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</head> It’s only been half a century
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Updated: 07/31/2014 04:39:29PM

It’s only been half a century

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S.L. Frisbie

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Perhaps you noticed that it was very much like a federal holiday.

Government offices were closed; so were the banks.

Kids had the day off from school.

July 26, 2014; a major milestone.

OK. It was a Saturday. It was in the middle of the summer.

But this is my story, OK?


Ask anyone who has served in the military, and he (or she) can tell you the starting and ending days of active service.

I was discharged from my two years of draft-era Army service on July 25, 1964, and began my career as a community journalist on the next day, July 26. Fifty years ago last Saturday.

It was a point of pride with me that I had never been unemployed for a day in my life since my teenage years as newscarrier wrangler (I think they actually called it “route foreman”) at this newspaper, and I decided to keep that record intact by starting to work the day after I was released from active duty.

My title was managing editor; when your father owns the business, you don’t always have to start at the bottom. Actually, I did, as a carrier at the age of 12.

I had worked as a reporter at The Tallahassee Democrat for three of my four years at FSU, and had two years of management experience as an Army lieutenant.

Coming onto the staff as supervisor of a news staff of three, two of whom were nearly old enough to be my parents, this stellar resumé of professional and managerial experience was a little less impressive than last week’s grocery list.


The Polk County Democrat was located in the Record Building, named for the one-time daily newspaper that had been our competitor for 15 years: from 1931, when The Democrat was founded by my grandfather and great-grandfather, until we bought The Record in 1946 and moved into its building.

Most type was set on a Model 8 Linotype machine, the Model T of typesetting machines. Typesetter was an apprenticeable trade; it took five years of experience to call yourself a Linotype operator. I learned to use it well enough to set corrections and 14-point headlines, our smallest headline size.

Society page headlines were set in a fussy typeface with handset type from a California type case. I also did that. We had a limited number of capital M’s and W’s, and Betsy Ravenel, our society editor (and later the godmother of our three children) had to keep track of how many of those letters she used in each headline.

If Miss Mary Martin of Mulberry Wed Mr. Warren Watson of Wauchula on Wednesday, we were in the soup.

We printed on an eight-page Goss flatbed press, which Dad called The Groaner. It printed 3,600 copies an hour, which works out to one copy per second. No more, no less. It had one speed, and that was it.

I was allowed to “fly the press,” a term that meant that I could catch and remove the papers as they came off the delivery belt. Richard Frisbie, my uncle and our business manager, could insert the B sections into the A sections faster than the press could print them. It was poetry in motion.


A few months after I joined the staff in 1964, we moved into our present location, a building which had begun life in 1908 as a livery stable. We bought a 16-page Goss tubular press from The Winter Haven News-Chief. It ran several times as fast as the old flatbed. Also several times noisier.

Otherwise, our production protocol didn’t change much.

A new technology called “offset” was beginning to intrude on the newspaper industry. Old-timers grumbled “Offset ain’t printin’” and I agreed.

Until 1970.

It had become obvious that the last technological advances in letterpress had been made; the future was in offset.


We invested $75,000 in a 12-page Goss Community offset press and supporting equipment, including a photographic-based typesetting system, in 1970. The press was faster and quieter and gave vastly better reproduction than its predecessor (which we sold as scrap steel).

Unlike the two letterpresses that preceded it, the offset press was simple enough that I was able to help operate it. The operative word is “help.” I still have nightmares about the brief time when I was, by default, our head pressman. It was a dark day in journalism history.

When tour groups came through the office, I told them that the typesetting technology that we would be using in five years hadn’t been invented yet. That was the speed of technological development in the industry.


As the years passed, I became general manager, then publisher, as Dad willingly passed along to me the responsibility for managing the business.

My friend Mary (we have been married for more than 51 years, but I like the looks I get when I introduce her as my friend) joined me in the business early on, and told me when it was time to do little things like establishing a 401(k) retirement plan for our staff and buying a four-color unit for the press.

The woman could spend money faster than I could make it, but I always did what she said. She was always right, a burden which I tried to bear gracefully.

As the business grew, we started a Fort Meade edition (now The Fort Meade Leader), established Polk County Times, and bought The Lake Wales News.

When our children, all of whom in their teen years had worked at the paper either part time or for a summer, said they had not caught the newspaper bug, Mary and I decided to sell the company. Unlike my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, I did not intend to work until my health no longer allowed me to get to the office.

We decided to keep the paper under family ownership for 75 years, and then to sell to our good friend, Derek Dunn-Rankin (majority stockholder in Sun Coast Media Group). Don Wilson, our lawyer, said it was the smoothest corporate sale he had ever taken part in, with both parties dealing in good faith from the start. That sale became official on Jan. 1, 2007.

Derek asked Mary and me to remain on under three-year management contracts.

When those contracts expired, my successor (and Sun Coast friend) Jim Gouvellis, invited me to continue to write my column, and later to write one column and one editorial a week. This has given some people (including Mary) the impression that I am not really retired.

I do not fish; I do not hunt; I do not own a boat; I do not own a motor home.

I spoil grandchildren, and I write, and we travel, in that order.

It is a great retirement.


(S. L. Frisbie, as you just read, is retired. He didn’t entirely leave the Army 50 years ago; he joined the Florida Army National Guard for 30 years, eventually attaining the rank of colonel. This amazed those who knew him best, including his father. In 50 years in the newspaper business, he has written more than 5,000 columns.)

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