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Bob Roth, co-owner, 1971-2007, on the Reader's early days

'All but one of our investors were unemployed friends from college'


Download the Reader's first issue—October 1st, 1971.(PDF)
  • Linda Hosek

There was nothing auspicious about the founding of Chicago Reader. The first issue was pasted up on our dining table at 4828 S. Dorchester during the last week of September 1971. The Reader started small—the first issue was 16 pages—and then shrank to eight pages a week for most of the first year. We had no office, instead operating out of our apartment. The one phone line was just our home phone, and there was no listing for the Chicago Reader in the phone book. We didn't even have a business checking account; everything passed through my personal checkbook.

We were ridiculously undercapitalized, and as I remember all but one of our investors were unemployed friends of mine from college or high school: Peter Bell, Fred Green, Jim Holman, Mark Homstad, Bob McCamant, Tim Nagler, Tom Rehwaldt, Tom Yoder, and myself. Some of them put in as little as $500 for their shares in the company.

Twenty years later everyone considered the Reader a brilliant success, but in the early days it often seemed no one thought the paper was going to survive. Thus I am still amazed—and forever grateful—that back in 1971 nine people were willing to risk their money on this inauspicious project.

Bob Roth was a part owner and the publisher of the Reader at its founding, and along with Mike Lenehan served as an editor, working out of an office nicknamed the Quagmire. In 1991 he cofounded Intuit, the nonprofit gallery dedicated to outsider art.

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