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Roll of a Lifetime

The Big Ball of Tape reflects on 20th anniversary of “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations”

Posted on November 20, 2015 by Lindsey Foat 
Photo of a large ball of silver tape

Twenty years ago this week, Kansas City Public Television aired the first ever episode of “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations.” The show ran for 12 seasons and followed television weasels Randy Mason, Don “the Camera Guy” Mayberger, and Michael Murphy, as they traipsed across the country looking for outsider art and odd attractions.

Of course, the unsung hero of the entire program is the Big Ball of Tape, which was with the guys from the beginning. In fact, when Randy, Don, and Mike hit the road in the first episode, the Ball is used a hood ornament.

In recognition of this week’s milestone, we decided to ask the Big Ball of Tape a few questions.

How did you become the stunning world-record holder you are today?
I’m the offbeat offspring of work and play. On Labor Day weekend 1982, two DRMs∗ drove from Lawrence, Kansas, to tape a TV segment about a Twine-A-Thon in Cawker City, Kansas, where the town planned to add girth to their Big Ball of Twine, and help insure its status as world’s largest. (There are competitors.) On the way back, they mused about having a “world’s largest” of their own, and determined it would be best if it were made of something less available to the general public. Something like videotape, which back then was still a rarity for most folks! Voila, 3/4″ videotape (pro grade at the time) made its way from Sunflower Cable’s trashcans to my exoskeleton. And it wasn’t easy. That stuff can slice your fingertips. Luckily, my creators loved me enough to bleed a little for me. (And then put me in Randy’s garage for the next 8 or 10 years, until I was re-born as a sidekick for “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations.”)

I’m in the mid-60s now (pounds, not years, like those guys).  At this point, it seems harder and harder to gain weight, but I’m still heavy enough (and kinda unwieldy) so the Radio Flyer Don bought to haul me around is still the best way to roll. Though these days I hold court in an old office chair outside Randy’s office. KCPT visitors often are in awe of me, though I’ve been rejected by David Letterman twice.

Old picture of a young man holding a ball of tape
Randy Mason winds on the Ball during its early days.
old picture of a young man on a bench with a big ball of tape
Don “the Camera Guy” Mayberger and the Ball go for a swing on the porch.

Are you related to or do you share a kinship with other big balls?
I’ve seen balls of many kinds. From that “other” twine ball in Darwin, Minnesota to a serious contender in a San Francisco convenience store and a suspicious competitor at a Northland middle school, to the world’s largest paint ball in Indiana, the 8-ball water tower in Tipton, Mo., not to mention all the catch that’s been played at makeshift fields across America. Oh, and Don has brought me a cousin as well… The World’s Largest Ball of Guitar Strings!

You logged thousands of miles in mini-vans with three TV weasels. How did you survive and what scars are you steal dealing with?
I rolled down a hill in Hermann, Mo. while still a youngster! That was scary. And because videotape is by nature not something that coheres easily in an orb, my “split ends” are constantly blowin’ in the breeze, at least until somebody sticks some more gaffer’s tape on the trouble spot. Does that make me high maintenance? Hardly. I was also glad the boys learned about the “suitcase of death” that killed Tom Mix, which led them to placing me a little more carefully in the cargo hold.

Did you feel any particular connection with any of the artists featured on the show?
Tony Perniciaro AKA Tony the Bricklayer in Pueblo, Colorado asked if he could paint on me. The guys said yes; so somewhere down about 300 layers is an original piece of art by one of the coolest folks we ever met. He said I had a lot of soul.

Have you seen the ball mike? Last I saw of it Don Randy was taking it outside!
Over the years, the Ball has inspired its own artistic tributes. Temp Sparkman created this one in 1997.

KCPT hasn’t produced new episodes of Rare Visions for several years, but folks are still discovering and enjoying the show. Why the heck do people like it?
My first guess is they think I’m pretty awesome.  After that, it’s probably got something to do with the way the show feels a lot more like the way people really travel than most TV does.  Sometimes things don’t work like they should, sometimes you find something better than you’d expected.  And for the most part, the people we met and the things they created truly do represent some of the very best that America has to offer.  Of course, that’s just one ball’s opinion.

As a world-record holder and hair-brained creation yourself, why do you think people take on artful and odd pursuits, and what do they mean to us?
That sounds like the kind of question that art academics, who don’t like our show, might be better suited to answer. I figure it’s just that y’all are a lot more creative than the manual says you are. And sometimes it seeps out in strange and wondrous ways.

∗Ball code speak for Randy Mason and Don Mayberger.

Related Video(s)

The first episode of Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations