Olympic Dreams — Champagne Taste on an Oly Beer Budget

Expanded from the 5-5-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

The more things change, the more they remain the same. I am fighting the same Sierra Pacific Power battles today which my gaggle of rabble rousers thought settled more than 20 years ago.

Now comes another ill-advised attempt to bring the thoroughly corrupt and discredited winter Olympic games back to this area.

Oldtimers certainly remember the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics with fondness. But that was a high school first date concluded by a peck on the cheek compared to the high-rolller cathouse which sports marketing has become.

In 1988, a group of Reno boosters decided to make a push for the 2002 winter orgy. This paper had just been turned into a feisty daily with outrageous New York Post-style headlines. (A practice I sincerely wish we'd reinstate.)

At the same time, I teamed with morning personality Dan Van Enoo and Travus T. Hipp, the greatest talk show host in the world, to launch a new radio station. We surgically removed 40 percent of Lush Rambo and KKKOH's audience in our first rating period.

My radio show and column became the outlet for the concerns of the Olympic critics. I said it then and I'll say it again now: I'm not opposed to the games returning to this region. I was then, and remain, adamantly opposed to using taxpayer money to fund the folly.

As of 1988, no Olympiad had shown a profit save the sponsor-dripping 1984 Los Angeles summer games. I don't believe any games have run in the black since. They invariably require huge taxpayer subsidies. Montreal is only now paying off the final bills for the 1976 summer games.

L.A. Executive Director Peter Ueberroth was viewed as some kind of genius for making a $5 million before leaving to become baseball commissioner. I don't put down his achievement, but it should be noted that the number two media market in the country is not exactly a hard sell to major corporate sponsors.

When the bribery scandals surrounding Salt Lake City's successful bid broke last year, the Associated Press called me from L.A. asking if I thought the Reno-Tahoe bid (they ignored Sparks until Rail City leaders protested) suffered from corruption. I poured cold water on the AP reporter looking for validation of another angle. Reno's bid was deficient in enough areas to have lost without anybody paying someone off.

The local point men in 1988 were former Reno Gazette-Journal publisher Warren Lerude, former RGJ publisher and longtime columnist Rollan Melton and former Lt. Gov. Bob Cashell, R, currently a candidate for Reno mayor. They were earnest in their endeavor and worked hard to make it happen. We had some great debates on the issue everywhere from Sparks City Hall to television specials.

Because I allowed my talk show to become an open forum, including a boisterous program with Lerude and Melton as guests, I became the ambassador without portfolio for the opposition. There was no organized anti-games group, so my media outlets became the de facto guerrilla army by default.

Last year, I told the Associated Press that there were plenty of problems with the Reno-Tahoe bid which diminished its chances without Salt Lake's skulduggery.

Lerude said in 1988 and last year that Reno was told that the first bidder to have its financing in place would have a substantial advantage going into the vote in Des Moines, Iowa. The local Oly sippers went to the legislature and convinced Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to pass favorable legislation, including imposition of a sales tax. (Sound familiar?)

The sales tax was supposed to help pay for a luge run on Mt. Rose and a downtown Reno events and convention center. (Sound familiar?) The Oly boosters insisted that the luge run could be operated at a profit by renting it for training after the games.

I called the long-suffering guy who operated the Lake Placid, New York, luge run, which had been installed for the 1980 winter games.

"Anybody who knows how to run one of these at a profit, have him call and tell me how," the gentleman scoffed.

A luge and bobsled run is a mile-long outdoor equivalent of one of those open-top freezers you see at the grocery store. Can you imagine the power bill?

After Salt Lake was announced as the winner, I got a tip from an insider that the Reno-Tahoe team damaged itself by getting caught misrepresenting some facts during the closed presentations in Iowa.

Now, the Oly drinkers are back, gathering $125,000 to fund another Olympic effort. They will undoubtedly try to tap the public keg once again.

Olympic exposure may provide a great marketing tool for this area's tourism, but we have long been moving away from operating as a one-horse economy. This region has recently suffered far less than Las Vegas because we have diversified our business base. Olympic corporate welfare would only take us backwards.

A luge run on Mt. Rose may greatly improve Sierra Pacific's financial prospects, but for us overstressed taxpayers, it's time once again to do battle in the Olympic rings.

HIPP HAPPENINGS. The abovementioned Travus T., currently heard locally every Tuesday morning with Bruce Van Dyke on Reno's KTHX 100.1-fm, has been nominated for radio personality of the year by Radio & Records Magazine.He's competing in the Triple-A category for alternative music stations. This was the format of his late and lamented northern California legends, KFAT-am, based in Gilroy, and KPIG-fm from Santa Cruz. It is also the label of KTHX in northwestern Nevada.

This item by John Schoenberger was posted on May 1 on R&R's website:
"Vote Now! All eligible voters should have received their R&R Industry Achievement Awards ballots in last week's issue of the paper. The deadline for returning them is May 10; so don't put it off! If for some reason you didn't get your official ballot, please contact circulation at 310-788-1625 immediately. It's important to note that R&R does not count the ballots. The address on the ballot envelope is that of the accounting firm of Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co. The R&R staff will not know the identities of the winners in advance. In the case of the Triple A awards, the awards will be presented at the Triple A Summit in Boulder in August. All other format awards will be presented in June at the R&R Convention in Beverly Hills."

Lobby for Travus by contacting people you know in the radio biz anywhere in the country and tell them to write in the great one on their ballots. Get out the e-mail list now!

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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