Jim Vance on Washington football back in the day –
“I used to walk to the games, RFK. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked home and it’s a one way street going west. People would stop their cars at 11th and C and get out. And the people would come out of their houses. . . everybody was having a party in the streets of DC because we beat Dallas. We beat the Cardinals.”
A Ockershausen: Welcome back to Our Town. This is Part Two with Jim Vance. This is Andy Ockershausen.
Jim, the thing that we always see in my mind, was Channel Four was Vance, the sports shows, what you would do with George … It was just incredible. Your chemistry with Michael was unbelievable. And he was not an easy person to get along … Another Philadelphia guy.
Jim Vance: George could be a major pain in the butt.
A Ockershausen: That’s right. Perfectionist.
Jim Vance: But, part of what people sometimes found so grating about George was what I figured out right away. George is an unrepentant perfectionist. As it regards his element of concern, his sports broadcast, his show, he demanded nothing but perfection. There’s so many things I admired about George not the least of them, one of the people I met last Saturday at the Golden Circle Award thing was one of George interns from back 25 years ago who remembered so well how he used to have to wear a tie every day. I admire George for making his interns come to work every day wearing a tie. You were talking earlier about ..
A Ockershausen: Felix.
Jim Vance: about Felix respecting his audience. It’s also a matter of respecting the craft. I appreciate … And nobody respected the craft more than George. Beyond that I never knew a harder working man in my life, Andy, than George Michael.
A Ockershausen: He seemed to be possessed when he was around his own show. Then he did it with the special show.
Jim Vance: With the ..
A Ockershausen: He made Sports World.
Janice Ockershausen: Sports Center?
A Ockershausen: Sports Machine.
Jim Vance: Sports Machine. Thank you so very much. Before George taught ESPN how to do it.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely he did.
Jim Vance: I’ll never forget the day I was going to the station and these construction crews in there like, “what the hell.” They had this big crane. The very first satellite was being put up in our parking lot and some people were angry, because it took away at least five parking spaces which were at a premium.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Jim Vance: Then I think now I can’t even count the number we have in there now. That was George. His foresight was so sharp and so incredible. Then the number of people he brought in who then went on …
A Ockershausen: A lot of young people he taught the business to. We hear it all the time.
Jim Vance: Taught the business to. Lindsay to this day, sings the praises of …
A Ockershausen: Lindsay Cadillac I call her.
Jim Vance: That’s good enough too. Except I call her Lindsay Rolls Royce.
A Ockershausen: She’s great. So many people that went through George. The team and Bob Ryan was such a part of your interplay with the staff.
Jim Vance: And Arch.
A Ockershausen: Arch.
Jim Vance: And they all came at about the same time in the early 80s. Bob, George, and Arch.
A Ockershausen: And Doreen.
Jim Vance: Well Doreen came later. Doreen is now with us 27 years.
A Ockershausen: I know that’s incredible.
Jim Vance: Well now let me tell you what’s even more incredible. This is a testosterone overloaded set with George, Bob, Arch, and me. Here comes Doreen, this drop-dead gorgeous. Big hair …
A Ockershausen: Yeah big hairdo.
Jim Vance: Right. From Philadelphia just late of Tennessee or someplace. Walked in and made it clear on the very first day, “don’t be punking me out, because I can hang with you guys. I am not going to go to your depths, but I will take you to a higher level.” She never said that. That was the way that she came.
A Ockershausen: She performed that way.
Jim Vance: From day one, Doreen had the respect of every single one of us including and especially George who was the most difficult. By then, George, and Bob, and Arch and I, we had our own little boys’ club.
A Ockershausen: The chemistry was so special.
Jim Vance: Yeah, it was special and I got to tell you. Thank you, Andy for bringing that up. Few things in my life am I more grateful for than the fact of the people that I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of working with especially those folks: George, Bob, Arch and Doreen. They have elevated me so much and I thank them for taking me to new heights. They are just totally wonderful journalists, but also just really cool people.
A Ockershausen: Wonderful people.
Jim Vance: Yeah. You want to live next door to them folks. You know what I mean? Well maybe except George.
