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RSN owner and publisher Bob Feist proudly points to the very first four-page issue of the publication that was printed in December 1968. – Photo courtesy Bea Ahbeck/Lodi News Sentinel

By Kendra Santos
Special To Ropers Sports News

They call Bob Feist “The Godfather of Team Roping.” But that’s not only because he set the bar so high with his ground-breaking Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic, which remains the world’s richest one-day open roping. Feist also is a pioneer in the team roping publishing business, and it’s the perfect time to step back and spotlight that fact as Ropers Sports News celebrates 50 years as a respected industry voice. 

RSN Publisher Feist, now 77, printed his first issue of the paper that’s seen thousands of cowboy dashboards in five decades in December 1968. It was four pages of black-and-white information on that year’s World Champion Team Roper Art Arnold (back before world titles were awarded to both a header and a heeler) and World Champion Calf Roper Glen Franklin. There were ads to let ropers know when ropings would be held in Riverside, Oakdale, Cottonwood and Brentwood, back when California was the cowboy hot spot.

RSN’s Volume 1, Number 1 also featured a Letter from the Publisher, in which Feist penned visionary words of wisdom that still make perfect sense today: “It is our intention through this publication to promote the sport of roping and rodeo,” he wrote. “We hope that we can unite people holding the same interest throughout the Western states by making available to them advertising showing where the ropings are going to be held and also by having a directory list of the roping arenas in operation.”

Ropers Sports News owner Bob Feist and his ranch dogs, Duke, Taz and Cooper, in front of the Ropers Sports News office in Lodi, California. – Photo courtesy Bea Ahbeck/Lodi News-Sentinel

There were no cell phones and there was no worldwide web. Roping producers relied on mailing postcards and word of cowboy mouth. Feist set out to not only build numbers at existing ropings, but also to grow the sport by breaking status-quo barriers and bringing in new interest from outside the roping box.

“Many people today are looking for ways of relaxation to get away from the hustle bustle of our rapid way of life,” Feist continued, 50 years ago this month. “Golf, boating, skiing, tennis, etc., have long been the favorites of our modern-day businessmen as their way out. We hope that we can help attract newcomers to the rodeo sport through making a part of the sport, such as roping, as available to them as the more common sports.”

Frustration was one fuel behind Feist founding the RSN, which currently reaches more than 20,000 readers each month in 48 states, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France and Germany.

“I drove all the way up to a roping in Elko, Nevada, that ended up not being there,” he remembers well. “Bob Tallman, Ron Hognestad and me had driven all that way and it didn’t happen. It was disappointing that there was no roping, so I said, ‘Maybe I’ll print out a newsletter to let people know when and where ropings are going to be.’

“The big ropings back then were (the 10-steer averages) in Oakdale and Riverside and (the eight-steer average in) Chowchilla, and they would send out entry blanks to ropers based on the year before. I contacted some of those people and told them I was going to put out a new newsletter. I said, ‘If you let me have your mailing list I’ll make sure those guys get a copy of this paper with your entry blank in it.’ I went around to some ropings and put together a list of about 150 people to send that first issue to. We were basically telling people where they could go rope, then who won it afterwards.”

Bob Feist heading on his good mare “Molly” in Oakdale, Calif., 1977. Heeling for Bob is Berl Yarbrough.

RSN General Manager Stephanie Anderson enjoys jackpot team roping, as well as competing at AQHA horseshows in amateur heeling. This photo was taken in 1994 at the Silver Dollar AQHA show at Horsemen’s Park in Las Vegas. Steph is riding Tuckers Lil Fancy, AKA Dish, that she qualified for the AQHA World Show on the same year. – J LeRoy Weathers Photography

The Riverside Rancheros was the first roping to take him up on his offer. It’s funny now to hear Feist tell stories of how some human head duckers were concerned about the public reporting of results for tax reasons. The Godfather will never forget the paternal pride he had in his heart when he held that first copy of his baby.

“I picked up that first issue from the printer on a rainy night, and I felt like I had a copy of the Rolling Stone in my hand,” he said. “We addressed each copy by hand on the living room floor, put stamps on them one by one, and mailed them out.”

