Whenever we're talking to random pinball guys around the world there are two words that keep popping up. These same two words also appear several times in our Pinball Hero interviews, so we thought we'd hunt down the man behind
Expo 2009 is the 25th Anniversary event and continues to grow each year. I had a fantastic international long distance chat with Rob Berk (reversed the call-charges of course ;o), and he certainly is a man with a passion for the Silver Ball. During our chat I managed to squeeze in some questions for Pinball Heroes...
The Pinball Blog. So you're Rob Berk, founder and organiser of Pinball Expo. What do you do when you're not sorting out the event?
Rob Berk. We run a restaurant supply company and also service the carnival and amusement industry.
TPB. I organise the UK Pinball Show and am a complete gob-shite, you seem to keep yourself to yourself. Every event around the planet gets some criticism, do you ever want to shake the people and say "have you any idea how much effort these things take!"
RB. I guess it's a small frustration but the criticism is only from a tiny minority.
TPB. I hear your own collection of machines is impressive. How much of a task is keeping them all working?
RB. At one time I had a running competition with Tim Arnold. If I had 300 machines, he'd have 350, when I went to 400, he'd have 500! I think my highest number of machines would be around 500 but many are in storage.
I have around 80 machines set up in my basement at home. I'm happy to work on many of them myself, especially the EM machines, but for anything I can't handle, I'll ask a friend over to help!
TPB. Expo is 25 years young this year, did you ever imagine when it started you'd reach such a milestone? Anything you're particularly proud of?
RB. When I first had the dream it was to honor my heroes - the pinball designers. After 1985 I had no plans to do another show and within a few months I was getting calls asking when the next event was. Well, there was no next event, but we did another, then another and it's gone from strength to strength.
I've met some fantastic guys through Expo, many have since passed away. Harvey Heiss from Genco was a highlight. He was so full of life, so full of jokes and had a rich history to share and, bearing in mind he was in his 80s when he came to expo, his enthusiasm was incredible. Also hearing Steve Kordek share the pride on the production line at Genco gave a feel for the era with machines like Victory. Dave Christensen and Python Angelo: people were lining up to shake their hands, buy them a drink and ask questions. It was a great opportunity for visitors and fantastic to watch.
TPB. Anything in 2009, you're particularly looking forward to?
RB. Mike Stroll president of Williams in the 80s when it was rocking is our guest, and there's more seminars, more exhibitors and maybe an extra day of activities with Expo starting on Wednesday!
TPB. I've heard through the grapevine that some of the industry legends have extreme 'rider' requests. Crates of beer, hookers, winnebagos and even a dwarf dancing crew. How far will you go to get the guest that your visitors want to see?
RB. Thankfully that's never really been an issue, never had anything like that list! I suppose being in Chicago has helped us secure the great guests, and most are very cooperative.
TPB. Surely it's about time Gary Flower was replaced as host for the fireside chats?
RB. I did it myself for many years, but it's nice to now have someone else handle that and give me a breather. Gary has a special connection with us having attended every Expo since the beginning, and for anyone to accomplish that - especially from the UK - is quite remarkable. For him to make such an effort I wanted to honor him in a small way (if he would accept the role). Plus as an author of a pinball book, he has a great knowledge and knows how to interact with the guests.
TPB. Are you much of a player? (I'm talking about PINBALL!)
RB. No. I'm an average player, never ranked in any major tournament, but I still enjoy playing pinball, especially with my family.
TPB. Other than Expo are there any must see events or places around the globe?
RB. ALL the shows have their own charm and something distinctive. I visit other shows and enjoy them as I have more time to myself than at Expo.
TPB. Finally, can you sum up Expo in one word or sentence.
RB. Pinball author Dick Bueschel (now sadly deceased) said the Expo was a "love-in". It's a gathering point to meet your pinball heroes, from designers and artists to the players.
There was so much Rob had to share and, typing one-handed while we chatted, I hope I didn't miss too much! Where else can you buy from so many vendors, get autographs from 15-25 artists and designers, shake their hands and play so much pinball? Expo really is something special.
Many thanks to Rob for his time, best of luck for Expo 25 and although my penny jar won't allow me a visit this time round, everyone should make the pilgrimage at least once.
The Pinball Blog