A Ockershausen: You’re winning everything. All the talent gets more and more. We used to love the Redskin shows with Jurgensen who is not a broadcaster, but he was made to feel at home as part of the crew. It all worked.
Jim Vance: Yes indeed.
A Ockershausen: Those days are gone now. The Redskins are gone from our life it seems. And that’s kind of sad.
Jim Vance: Yeah, it is sad. Back when Jack owned them, there was personality. There were expectations that you were free to have because they would meet them on a regular basis. I wasn’t a Redskins fan when I came here. I’m still not that much of a Redskins fan.
A Ockershausen: Eagles fan?
Jim Vance: I was. I was an Eagles fan back then.
A Ockershausen: I knew that.
Joe Gibbs and Washington Football Back in the Day
Jim Vance: I always have been a LA Rams and a Packers fan. Joe Gibbs came in here and turned this town around, didn’t he?
A Ockershausen: Wasn’t it wonderful?
Jim Vance: Turned it up on … How joyous was it to ride down Connecticut Avenue or Good Hope Road and feel the commraderie and the spirit that they brought to the …
I used to live at 10th and C Northwest, the first house I bought in this town.
A Ockershausen: Is that in Shaw?
Jim Vance: No it’s in northeast DC right-
A Ockershausen: Oh northeast DC.
Jim Vance: They call it Capitol Hill now. Back then it was still the hood. But it was 10 blocks from RFK. I used to walk to the games, RFK. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked home and it’s a one way street going west. People would stop their cars at 11th and C and get out. And the people would come out of their houses. And people would be passing bottles around and maybe passing other things around too. And everybody was having a party in the streets of DC because we beat Dallas. We beat the Cardinals.
A Ockershausen: It was universal, Jim.
Jim Vance: It was universal and what a tonic it was for a city that was going through all kinds of grief and hell.
A Ockershausen: We lived through it, babe. Oh my god.
Jim Vance: A lot of people who are here now, and god bless them. It’s good for them that they weren’t here back in the time where there were neighborhoods and streets that nobody wanted to drive down after the sun went down. Remember they used to roll this town up at sundown?
A Ockershausen: Absolutely, baby.
Jim Vance: Nobody was out because it was dangerous.
A Ockershausen: I wouldn’t go there with the chief of police in some of those places.
Jim Vance: Absolutely right. I used to ride in the police cars just to see what was going on. When cops went into certain neighborhoods, they would tense up. They would have their hands on the thing. Deal now is, what a wonder it is to drive down Martin Luther King Avenue six o’clock in the evening and see all kinds of people including young, white couples pushing a baby carriage and leading their dog along the street in a neighborhood where nobody wanted to be 20 years ago.
A Ockershausen: The whole thing has been such a great revolution in our town. We’re going to take another break here Jim. This is Part Two with Jim Vance.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
A Ockershausen: Welcome back to Our Town. This is Part Two with Jim Vance. This is Andy Ockershausen.
One of the things that we were talking about before you arrived was the 40th anniversary of the Hanafi situation and the hostages. We had Maurice Cullinane who was then chief of police and what went on in those days. It’s 40 years ago.
Jim Vance: Remember it well. That’s the one by the way that got Max to ABC. Because that’s the one that, oh can’t remember his name, Khalifa …
A Ockershausen: Max Robinson?
1974 Federal District Courthouse Cell Block J Siege – News Coverage and Negotiations
Jim Vance: Yeah. Max was at channel nine. Max is the one that was called in to assist in the negotiations to end that. Remember they took over B’Nai Brith and they shot the, what’s his name in the district building. Marion got shot in the district building. It was a terrible time in this city.
My recollection another terrible time for me, was three years earlier in ’74 when some guys took over the cell block in the federal courthouse, took hostages, lawyers and others.
A Ockershausen: That was Uncle Sam at that time, right? It was the federal courts.
Jim Vance: Oh yeah, it was federal district courthouse down on Constitution Avenue. I got called in on that one and got locked in that building, in the courthouse for four days trying to cover that story. And was asked to help negotiate an end to that which I did and which I have always regretted to this day.