Fellow roper Perry Blagg was one of RSN’s first advertisers. Perry was famous for running out to the parking lot and selling ropes out of the trunk of his old Impala between runs. Cowboys referred to Blagg’s car as “a rope can on wheels.”

“The paper didn’t pay for itself for a long time,” Feist remembers. “We were the only team roping publication in the world back then, and my main mission was to encourage more people to go rope. I saw a future for team roping if we could get more people interested in it.

“My intentions were pure, but not everybody saw it that way. The RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association; predecessor of the PRCA) wouldn’t let Ropers Sports News advertise in their paper, because it was a jackpot-oriented publication, and they weren’t for that because it wasn’t rodeo.”

Like the lack of cell phones and no such thing as the worldwide web, some young-gun ropers today won’t remember the days when team roping was not a standard event and included in every rodeo. Team ropers make up the majority of the PRCA membership now, but back then so many rodeos didn’t even include the event. And those that did rarely gave team ropers the respect of equal added money.

“At that time, only rodeos in California, and a few in Arizona and New Mexico, even had team roping,” Feist explained. “I’ve always had a love for team roping, and my idea was that if we could get more people interested in our sport, some of those people would be on rodeo committees and would join us in helping our event. Team ropers are the ones with the greatest economic impact on any rodeo town, in terms of money spent in the community on food, fuel and everything else.

“It all used to be so simple for ropers. People would ride to the neighbor’s ranch to rope. That’s all changed over the years. The good news is that more people are involved in team roping today than ever before. Team ropers drive the Western industry. They spend a ton of money on trucks, trailers, horses, saddles, ropes and all the rest of it.”

Feist had no formal training in the publishing business when he fired off that first issue of Ropers Sports News. 

“I was asked one time if I studied journalism or photography in school,” laughs Feist, who served in the U.S. Army after finishing college. “The answer is no. I went to school in Oklahoma (Oklahoma State University, where he was a hotel and restaurant major), my parents lived in California and I had to write home for money. So I became quite the creative writer.

“I learned how to take pictures after I started the paper. I even learned how to develop them in makeshift hotel darkrooms. I had one of the very first living-quarters trailers, hauled those chemicals around with me, and blacked out the windows to develop my film. I did whatever it took to afford my roping and printing the paper, including selling Ropers Sports News caps, T-shirts and sweatshirts.”

The Wheatley family is several generations deep in cowboys, including Jim Wheatley, who headed at the National Finals Rodeo six times (1973-76, ’78 and ’81), and son Wade, who headed at the Finals six straight years from 2000-05. Ropers Sports News has been a staple in the Wheatley household since the start. 

“I started reading Ropers Sports News when it first came out, and still read it all these years later,” Jim Wheatley said. “You knew where the ropings were going to be, and what time they were going to start. Before that, we were constantly on the phone trying to find out where we could go rope. There weren’t any cell phones, so you’d call somebody, nobody was home, and you’d just have to keep trying. 

“I’ve known Bob since long before he started Ropers Sports News. He was a roper himself, so it wasn’t some stranger stepping into our arena. He was hands-on, and he knew what we needed. Bob’s always been a promoter of roping in one way or another, whether it was with his paper or his roping. Bob’s a longtime promoter of the Western lifestyle, and that’s important to all of us.”

Leo “The Lion” Camarillo will go down in history as a roping revolutionary, and won world team roping titles in 1972, ’73, ’75 and ’83. The 1975 world champion all-around cowboy, who heeled at the NFR 20 times and won the most 10-head NFR average titles ever at six, also has been reading Ropers Sports News since day one.

“Communication is key in all business, and the Ropers Sports News made a difference when it came onto the scene,” Camarillo said. “Word of mouth wasn’t enough anymore, and it was hard to get word out back then. Ropers Sports News stepped up. 

“I don’t know how I made it through my career without cell phones, like we have today. Ropers Sports News had a big impact on the jackpot roping community. It became a bible for the ropers. It was the go-to to find out what was going on back in the day. This publication was a shot in the arm for those of us who loved to rope. It helped us plan our week around where we could go rope. It helped organize us and get more players to the game.”

