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Dave Jones, 'production czar,' 1976-2006, on the Reader's early days

'It was easy to feel at home. So I stayed for 30 years.'

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

What I remember best about the early days (and very late nights) were the overabundant joys of Wednesday prepress production, watching the bearded oracles Bob Roth and Mike Lenehan copy-proofing page pasteups with colorfully hand-decorated official New Jersey Springsteen fan club brown paper shopping bag hats on their heads at midnight while "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was blasting at volume 11 out of the theater-sized Klipschorn speakers that McCamant had recently purchased for the production romper room. Their sage faces stared down into the yellow pools of light spilling out on the tabletops from rickety architect's lamps, fingers tapping along to the beat on top of those hot, waxy, blue-lined pasteup grids—the most thoroughly proofed and burnished newspaper pages in Chicago at that time, I'm sure.

Not to mention the astonishing page designs and layouts by untrained "naive" masters including Carleton cronies Yoder and Rehwaldt. Yoder always at the ready to cut out offending blocks of copy with the handy Swiss Army knife he kept in the pocket of his Bean khaki pants. Rehwaldt sparking the room to perpetual attention by invoking the pet name for his old college roommate, Yoder: "needle dick."

In a group like this, with everyone pitching in their labors in a great show of egalitarian utopia—"Hey, gang, we're all in this together (just don't get any rib sauce on the pasteups)!"—the swift ride up the lofty track of financial success was exhilarating, never tiring. On Wednesday nights, job titles and rank indicated budding interests and developing talents more than barking order, prerogative, or ownership. We were winning the "game of life" in one great, fun, exciting team effort. Usually.

Make a mistake that showed up in print on Thursday, of course, and that feeling could darken dramatically. Working in such close quarters, the bosses then could boss straight in your face. But Thursday evenings were usually also lovely times, to go out on the town and see the tabletops in so many restaurants, cafes, and bars covered with one's handiwork, the spread-open pages of the Chicago Reader being ritually read. Used. Researched. Explored. Enjoyed. Maybe even spotting an occasional story or cartoon that I'd written sitting open on a table or two. Who needs a Pulitzer, after all the work it took in the past 24 hours to get that paper out?

Every Wednesday started out like Christmas morning. To see all the differently sized, uniquely styled advertisements pinned to the corkboard walls around our worktables, just waiting for us to paste them into the paper (using Yoder's tanklike Schaefer-Coater hot-wax machine) really did feel like we lived in the richest house in town, with the beautiful ads like presents spilling out everywhere. You put the coffee on, set some fresh bars of wax in the Schaefer-Coater, and got to work opening the gifts again and again.

From those grand, long days, I recall especially one late, pre-Christmas Wednesday night when Tribune writer Pat Colander wobbled in from an evening at O'Rourke's bearing bags of candy and bottles of bubbly and wearing a Santa hat, taking a dance spin with each of the men across the darkened production room floor while reciting "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

It was very easy to feel at home in a place like that. So I stayed for 30 years. Still with memories that will never be woozier—or clearer—or more merry.

Dave Jones was hired as a production assistant and went on to become the longtime production director. He currently is creating and presenting curriculum for Connected Living, a program that helps seniors feel comfortable enough with computers to write their memoirs, sharing photos and stories with family and friends.

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