A Ockershausen: That was a siege correct?
Jim Vance: It was a siege, but what happened is I got closer to the story than I was comfortable with, number one. And I was uncomfortable with it, because I was there just to tell people what happened, not to be part of the story. And I got caught up in the emotion of it all, the desire for it to end, the commitment to help the federal marshals and other federal officials who were trying to end it without bloodshed. But I still should not have gotten involved in that in my view as a journalist.
A Ockershausen: You learned from that of course.
Jim Vance: I did. No I did not want to be the story and I ended up being part of it. I regret that.
Let me tell you what I don’t regret is how I got in there. I got in there. They took it over on a Wednesday. That was the lead and that was what everybody was covering. Nobody had any information. After the six o’clock show I went out to have a cigarette. One of the interns came out and said, “Vance there’s a phone call for you.” And I’m like, “who?” Told me it was the guy holding hostages in the cell block. How did he get on? The kid said, I hope he’s the president of some network or somewhere. He said, “because I called him. I looked in the phone book and found the number for the cell block J.” I said, “my man. You’re going to go far.” But I went in and the guy who was holding the hostages had the gun, was on the phone. He wanted to go on TV, but he also wanted to tell me what a tool of the media and a punk and a sellout and all these other kinds of things, I was. Because I worked for channel four.
A Ockershausen: He was going to beat you up.
Jim Vance: After awhile, I don’t want to take anymore of this person. It’s like, “dude, you don’t know me and I will kick your butt if you keep on like this.” It ended up, “you come down here now and you and I will throw down.” Is what he said to me and, “I’ll kill you.” And I said, you’ll take your shot. Then I said, “but I can’t get in.” He said, “I’ll get you in.” He called Jim Palmer, the US Marshal for the district and Palmer called and said, “Vance what the hell is going on?” I said, “I’m going to kick that dude’s ass if you’ll let me in.” He said, “okay, I’ll let you in but two things: One, you’re not going down there to kick his ass, because he might kick yours. Two, once you’re in the doors are locked you can’t get out.” So I was in there for four days with Marion Berry’s first wife before he married her, Mary.
A Ockershausen: Mary?
Jim Vance: And a DJ in town who also was in there. That was a most interesting time.
A Ockershausen: We don’t have anything quick with you, Vance.
Jim Vance: When I got home, this is interesting to me in terms of neighborhoods. And how for any of us, Andy, in this business if we treat people with respect and we give people the impression through the air that we are among them. And not trying to be above them or any other kind of thing, they will respond. I was driving in the old Austin Healey Mark III the old British car with the top down, raggedy old thing. When that thing was finally over, I hadn’t slept in four days. I lived at 10th and C Northeast, and I came home and parked the car around the corner from my house on 11th Street. And my house was here around the corner. I was so tired. The top was down because it was summertime. I went in and went right to sleep.
Hours later, there’s a knock on the door. Three little girls in the house at the time. Somebody said, “Daddy”. I forget the guy’s name. Killa Joe, whatever. He’s here for you at the door. I went down, “what’s up?” He’s one of the thugs in the neighborhood. He had in his hand, a tape recorder, a camera, two or three different items that I had just left on the seat of the car. I was just dead tired. I just wanted to go to sleep. He said, “Mr. Vance, you left this in your car. Are you crazy? Don’t you know these suckers around here will steal your stuff? What’s wrong with you?” And I said, “well why didn’t you steal it?” And he looked at me with this puzzled look on his face. He didn’t know what to say. He was like, “here … ” called me … “take your stuff.” And walked away because he was trying to figure out, “why didn’t I steal it?”
A Ockershausen: You were important to the hood though. They like you.
Jim Vance: Well the funny thing was we got along so well, not along so well. I was part of that neighborhood. I lived there. My kids rode their bikes up and down the street. And we hung out together. It was respect is all it was. It’s an old lesson-
A Ockershausen: Listen, Vance. You still are so respected by downtown, and in town, and Our Town and we’re going to take another break here, Jim. I love that story about the hostages.
Jim Vance: Cool.