Besides Feist’s parents, Alberta and Jack, late team roping buddy Buzz MacKerracher’s late wife, Arlene, was Feist’s first hired help. 

“In the early days, I would go to The Galt Herald with a lot of my writings on a napkin,” Feist said. “I got with the owner, and he would put it into newspaper form and they’d roll a copy off the press for me to proof. A typical day at the office would be Arlene and I in their three-room house, sitting by the woodstove and going over stories and ads.”

The second issue of the RSN doubled in size to eight pages, and after writing names and addresses on the front page with a pen awhile, Feist thought he was really moving up in the world when he bought an old stenciling machine from the RCA. After that—back when “there weren’t zip codes as we know them today,” according to Feist—Mom Alberta handled the RSN addressing. 

Feist met Butch Morgan in his roping travels to Colorado, and signed Morgan up to sell RSN subscriptions. “Butch and (his wife) Charlene were making trophies and ribbons in their house, so selling Ropers Sports News subscriptions was a good side job,” Feist said. “He got half of every $3 subscription he sold, so I gave him $1.50 for each one.”

Feist hired his right-hand woman of the last 42 years, Stephanie Reynolds-Anderson, in 1975. He had no way of knowing it then, but it’s a move that proved beyond brilliant as he grew his prized paper and launched the BFI in 1977. As general manager, Steph’s been half the heartbeat of the entire operation for more than four decades. She currently serves as advertising manager in addition to GM.

Stephanie Anderson, longtime employee and current General Manager of Ropers Sports News, enjoying a day of roping with friends and family.

“Buzz MacKerracher and Bud Corwin mentioned that this local girl from Lodi who liked to team rope was out of college and ready to go to work,” Feist remembers with a great big grin. “In the beginning, my mom and dad were gracious enough to let me start it all on the ranch and turn the old milk house into a little office. We built a 10’-by-10’ room, which was just big enough for two desks for Steph and me. The office today is in what used to be part of the shops on the ranch, and we’re still a mom-and-pop shop, just like when mom used to answer the phones.”

If there’s been one pivotal person in the success of Ropers Sports News and the BFI besides Bob, that’d be Steph. After graduating from Lodi High, she attended San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, then rodeoed for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo as an animal science major. Steph served stints at Farm Supply Company and in an administrative position at Goehring Meats before landing her job of a lifetime at RSN.

“Bob hired me back before the paper was making any money, so he could go work for Ron Hognestad and his dad, Barney, for their Hogue Construction up in Santa Rosa,” said Anderson, who lives with her fellow team roper husband, Gus, in nearby Thornton. “I’ve never had a child, so Ropers Sports News and the BFI have kind of been my babies. Watching the evolution of team roping and how far it’s come has been amazing.

“Bob’s been like a big brother to me. It’s been a great partnership, and we’ve always had each other’s back. We make a great team, and just as he was the header and I was the heeler when we used to rope together, the same goes for business. Bob lays the foundation, and I take the lead and finish building the project.”

Steph has always handily held down the fort at RSN HQ with a smile, which allows Bob to leave the reins in capable hands while out traveling the world, promoting the sport, announcing rodeos, skiing, golfing and fishing. Bob and Steph have built longtime partnerships and friendships across all association lines in the roping world, and RSN has proudly served as the official publication of several organizations, including American Cowboys Team Roping Association (ACTRA), California Shoot-Outs, Women’s Team Roping Association (WTRA) and Northern California Junior Rodeo Association (NCJRA). 

RSN and ACTRA have both benefitted from a strong alliance for over 35 years. Still, RSN remains a trusted, independent voice with a heavy emphasis on team roping and barrel racing, and welcomes industry-wide advertisers and results.

It’s a pretty Western workplace where you can bring your horses and dogs to work, and take breaks roping down at the arena, riding a bike around the ranch or walking those dogs down by the river. Bob, Steph and crew have bonded over all those activities and more. Other key players on the tight-knit Team RSN over the years have included Shirl Woodson, Julie Sell, Rayanne Engel-Currin, Jenny Vasquez, Mary Mitchell Robertson, Mary Stephenson Minor, Teresa Vandepol and sister squad Taryn Krantz and Erica Krantz-Lozares. 

