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TV trade publishers in the good 'ole days.

"Once Upon a Time," which in this case means the thirties, when flourishing vaudeville was gradually yielding to the movies, radio was an upstart and television just a dream, there were men with vision and aggressive imagination, who were willing to gamble their fortunes on "the truth."

They were journalists, but they were also showmen to whom show business meant everything, and who were determined to serve their industry with trade papers that "told it like it was."

They all had a tough time at the start, but ultimately, all succeeded because their basic notion of digging deep to come up with the true stories in their industries had strength and validity, and-finally-was appreciated and rewarded.

They were the founders of the entertainment trade papers-Sime Silverman who created the great Variety, which grew into the 'Bible' of the industry; Sol Taishoff who cofounded Broadcasting magazine and who nicknamed radio "The Fifth Estate"; William Billy) R. Wilkerson, who started The Hollywood Reporter in the face of some opposition from the major studios, who saw the trade press only as a convenient outlet for their publicity releases; and Sol Paul, the originator of Television/Radio Age.

Wilkerson married Tichi Noble and taught her the Hollywood Reporter business. When he died in 1960, she took over as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher and ran the daily for two decades, before it was sold to media giant BPI Communications.

There have been other trade publications, a number of them generated by the enormous growth of television, but none have even approximated the quality of those that covered the industry from the 1930's to the 1980's.

These publishers had a pioneering spirit that has diminished to an alarming degree in the recent past, losing the drive and determination of the originals. They triumphed despite the opposition of the studios, the networks, hardware manufacturers and advertising agencies which quite often involved the threat of advertising withdrawal.

Their pride was independence and exclusive news, running stories and editorial opinions whether they hurt or not-as long as they were true, fair and had an impact on the business.

The current, gradual deviation from the concepts of the original founders had a lot to do with changes in the business, including rising costs, increasing dependence on advertising, the entertainment industry's move to the West Coast and the general atmosphere of secretiveness. This is particularly felt in Hollywood, where executives today are far less accessible than they used to be.

Today's hesitancy to really "dig" for news, and provide editorial leadership, has tended to flatten the trades' coverage in sharp contrast to the concepts of the original founders. These pioneers were a close part of the show business community, who counted the top executives as their friends.

A good example of that was the great Abel Green, the eccentric but brilliant Variety editor, who grew up under the tutelage of Sime Silverman. Green specialized in sensational stories from the likes of David Samoff, Jack Warner and Nicholas M. Schenck.

Abel was the ideal Varie "mug." He worked around the clock, and expected his reporters to do likewise. He aimed at having Variety filled with real news every week. if he could have had it his way, he would have preferred not to use any news releases at all. If the reporter didn't deliver his fair share of "scoops," he stood a fair chance of being fired.

Abel followed a tradition of Sime's: Never accept anything unless you can check it out.

Similarly, Taishoff and his Broadcasting magazine became weekly "must" reading in broadcast circles. Taishoff moved within the government, and particularly the FCC. He even got his exclusives direct from the horse's mouth-President Johnson. Broadcasting grew with the radio business, and became a part of it.

The following are brief sketches of the trade paper pioneers.

SIME SILVERMAN was something of a Broadway character when, in 1922, he folded two vaudeville trades into one. Variety, after 17 often struggling years, really came into its own. When he died (in 1933), the long Variety obit called him "one who fought the big shots and championed the smallies, a reverse English on what had been regarded as theatrical journal practice. "

Sime introduced Variety's unique style, its slang, its tempo, its frequent disregard for grammar (at that time), its inversion of nouns to read as verbs, and its attractive (often inscrutable) headlines, many of which became famous over the years.

Sime wasn't afraid of change. When vaudeville faded, he moved the section to the back of the book and moved up the movie section. He often generated strong emotions. An actor once took a gun shot at him through his office window, but missed.

His staff worked incredibly hard. To Sime, work was fun and relaxation. He didn't believe in "time off," neither for himself nor his staff; exhibiting the kind of gruffness that later also became a trademark for the (more polished) Abel Green.

Sime was a wiz at figures, partly due to his years at business college. And he could be generous. When he bought The Clipper, a Broadway trade, he gave the entire Variety staff a chance to invest in it. Only a year later, he folded it, and they lost a bundle. Still, he paid each man the price of the original investment, plus six per cent.

WILLIAM R. WILKERSON, a gambler at heart, was born appropriately enough, in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1890. His first job was running a nickelodeon in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He sold advertising for The Film Daily in New York, and started The Hollywood Reporter on September 3, 1930, amidst a flood of congratulatory telegrams from the studios. It quickly turned into angry protests, as the studio heads realized that Wilkerson was intent on printing real news rather than their handouts. It reached the point where the mighty Motion Picture Association of America officially decided to fight him. They came very close to succeeding.

But, Wilkerson fought back, and realized he had won, when the studios tried to buy him out.

Wilkerson moved The Reporter into its own building on Sunset Boulevard in 1936. The printing was done in the back, the editorial and business offices were upstairs, and a barbershop and an elegant haberdashery were installed on the ground floor.

Wilkerson knew everyone, and women had a magnetic attraction for him. He discovered Lana Turner at a soda fountain, and was close to Howard Hughes. He organized a gambling syndicate to build the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, but ran out of money. He also was a leader in the Communist ghost chase in Hollywood.

Married five times, he met Tichi Noble at a party at Joseph Schenck's house, asked her for a date, and ended marrying the talented lady who, after his death, continued his leadership at The Reporter. Their daughter, Cynthia, also worked on the paper.