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A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, this is Our Town. We’re talking about our hood, our neighborhood. At one time, Jim and I were neighbors in Spring Valley. I didn’t see a lot of him, but I heard a lot of him with his cars and motorcycles. It’s such a big part of our town, because you use those vehicles in our town. Everybody knew Jim Vance.
Motorcycle Therapy and Pete Wysocki
Jim Vance: Yes, well those bikes were and remain therapy for me. I don’t do drugs or gamble or chase women anymore. In order to chill out, it’s the bikes that I use. On any given day. I don’t do it so much now, but back in the day. You know what White’s Ferry is? Potomac.
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Jim Vance: If they were making me crazy at the office at RC, because at Spring Valley I was five minutes out from the station. Go home, get on a bike, take that run out River Road and then back whatever those roads are back there to White’s Ferry. Sit on one of those benches, watch the ferry go back and forth a couple times. Then go back to work fortified. Every year, I have for the last 20 or so years, gone somewhere. We’ve done the entire country several times.
A Ockershausen: You’re world class. You’ve been to Sturgis, have you done all that out west?
Jim Vance: Sturgis, many times, but yeah we ride to Sturgis. We’ve been to Sturgis three times. We were there last year as matter of fact in Sturgis, but we ride all the time. Used to ride and you know this name, with Pete Wysocki. Number 50 with the Redskins. One of the crazy dudes. Pete used to lead the wedge. Remember on the kickoff team or punting.
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Jim Vance: He was the one that would dive in head first.
A Ockershausen: He used to say, “I’m Polish, what do you expect of me?”
Jim Vance: “what do you expect of me?” I know I’ve heard him say that many times. Pete’s one of the guys that I learned an awful lot from about bikes, because he was on a bike before I was. When we hooked up, I remember on time we went to way up beyond Montreal. Laval, Canada, something like that. I spent a lot of time watching Pete and how he rode. I never took lessons, but I learned by watching people I respected rode. What a hell of a guy, man. We certainly, I only speak for myself, really miss him. Pete was a down to earth guy. Funny as he could possibly be.
A Ockershausen: Maybe as funny as anybody without really working at it, Pete.
Jim Vance: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: Yeah. He was just.
Jim Vance: He didn’t even try.
A Ockershausen: And he loved his dog. Remember he was raising bulldogs.
Jim Vance: Bulldogs. Yeah.
A Ockershausen: Developing that. You know there’s so many special people, Jim. You’re fortunate to have known them all. Particularly the people you work with. The people that surrounded you in our town. It’s been a great life for you and for us and for all. We miss you in Spring Valley.
Jim Vance: Well thank you.
A Ockershausen: You moved up from there of course.
Jim Vance: How do you move up from Spring Valley. Are you kidding me? Moved out from there. There has been a great many people who have been so important to my life at so many different levels, and have meant so much to me. One of the things that I try to make a point of doing is sharing with people, either here or elsewhere especially is how special Washington is. And by Washington, I really do mean the DMV. It is a special place and not because of the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Or the Jefferson or the Library of Congress, but because of so many really wonderful people that have lived here over the years. Some of whom are gone now, but man, you can remember some absolutely … Morrie Siegel, for goodness sake.
Mo Siegel. I had the pleasure of working with Mo for years at RC when he was our sports guy back in the day. Marion Barry, there’s not another city in the country where you’re going to find a guy like Marion Barry. Petey Greene for goodness sake. In the whole world.
A Ockershausen: Performer. Great performer.
Jim Vance: Absolutely right. But a guy who by virtue of his will and his determination, his focus and his discipline took himself from the outhouse to the White House. Wonderful human being.
A Ockershausen: A street guy.
Jim Vance: Total street guy who never lost his street creds.
A Ockershausen: I know.
Jim Vance: But who rose to some considerable heights. Guys like … and so so many others who are just absolutely wonderful people. I think of Wes Unseld who was on the last and only championship team what we had. And then who stayed here all of these years, but just a wonderful decent human being and a great guy to be around. It’s a shame that more people didn’t know Wes, the Wes that was not the basketball force. You can go on, and on, and on. You and I could sit here all day long calling names, but just wonderful people in this town.
