A large part of this 35th anniversary issue is devoted to celebrating the articles and local personalities that have graced our pages during the interval between start-up back in 1976 and today. We've commemorated original advertisers, interesting personals, archival photos. Since I'm just about the only one who's been here for the whole 35 years, I thought I'd take up some space to talk about the first people to walk in the doors when they (figuratively) opened in 1976.
In truth, no doors opened in 1976. Isthmus really didn't get its first office until fall of 1977. It all really began in November of 1975 when I heeded friend Ben Sidran's suggestion that I follow up on my idea for a weekly cultural paper in Madison. I recruited Madison native and former daily newspaper guy Fred Milverstedt to be my partner, and we were off.
I worked out of my west-side rented home and Fred worked out of his Livingston Street apartment. In my basement lived Ezra Sidran, Ben's brother, who did paste-up for the first few issues, paste-up being a lost art that is just what it says, pasting elements on a paper page to be later photographed for the printing process. We farmed everything out in the beginning. Our type was set by Nora Cusack (photographer Brent Nicastro's wife) and later paste-up was by Andy Wyse at Madison Graphics.
Our original printer was an outfit called South Central, a small shop near Stoughton that was owned by a consortium of community newspapers in the Madison area. We were booted out of there after a few months for using the word "fuck" in print and ended up at Royle Printing in Sun Prairie, where we stayed for 13 years.
Fred and I originally thought we'd have to write the whole paper, but it didn't take long for folks to be pounding at the door for the opportunity to write. The first one to show up to actually work was David Medaris, then a 17-year-old West High student who volunteered to help Fred assemble the Guide on a weekly basis.
Some of the early writers were folks like Tim Onosko, Andy Boehm, Chris Morris, Michael Rueter and someone named Spatz Columbo - really John Bordsen, who wrote under a pseudonym because he worked at Madison Newspapers. He worked in the classified department there but feared for his job anyway. There was also a young hustler on the music scene named Gary Sohmers who did some writing as well as delivering newspapers. You can catch him from time to time these days as a pop memorabilia expert on Antiques Roadshow.
In the beginning we not only lacked an office, but a sales force. Fred and I sold the ads, or didn't as the case may be. We weren't very savvy about such things. A woman named Virginia Zwickey was our first sales rep. She hired herself and set up a desk at La Creperie, a second-story restaurant in the space now occupied by Nadia's on State Street.
In September 1977, we were offered space in the old Washington Hotel by Rodney Scheel, the new proprietor, who took his rent in advertising. Now we had doors, and now more people started walking in. Among the first were Joanne Weintraub, who had real writing and editing skills, and Vikki Stephens, who became our first office manager. We acquired a production manager/art director, Chris Dehlinger, whose husband, Tom, is our distribution manager today. We got a typesetting machine and a typesetter, Marcy Wieland, who became a featured actor in Broom Street Theater productions.
There was quite a parade of contributors who submitted for the paper. We never lacked for copy, and if there was a bare patch, Fred filled it. I was gravitating toward the business end. We began our long relationship with Marc Eisen, who later became editor. We hosted a lot of people in our pages who have since left Madison, or this life, behind. Among the latter were John Tuschen, the poet, and Bob LaBrasca. Among the former are such names as Howard Waxman, Claudia Becker and hannibal plath. (Not his real name; he was another poet who eschewed the upper case.) And don't forget the Waitresses Two, who constituted our restaurant review department.
I cannot name all the people who played an instrumental role in building this paper; there are too many. But I thank them all, named and unnamed, and fully realize that where I sit today rests upon their shoulders. We should all understand that we did not get to where we are today without the people who came before. We should be humble and happy that they did. Read their names in the 35th anniversary masthead.