SOL TAISHOFF founded Broadcasting magazine with Martin Codel acting as senior partner, in 193 1. He served as its principal editor for some 50 years, a figure both loved and respected in the electronic communication industry. But, despite his many high-level contacts in the business and in Washington, Taishoff believed fervently that radio was a journalistic medium and entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. He wanted then tightly-controlled radio to be "as free as the press." Taishoff held strong editorial views, that frequently castigated decisions which he felt to be wrong. Everyone always knew where Taishoff stood. As Frank Stanton said in his eulogy (in 1982): "His was the absolutist approach."

Taishoff stood-first and foremost-for the independence of broadcasting. He is described as having been gentle and a good raconteur, but also an intensely competitive editor who hated to be beaten to a good story.

He started in the journalism business while still attending a business high school in Washington. He wrote a column on radio for a newspaper syndicate, and then co-founded Broadcasting.

Taishoff got his share of personal scoops." For instance, he broke the story of FCC chairman Newton Minnow's decision to resign after only two years of his seven-year term.

Taishoff and Codel got their first investment for Broadcasting from radioman Harry Shaw, who eventually had to back out. They raised $6,000 from potential advertisers, and Broadcasting was off and running. Taishoff and Codel eventually fell out. (The word was that the high-strung Taishoff was on the verge of giving Codel a nervous breakdown. Taishoff bought him out for $750,000, and Codel started Television Digest, a weekly newsletter.

Last year, Broadcasting magazine was acquired by the U.K.-based multinational Reed International, which also owns Variety.

The youngest, and the only one still living among the pioneering TV trade publishers, is SOL J. PAUL, now 77, who in 1953 founded Television Age. Some 17 years later, in 1970, he changed its name to Television/Radio Age. The magazine folded in 1989, after several ill-fated, last-minute attempts to save it. Unfortunately, a report of a pending fire sale was leaked to Electronic Media, spelling the kiss of death for the 36-year-old publication.

Reportedly, a few years earlier, Paul had refused a $14 million sale offer from several buyers. The rationale was that, if Broadcasting could have been sold for over $80 million to Times-Mirror, surely Television/ Radio Age could have commanded more. Recently, Times-Mirror sold Broadcasting to Reed International at a loss of almost $50 million. This purchase, however, was seen as too expensive and not necessary by several Variety executives.

Before starting Television Age in 1940, Paul worked for Broadcasting, first in editorial, then as advertising manager in New York and later in Chicago. As the story goes, the then RCA vp John Taylor, reflecting the concern among some broadcasting hardware manufacturers for the growing power of Broadcasting, "encouraged" Paul to develop a competing alternative. Later, in his retirement, Taylor became one of Television/Radio Age's most distinguished writers.

Television Age started as a monthly and became a bi-weekly in 1956.

"In order not to get pressure, ownership was divided among 19 shareholders, which, one by one, we eventually bought out," recalled Paul from his Princeton, N.J. residence.

Plus, he said, while Broadcasting covered radio, and the FCC in particular, we focused on television. We used to explain to the advertising agencies how to produce TV commercials. Later on we used to push color television." In effect, Paul was the first to develop a magazine that linked Madison Avenue and broadcasters - with financial support coming from TV stations who wanted to reach advertisers and hardware manufacturers who sold their wares to TV stations. But, Taishoff and Paul became enemies, with Taishoff convinced that Paul stole" his clients.

In actuality, recalled Paul, .each of us had our own set of friends and supporters. First, it was hard to penetrate the others, secondly, we'd go after different advertisers. "Eventually, Taishoff's wife smoothed the edges with courteous gestures towards the Pauls. And, later, when control of Broadcasting passed on to Taishoff's son Larry, Paul used to disparage Larry for not carrying with him copies of his magazine, like his father and Paul had always done.

Later, in 1960, Paul, sensing the growing interest in the international TV arena, developed the first international TV trade magazine, as a few inserts within Television Age. Subsequently, in 1976, the international section became a separate quarterly publication as Television/Radio Age International which, in 1978, was put under the editorial guidance of Dom Serafini, who had joined the editorial staff in 1976 as a freelance writer. In 198 1, when Paul refused a joint partnership for the expansion of the international publication, Serafini went on to launch VideoAge International. Just as with Taishoff's Broadcasting, Serafini used all his $15,000 savings and advertising commitments from TV industry executives like Larry Gershman (then at MGM), Dick O'Leary (ABC), Silvio Berlusconi, John Taylor's son Edward (then with SSS), Michele G . Franci (MIFED) and Roberto Marinho (TV Globo).

Sol Paul is also a former publisher of the World Radio and TV Handbook, which in 1965 became a BPI publication. Despite it's long, illustrious career, Television/Radio Age started to make some money only between the mid 1970's to the mid 1980's. Before that, as long-time associate Lee Sheridan recalled, many times we had problems making payrolls." Paul's magazine, being a bi-weekly, was constantly running against the tide, since it had to compete editorially with the weekly Broadcasting and Advertising Age. On Mondays when both Television/Radio Age and Broadcasting came out, the editorial staff, under the glorious directorship of Alfred J. Jaffe, was all gloom and doom if scooped by Broadcasting.

Similarly, cries were to be heard from the sales staff of Mort Miller if Broadcasting carried as little as one page more than Television/Radio Age.
COPYRIGHT 1992 TV Trade Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lowe, Walter
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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