As The Voice celebrates a major milestone and transition, we take a look back at how the publication has evolved.
By Steve Kaufman
It was July 1949, hot and humid in mid-summer Louisville.
It was even hotter in Siberia, where the Soviet Union had just detonated its first-ever atomic bomb. Harry Truman was in the fourth year of his presidency, eight months after defeating Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, despite the famously premature “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” headline in the Chicago Tribune.
That summer, Bear Bryant was beginning to assemble his 1949 Wildcat football squad around another sophomore hopeful, quarterback Vito Parilli, who ran the newfangled T-formation. At Louisville, football was more or less an afterthought. The Cards were still playing the likes of Catawba and Evansville. In 1949, Johnny Unitas was a 16-year-old quarterback and halfback at St. Justin’s High School in Pittsburgh.
Very few Americans knew where Korea was, yet.
CHECK YOUR MAILBOXES
On July 14, about 5,000 St. Matthews mailboxes contained the very first copy of St. Matthews: Your Community Newspaper.
“It is your newspaper,” said a front-page editorial. “Greetings, St. Matthews. We are merely servants of the people of St. Matthews. It is up to you to determine the editorial policy of the paper. The publication will be non-political and non-religious.”
And, addressing an issue very much on the minds of independent, suburban St. Matthews at the time, “We are neither for nor against annexation.”
The big news on the front page was the opening of the third annual Potato Festival. Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys were going to entertain. Also Uncle Hiram, “The Juggling Clown.”
Daredevil Don Woods was going to parachute out of a balloon at 1,000 feet. Truckloads of Gordon’s Potato Chips were going to be given away each evening. A 1949 Buick was going to be raffled off.
A $500,000 shopping center was announced at Brownsboro Road and Rudy Lane. And a contest, with a $100 prize, was launched to name the new newspaper.
A month later, St. Matthews got its Voice. The response came from the contest winner, four-year-old Martha ”Cissy” May. She was to get only $25 of the $100 – splitting the rest with her family – and intended to buy a tricycle with it. (A few years ago, Dr. Martha May McCarthy, now a professor at Indiana University, told The Voice that, actually, she doesn’t remember ever getting the money from her parents.)
Like so many long-term ventures, the original owner’s paper thrived for a while, then encountered the ebbing and flowing tides of shifting populations, economic changes and consumers’ tastes and habits.
In 1952, the paper was acquired by Al Schansberg, who later bought the Jeffersontown-based Jeffersonian and eventually merged the two papers into The Voice-Jeffersonian.
Ownership then passed to Bruce Van Dusen (1971); the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain (1979); Bill Matthews (1981); and John Waits (1982).
On Sept. 3, 1986, Waits published the final edition, seemingly putting an end to a gallant 1,930-week run.
OUT OF THE ASHES
But seven months later, April 3, 1987, under a banner declaring The New Voice, the paper was back in business under the aegis of the Southern Publishing Co. and chairman John Harralson.
“I’d been the editor of employee publications for the telephone company,” Harralson says. “My mother had worked for the weekly newspaper in Central City, and I always thought it would be fun to have a weekly newspaper like that one. I modeled the paper after her paper – weddings, obituaries but also other local news. And lots of pictures!”
In fact, he says, some of the reporters used to complain, “Harralson’s trying to make Life magazine out of it.”
“But then, when they saw our circulation numbers go up and up because of all that local coverage, they changed their tune.”
Among the new innovations were the additions to the staff of well-known and respected sports journalist Earl Cox and social columnist Carla Sue Broecker. Lucie Blodgett returned to The Voice’s pages the following week.
It was a homecoming for Carla Sue, who wrote a weekly column for The Voice in the early days when she was in high school. “I wrote a column about the Springdale and Worthington communities where I lived,” she recalls.
What did she write about? Everything from Sunday dinners and quilting parties to more significant efforts. At one point, Carla Sue’s mother and a few other neighborhood women worked to get a school bus and cafeteria facilities at Worthington Grade School for the children of tenant farmers in the area who otherwise had to walk three miles to school every day.
Early sports coverage favored the University of Kentucky Wildcats since Harralson was an alumnus. UK-inclined Cox, who passed away in December 2016, regaled readers with his clear-eyed recollections of people he’d known and games he’d covered around the Commonwealth over the decades.