ACTRA National President Bob Blair (r) presents a beautiful buckle to the Ropers Sports News crew in appreciation of their commitment to the bettterment of team roping and their support and dedication to serve ACTRA (American Cowboys Team Roping Assocation) as the “Official Publication of ACTRA.” Receiving the buckle are RSN owner/publisher Bob Feist and staff members Jenny Vasquez and Stephanie Anderson.

It’s always felt like family at Ropers Sports News, and this I know firsthand. When I rodeoed for Cal Poly, I went to JoAnn Switzer’s world-famous hub of a home on Foothill Boulevard to eat before the short round early in my college career. Bob Feist, who was in town to announce the rodeo, and I reached her doorstep at the same time, so we stopped to visit a minute. That casual little chat kick-started my career writing cowboy stories. 

Bob cut the first check of my career—for 50 bucks—and on an electric typewriter I wrote and mailed in my earliest stories. I started writing about the BFI all the way back then also, and there’s no place I’d rather have been with my cowboy friends and RSN/BFI family than the Reno Rodeo and BFI each June the past 35 years. As I work my 31st NFR this month, it’s fun to reflect on divine appointments like that one with Bob, who will always be “Boss” in my career book.

Before such industry leaders as Super Looper, Spin to Win, Dally Times and now The Team Roping Journal came along, some suggested Feist upgrade from a black-and-white newspaper to a four-color, glossy magazine. 

BFI creator Bob Feist hands out the checks and awards to the 2002 BFI winners, Rich Skelton and Speed Williams, also the eight-time world champion team ropers. The duo also won the BFI average in 2001. – Kirt Steinke Photo

“I considered it, but Ropers Sports News has always been about doing a service for the roping community, and though we now have readers all over the world we decided to stay on our own track and keep catering to our core on the West Coast,” Feist said. “I commend all the other publications, as they’ve definitely helped the sport. And I think that’s great. I’ve always welcomed people into the industry. That’s how you grow any sport, and I’m all about promoting team roping.

“I never thought the paper would be around this long, but it’s been a godsend. Thank goodness for great employees, because they carried the load when I was gone working on the BFI and announcing rodeos. Stephanie’s been phenomenal. She loves it like I do, and she learned the publishing business on the job, like I did. Neither of us knew how to turn on a computer when they first came out. We’ve come a long way.”

That’s a fact. But this is one of those cases when not changing much philosophically speaking is a good thing.

“Only through a great volume of people showing interest in our sport will we help its purses and prize money grow into a more encouraging factor for young cowboys coming along to pursue this sport as a profession and not just something to do until something more exciting comes along,” Bob Feist wrote 50 years ago, as he set out to change the team roping world for the better. 

Bob Feist with the trailer that was home to Ropers Sports News until 1975, when an office was built on the family ranch.

Feist has earned his place on the Who’s Who of Team Roping list, and Ropers Sports News and the BFI are just two of the reasons why. His impressive announcing resume is another. Feist has called the action at some of the sport’s most prestigious events, including the NFR, National Finals Steer Roping, Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, California Rodeo Salinas, Reno Rodeo, Calgary Stampede, PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals and Timed Event Championship. 

“When it’s all said and done, I would like them to say that I had a vision,” Feist said. “Of course I wanted whatever I worked on to be a success. Every­one has to win for long-term success, and I felt that if I could get the Ropers Sports News to be successful for me and help the sport, that was going to be a win for all. I was very blessed to have fun and build some success doing what I love. 

“If team roping hadn’t gone the way it went and come along as it has, I don’t think the rodeo world would be nearly as progressive as it is today. I know that’s hard to convince some people of, but I believe it to be true. Team roping more than pays its own way. More people team rope than any other event in rodeo—by a wide margin. When I look back, I’m humbled and honored to have helped the Western industry more than anything. I’ve been good to the Western industry, and the Western industry has been good to me.”

Besides RSN publisher, Bob Feist also has a famed career as a Hall of Fame PRCA rodeo announcer. This shot was snapped in 2003 at the San Juan Capistrano Rodeo. – Photo by Richard Field Levine