It was 45 years ago on June 20, 1968, when the Boss Lady (Carol) and I, along with Jack Root, a partner, published the first issue of The Wyandotte West from the basement in what is now College Park Town Homes.
It was a gutsy move. Three weeks earlier on a Saturday morning, I told my boss at The Big Daily Over Town, Ayers Blocher Jr., that I was resigning. It was the hardest thing in my life that I had done.
Ayers reminded me that I had received regular salary increases during the past four years and a good choice of assignments. He also suggested that I would probably be the logical person to succeed him when he retired.
“And you want to give all that up to go into something that you don’t even know is going to work?” Ayers asked.
“Yes,” I said very meekly.
A few years later when Ayers and I were on a U.S. Navy junket to the Orlando, Fla., area, he admitted to me that if he had it do over, he would have done something like I had done rather than work for The Big Daily.
The Big Daily was a good place to work in the 1960s. Its staff was much larger than now and published several editions throughout the day. I learned many excellent lessons from the “old heads” who had many years of experience.
Some of my former colleagues, who were my age, were not particularly supportive of my new venture. They supposedly had a betting pool; they sold chances on which week The Wyandotte West would fold. I often wonder what ever happened to that pool. Maybe if they would have invested it, it might be worth something today. But those folks didn’t have much business acumen. I doubt that it was ever worth much.
The Wyandotte West was started because I had a gut instinct that this area needed and deserved a newspaper. There was simply no publication serving the market that was basically the former Washington School District.
I quickly learned the Smaller Daily was quite weak—its advertisers complained about lack of response. One of my main tasks was to create ads that brought results.
One of my early day mentors was Alden Hays IV who was the copywriter for the Owens-Lisec advertising agency with offices in the New Brotherhood Building. Alden and I became good friends; I called him on Friday afternoons to get the ads for the next week.
“Copywriters spend 39 hours a week creating a good headline for an ad and then one hour writing copy that supports that headline,” Alden told me.
I had much support from many fine subscribers and advertisers during the 36 years that the Boss Lady and I published nearly 1,900 weekly issues. However, I considered not starting the newspaper after my first advertising sales call on Harold Dickey who was the president of Wyandotte County State Bank at 7804 State Ave. I had a cashier’s check in my pocket that I had intended to deposit in his bank and open a business account.
“I’m not going to advertise in your paper,” Dickey said.
“I plan to open an account for my new business,” I said.
“I don’t care if you if you bank here or not--I will not advertise,” Dickey said.
I walked out of the bank, quite dejected. My next call was to a rival bank, Westgate State, where Bill Martin, the president rolled out the red carpet. He said he would be happy to advertise. The bank has sold a few times, but I still have a business account there.
Interestingly enough, a few years later I received a telephone call from Cliff Nesselrode. He said he and other investors at what would become The Wyandotte Bank had bought out Dickey and hired a new president. He wanted me to meet him to explain how the bank was “taking a new direction and needed community support.” Of course I obliged.
In 2004, The Boss Lady and I decided to accept an offer from an investment group, Kansas Colloquies, and sell the assets of the newspaper. Tonda Rush, who was our first employee in 1968, headed up this group. Tonda is a lawyer specializing in media and association management.
The sale was the right move from a business standpoint; the Internet has lowered the value of most all traditional media.
I still keep my hand in the business by writing this column and serving on the boards of the William Allen White and Kansas Newspaper foundations. I will always be grateful for my newspaper experience. I had a front-row seat for many community activities.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.