Low man on the totem pole. The new kid on the block. Those terms described me as I ventured into the old Times-Advocate office on Escondido’s Grand Avenue that August day in 1952. I was about to begin life as a raw rookie sports reporter at what became my second home for the next 27 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.
As I reflect on those first few seeks on the job 60-plus years ago, I really didn’t think anything out of the ordinary, but I had no typewriter or desk at which to work. (This was way before the advent of computers and the Internet.) When I was ready to type my “copy,” or stories, I waited until one of my three co-reporters was finished typing their stories for that day’s edition, then asked if I could use their typewriter and desk, and proceed to type my stories.
All newspapers have a deadline for their reporters to get their “copy” to the production department, whether you’re a weekly or a daily (large or small). Because I was delayed getting my copy to the production department (having to wait to use another type-writer), I was late more often than not.
This began to raise the ire of the boss of the three linotype operators in the production department, an irascible old gentleman named Al Becken. (Al was really old school. In a “back-shop” with no air-conditioning, his usual attire included no shirt, just an undershirt of the type with shoulder straps in lieu of half- sleeves.) Al as responsible for making sure his typesetters “set” the reporters’ copy on time to get the type to the printers. But he couldn’t meet the deadline unless the reporters met theirs’.
When Al confronted me one day about my being late, I explained my dilemma: no typewriter. I don’t remember exactly when, but Al walked into the office of Fred Speers, my boss, the T-A’s editor and co-publisher; and the next day I had a typewriter (an old Underwood) and a typewriter table — no desk.
The T-A in those days was at 237 E. Grand Ave. (now the site of the Burger Bench restaurant) on the south side of the block between Kalmia and Juniper, closer to Juniper.
I remind you that the T-A then was a small daily (six days a week; no Sunday paper) in a relatively quiet, sleepy town somewhat isolated from downtown San Diego. The T-A’s circulation was about 4,000 in a city of just under 10,000 population. There was no Interstate 15 to San Diego; no Freeway 78 to Vista and Oceanside.
The route to San Diego was two-lane old Highway 395, which wound down through Poway (which then was not much more than a stop in the road; there was no Rancho Bernardo), by the Big Stone Lodge, up the hill through what is now Scripps Ranch and skirted Miramar Naval Air Station (no Mira Mesa) into San Diego. (You could still take in a minor league Padre baseball game at the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s old Lane Field on the waterfront.)
The T-A’s front office then had no comparison to the bustling newsrooms of today. There was no separate newsroom. The four of us reporters shared space behind a long counter with four other employees — a circulation manager, a circulation clerk, a classified advertising clerk and a bookkeeper.
My three reporter colleagues were Al Jacoby (city editor), Eloise Stone (county editor) and Loretta Sayre (social editor). Even though each of us was a one-person staff in his or her own “department,” each of us had a title. I, the raw rookie, boasted the title of sports editor.
Fred Speers, whose demeanor was always serious and “all business” (and his wife Victoria), was the T-A’s majority owner. Bert McClintock, a genuinely nice and easy-going man (and his wife Rosemary), was the minority owner. Bert was co-publisher and business manager. (Neither of the wives was involved in the day-to-day operation of the newspaper.)
Bert, Hoyt Smithers and Ted Waterson constituted the T-A’s retail advertising staff.
Speers, who had owned the North Platte (Nebraska) Telegraph-Bulletin, bought his majority interest in the T-A about 1944 from Percy Evans. McClintock, Evans’s son-in-law, retained the minority interest.
Hoyt Smithers and Eloise Stone (my colleague) had worked for Speers at the North Platte paper, and followed him to Escondido. Of my two other colleagues — Al Jacoby and Loretta Sayre — Al as a graduate of the University of Missouri school of journalism; Loretta, familiar with Escondido, was a 1949 graduate of Escondido High School.
Jacoby, who was a “stringer” (providing it with Escondido-area stories) for the San Diego Union during his stay at the T-A, later became the Union’s first full-time North County reporter and then as the Union’s first ombudsman (readers’ representative). Eloise was the stringer for the Los Angeles Times.
Speers, in the late 1950s, served a two- year term on the Escondido City Council when he agreed to accept an interim appointment (and not seek election after the term expired) when a majority of the council at the time could not agree on a candidate to fill a vacancy created by a resignation.
Speers, a conservative Republican and contributor to party coffers, later was appointed by then Governor Goodwin Knight to the California Highway Commission. He as instrumental in getting the new Freeway 78 named the Escondido Freeway.
Ron Kenney, a 60-year resident of Escondido, was a reporter and editor of the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.