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Tom Yoder, co-owner, 1973-2007, on the Reader's early days

'The office was the dining room of the apartment where most of us lived'

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

When I arrived at the Reader in January 1973, the permanent full-time crew was Bob Roth, Bob McCamant, and Tom Rehwaldt. They'd been putting out the paper for 15 months and were happy to welcome anyone who was willing to work for free. The informal deal was that we each earned $50 worth of ownership for each week we worked. We all had part-time jobs for income. I thought it would be fun to live in a big city for the first time in my life and work with friends from college on what might turn out to be an interesting project.

The office of the paper was the dining room of the apartment where most of us lived. We had one phone line, listed under Roth's name because Illinois Bell had a cheap unlimited local calling plan that was not available for businesses. Directory assistance operators learned there was no number for the Reader. That was a problem after we got a real business listing; people couldn't get the operators to bother to look it up.

One of the first things I did was go to Sears and spend $60 on one of the new electronic calculators so we could quit using the little plastic twirl-the-numbers adding machine. I thought it was real progress. Although I had little to do with the editorial product, my title in the staff box was managing editor. That was because we had very good ad salesman, an undergraduate at Northwestern, who held the title advertising director, and we couldn't risk angering him by giving me his title.

There was plenty to do. The four of us and two volunteers sorted and edited the (mostly) free classified ads on Sunday evenings. Monday and Tuesday I would use my car to pick up the mail at the post office, run errands, and visit advertisers. Tuesday night was spent ordering type for the display ads in that week's paper. Wednesday was spent at the type supplier proofreading copy. Wednesday evening all four of us pasted up the pages of that week's issue, often blasting music to stay awake. If we were lucky, we finished at midnight and someone would drive the pages to the printer. Thursday afternoon and evening we delivered the paper. At about 10:30 PM some of the delivery drivers would gather for dinner and beer at Ratso's on Lincoln Avenue, whose proprietor, Bob Briggs, traded ads with us for our tabs. On Friday, we started the cycle over again.

It was a tiny operation—if someone absolutely had to be gone for a few days (vacations were not allowed) it was tough getting the work done. But being small had some real advantages. I once delivered a bundle of papers to a bar on Armitage that had owed the Reader $120 for several months. I decided to try to embarrass the owner by bringing up the debt in front of his customers. When I got back to the office the phone rang and it was the owner complaining about our asshole delivery driver's behavior. I assured him that the driver would be disciplined. And the check arrived the next week.

Tom Yoder was an original investor in the Reader and began working full-time for the paper in 1973. Today he's involved in two businesses the old owners spun off when they sold the Reader to Creative Loafing Inc. in 2007—Quarterfold Inc. and Index Newspapers LLC.

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