Friday, December 16, 2011

The Miracle on Union Street

By Chester Campbell

I saw The Miracle on 34th Street in the TV listings and got to thinking about something almost as miraculous I was involved in at this time forty-nine years ago. We were putting the final touches on the "Premier Issue" of Nashville Magazine, the city's first slick-paper monthly. Since our office was located on Union Street in downtown Nashville, I chose the above title for this piece of nostalgia.

At right is the cover of that issue. That it continued to appear monthly under my direction for six years and three months is certainly worthy of the miracle designation. I had worked as a newspaper reporter for nine years, sandwiched around a sojourn in Korea for the north-south unpleasantness, put in a short time free-lancing for national magazines, then spent two years at a PR agency. When I was "downsized" there, I lucked into a job with the State of Tennessee. That was late summer of 1962. I was told my job would be short-lived as the governor was leaving office at the end of the year. I was hired to write speeches for the governor, and my boss said as long as I got the speeches done, he didn't care what I did the rest of the time.

This sounded ideal as I had come up with the idea of starting a local magazine. Impressed by the highly-successful Atlanta Magazine, published by the Chamber of Commerce, I visited with the editor and learned what all was involved. Unsuccessful at getting the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to sponsor my project, I decided to pursue it on my own. I was thirty-seven at the time, full of you-know-what and vinegar. I approached the former secretary at the PR agency, and she agreed to join me in m.c. publications, inc. (for Mikie and Chester). We each put up $500, and that was our capitalization. Needless to say, this is not what I was told would be required.

I was referred to a graphic artist at the Methodist Publishing House who agreed to be art director. Since we had decided on a January launch, I needed to put things together in a hurry. Although the Chamber declined to help monetarily, a few prominent members assisted me with recommendations. I've never considered myself much of a salesman, but in retrospect, I must have done a helluva job getting the magazine in print.

I traded advertising for a lot of the necessary services. I found a printer who agreed to be paid after the second issue came out (he also took an ad). My art director was friends with a three-man art studio that did a lot of gratis artwork (one of them painted the downtown view for the cover). An engraver took an ad to cover most of our halftones, and I did an article on a young guy who ran an electronic data service (this was in the days of punch cards). He handled our mailing labels. I also provided an ad for a photographer.

I paid nothing for articles, but called on several friends from my newspaper days to write for me. They were happy to help the magazine get started and found the new venture a unique opportunity. I had worked for the Nashville Banner and talked its sports editor into contributing an article on the city's minor league hockey team, the Dixie Flyers. Fred Russell was a regular contributor to The Saturday Evening Post and wrote its annual Pigskin Preview. I wrote much of that issue, as I did for each subsequent edition.

Subscriptions brought in a small amount of income, but the lifeblood of a magazine is advertising. I had to go after it myself. I convinced a couple of ad agencies to support the new venture, despite lack of a track record. One of them bought the full-color back cover. I also got full pages from the local electric service, the gas company, and a new luxury apartment project. A friend from my Air Guard unit bought an add for his import auto dealership, and the data service guy helped me get a half page from his father-in-law, owner of a finance company. I also wangled an ad out of the savings and loan association that owned our building.

I wound up with seven and two-thirds pages of advertising in that first issue, or a little more than 17 percent of its forty-four pages. Hardly in the ballpark for a break-even operation. It provided the start of many years of running hard to placate our creditors. After a couple of issues, I found an advertising manager and relinquished that part of the business. By the end of 1963, our forty-four-page issue had fourteen and one-half pages of advertising for a much improved 33 percent.

I had a great time with the magazine, despite fifteen-hour days. I came up with lots of great stories to cover myself, in addition to assigning many others. I ran some of my poetry anonymously. We published a few short stories by well-known local authors, without payment. But our circulation never got much beyond 10,000, and advertising was always a hard sell. We were about ten years ahead of our time. When our unpaid accounts got too far out of hand after five years, I turned to a good friend who was head of PR for Life & Casualty Insurance Company, one of Nashville's two large insurers. He talked the head of the company, wealthy former Ambassador Guilford Dudley, into bailing us out. We moved into offices on the twentieth floor of the L&C Tower and had money to pay contributors. But they put a guy over me as manager that I couldn't abide, so after a few months I resigned. The new management didn't fare too well, and the insurance company dropped the magazine in less than a year.

But forty-nine years ago, I was as excited as a kid with a new toy. I was ready to make a miracle happen. And I did.

Visit me at Mystery Mania


webpromo said...

I will recommend my friends to read this.I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, I'm flattered.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Wow, Chester, what an undertaking. Isn't it fun to look back at the amazing things you tackled in younger years?


Chester Campbell said...

Right, Marilyn. And marvel at the energy you had to do such things back in those days.

Morgan Mandel said...

Good for you, Chester.
That magazine looks awesome!

Morgan Mandel

Bob Sanchez said...

Sounds you had a huge undertaking, Chester. What a great experience!