Let me say one final thing. You’re included in that. Now you’re sitting up here, we’re talking about me. The name of the game here, and anywhere else, in life is who survives. Who hangs in there. Who stays on top. I have known you for damn near 50 years myself. I know there are …
A Ockershausen: The good and the bad days, Jim.
Jim Vance: Other folks in town … The good and the bad. And I’ve had my bad too, believe me. The deal is, not only am I, you’re still here. And you’re still doing what you’ve been doing so well.
A Ockershausen: I love it.
Jim Vance: And isn’t that the key, Andy?
A Ockershausen: Sure it is. It’s all about. You were talking about making a lot of money was always important, because we wanted to live. But the association with the people, and the people in our business. How fortunate we are were that we’re still here, and we’re still active. You’re more active than anybody except I miss you at 11 o’clock.
Jim Vance: I don’t miss 11 o’clock. I’ve got to tell you that.
A Ockershausen: Our guys used to say, “we love radio, but we don’t work on Saturday, right. We tried to build a radio station to friendly Washington people and part of Our Town. It worked and the day is gone though. Thank god your world still exists and you’re still … we love it, we watch it. It’s part of our town.
Jim Vance: Thank you, Andy and I feel a part of this town. When I’m asked now, “where are you from”. I am as inclined to say DC as I am Philly. I’ve been here, like I said 48 years. And I was in Philly for 27. I came here when I was 27 years old, so I’ve been twice as long here as I was in Philly. So I’m inclined to say I’m from DC.
A Ockershausen: I’m glad you said something. We call the program Our Town, but we consider Annapolis our town, we consider Vienna, Virginia our town. We consider . . . as our town. we consider everything within our signal …
Jim Vance: Within our signal.
A Ockershausen: Is our town.
Jim Vance: That’s what the key is, right.
A Ockershausen: And in your case, the TV’s all over. There’s several words you can say about people, and everybody knows who you’re talking about. You can say ‘Sonny’, everybody knows who you’re talking about. You can say ‘Regardie’, you don’t need a first name. You can say, ‘Vance’, you don’t have to elaborate. It’s a great thing for our town.
Jim Vance: And I am so grateful for the … I’m serious as a heart attack. For having the opportunity to be here long enough and to establish the connection that I’ve been able to establish here by virtue of that longevity. And you know a few other things as well. What a blessing it has been. And before I make the point all the time, my business has changed drastically. It’s not the one that I fell in love with, but I still love doing what I do every day. I can still see the joy in you too.
A Ockershausen: The people depend on you.
Jim Vance: Well, cool.
A Ockershausen: They do, you’re Jim Vance.
Jim Vance: And I will remain so, on the air or off the air, whatever the case may be.
A Ockershausen: Ain’t it a great life?
Jim Vance: And isn’t that the key to it as well? Be yourself.
A Ockershausen: I got fortunate enough to be married to … Janice was at WMAL 32 years. I was there 36 years. Between us, we’re over 70 years. We love what our town is about and that’s why we have a chance to bring it. It was her idea to bring these ideas together and all the people, because it’s all about people, Jim. It ain’t about nothing but the people.
Jim Vance: I got one final thing to say to you. You married up. Look at her smile, because she knows it too and always has.
A Ockershausen: She’s the greatest.
Jim Vance: You married up, Andy.
A Ockershausen: This has been a wonderful, wonderful conversation with Jim Vance and he’ll have many more years on the air, I hope. But I remember mostly about Jim when he’s on his bike and he had some kind of bandana around his hair.
Jim Vance: A skull cap yeah.
A Ockershausen: I said that’s our man. Getting out of town. This has been Our Town. It’s been a wonderful opportunity with Jim Vance and we hope that you remain part of our town forever.
Jim Vance: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: We need you, Jimmy.
Jim Vance: I appreciate the time. I really do.
A Ockershausen: Happy days baby
Jim Vance: This has been delightful. Thank you, Janice.
Janice Ockershausen: Thank you.
Jim Vance: It’s been wonderful.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season Two. Presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL Radio in Washington, DC for hosting our podcast, and thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.