball until 2002) and Robert Beck (Sports Illustrated), was later transferred in 1993 to Avcom, another of Packer’s business divisions. Avcom also printed titles such as Car Audio and Audio Video Interiors.

The Merger

In late 1994, Hastings and Steers sold Volleyball Monthly to Packer. Hastings called the move a “logical evolution” and noted Packer’s company “made us a sound financial offer.”

The two magazines were combined in February 1995 to create what is today’s Volleyball.

“When we merged, that was interesting, if not tense,” said Hazeltine. “They had so much more invested in what they did. There were definitely tensions when Clyde bought (Volleyball Monthly). But we were all pros and worked through it. We combined our editorial staff with their sales people and publisher. At the end of the day, it made it a better magazine.”

“Jon and Dennis took Volleyball Monthly from nothing with their own money and own time and made it what it was,” said Patterson. “It was a big deal for them. All of a sudden a competitor is coming into what they built. It was tough on both magazines with a small market to compete in. It made sense to merge and build one strong magazine.”

Packer sold the magazine in mid-1997 to McMullen Argus, a division of magazine publisher Primedia. Hazeltine stayed on the job a year after the sale to Primedia. Hastings, Steers, Patterson and longtime advertising manager Paul Gabriel continued as the faces of the magazine until Primedia, in an ill-fated move in 2002, sold Volleyball to now-defunct Ashton International Media out of Worcester, Mass.

Volleyball’s current owner, Boston-based Madavor Media, LLC, purchased Volleyball in 2004 along with four other Ashton titles. Madavor Media is a leading, rapidly growing enthusiast publishing company with a strong base in sports, crafts and collectible titles. Other publications include International Figure Skating, Women’s Basketball, Doll Reader, Teddy Bear & Friends and Dollhouse Miniatures.

Impact On the Sport

Longtime Pepperdine men’s coach Marv Dunphy says the presence of volleyball-specific magazines over the last 30 years is a point of major significance in the sport’s advancement.

“Back then, that was our Internet,” said Dunphy, who directed the 1988 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team to a gold medal. “It was huge. In every sport, there are significant events and significant people that help give form to the sport. Without question, Volleyball magazine has done that for our sport. I’d say of the five or six things that have helped legitimize our sport, Volleyball magazine would be in that group.”

“It’s been important for the growth of the sport and it is still very important,” said UCLA men’s coach Al Scates, who recalled a parody of sorts in a very early volleyball magazine about how the cavemen would have played the sport.

Former U.S. Men’s National Team player Byron Shewman, who was featured in the first-ever Volleyball Magazine in 1976, later wrote for the current Volleyball in the mid-1990s.

“It was the Internet,” said Shewman, who now runs the Starlings youth volleyball program. “That’s a good analogy to its importance. People would always be waiting to see who would be on the cover and who was in it. It really gave you a sense that it was a bona fide sport.”

And it continues to be a sport with people hungry for information.

“People at some point become passionate about something whether it’s knitting or antique cars or something else,” said Mikasa Sports USA president Richard McCoy, whose company’s association with volleyball magazines dates back to that first 1976 issue of Volleyball Magazine. “They want to get the publications that show more stuff. That’s what Volleyball magazine does. It shows you more stuff about the sport.”

USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal, who coached the 1984 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team to a gold medal, feels the impact of three decades of volleyball magazines will continue to be felt moving forward.

“If we want to grow as a sport and remain at the forefront of the public’s mind and awareness, you have to have these vehicles to let people know what is going on in our world,” said Beal. “Volleyball magazine has given tremendous visible credibility to volleyball and has provided something way beyond an entertainment and communication vehicle. It’s hard to overvalue the important consistency and ongoing viability the magazine has provided.”

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