Though many things changed in those early years, Harralson chose to keep The Voice’s distinctive logo. The cursive V in the Belwe (rhymes with “twelve”) Roman Old Style type font remained the paper’s signature for another 20 years.
Along the way, The New Voice name was dropped “because some people thought we were a religious newspaper or part of the New Age movement,” said Harralson, and in 1994, the paper was renamed The Voice-Tribune because “one of the meanings of the word ‘tribune’ is champion of the people and that’s what we’d like The Voice-Tribune to be.”
Harralson bulked up the paid subscriptions and total readership came close to 60,000. The Voice was also the first newspaper in Kentucky to use a computer for typesetting.
“In 1987, we paid about $3,000 for a few little square Apple computers,” he said. “The writers would use them to write, then we’d remove a wire and take it to the back room, and the production people would take the copy off the wire and print the paper from it.”
However, newspapers in general were undergoing a societal change. The “champions of the people” were having to share the crown with cable television’s 24-hour news programming and, later, with the real-time news of the Internet. And that medium continued to evolve, from mainframe monitors on workers’ desks to streamlined, transportable computers on people’s laps to smartphones under everyone’s thumb.
Big city afternoon newspapers were the first to go because most people headed home to get the latest news on television. Then, even the mainstay morning dailies suffered because people began to prefer logging onto the Internet instead. Some major U.S. cities have found themselves without a daily newspaper where once they had several.
The Voice struggled, too. Harralson remembers putting a lot of his own money into keeping it going and putting the payroll on his MasterCard. But he enjoyed it too much to let it go.
STAYING IN THE PICTURE
An inveterate camera bug, Harralson was a constant presence on the society scene, taking pictures of people gathering and enjoying themselves, and publishing those pictures in the paper. He established a regular full page of photos that, along with Broecker’s Partyline and Blodgett’s Social Side, offered a fun, cultural review of the citizenry that Louisvillians weren’t getting anywhere else.
“I was out almost seven nights a week, attending functions, taking pictures,” he recalls. “Derby parties, formal events. I wore out about three tuxedos.”
“He never looked happier than when he was out with people, taking pictures,” Broecker says. “He’d stay out all night.”
“It got me into places I might not otherwise have had access to,” Harralson agrees. “Most people love to have their pictures taken, especially when they’re all dressed up and happy.”
The photo page grew to several pages, of galleries now shot by staff photographers as well as freelance contributors, including the much-loved Harralson. The 91-year-old still attends parties, football games, galas, meetings and Derby events.
The former news editor, Jacob Glassner, explained to me once how local coverage was the exclusive province of the community newspapers and why community newspapers were continuing to thrive. “People love to see pictures in print of their friends,” he said, outlining The Voice’s secret sauce, “and they especially love to see pictures in print of themselves.”
“Yes,” says Broecker, an observer of the Louisville cultural scene for lo these past 35 years, “and they also like to see when their neighbors have had big parties, and they weren’t invited.”
Eventually, Harralson sold the paper in 2005 to Bruce Beston, who sold it to Blue Equity in 2007. Blue Equity launched an updated website and sponsored events. The Voice of Louisville – a glossy publication and quarterly supplement to The Voice-Tribune – made its debut in 2012.
As for looks, the iconic “V” has graced the cover since 2006 thanks to former art director Josh Keown, who is now the art director of Pizza Today, a national, award-winning industry publication headquartered in Louisville. And on Jan. 1, 2015, The Voice-Tribune transitioned from the traditional broadsheet newspaper format and premiered its first issue as a modern tabloid-style magazine.
Red Pin Media – led by Publisher Laura Snyder – acquired The Voice-Tribune in 2016. The new format, the updated website and a growing social media presence – all have kept the publication contemporary and relevant. While visually different, it’s still the same paper that people in Louisville have grown to love.
In 2019, however, The Voice will celebrate 70 years and kick off its platinum anniversary with a major change: going monthly.
The Voice will be published as a high-quality, glossy, monthly magazine. Thanks to advertising partners, the publication will remain free on stands around town, and the amount of distributed copies will nearly triple.And, subscribers can still have the publication delivered to their homes. The Voice’s website will receive a fresh face and will have new content uploaded daily, as will the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.
While The Voice team will always look back fondly on our publication’s history, we are ready to see what comes next and are moving forward. VT
For the past 69 years, thanks to the support of our readers, advertising partners, contributors and staff – both past and present – we have served as The Voice of our community.
And for that we are grateful.