Those Were the Days

A publisher looks back at some of the things that stick to mind after decades of storytelling with Mobile Bay — the good, bad and ugly — in no particular order.

Group shot of Azalea City News & Review staff, circa 1982, on the front porch of the Potts’ house. Several notables are included and we’ll give two free subscriptions to anyone who can name the most people pictured.

An anniversary like this requires you to reminisce. We started our publishing career in 1979 with Azalea City News, and 11 years later we acquired this little magazine that had a lot of potential. Here are a handful of happenings that stick out in my mind as I reflect on four decades of fun in publishing.

A party to a hurricane

Our first foray into the publishing world was Azalea City News, a somewhat alternative newspaper with a great staff and an extremely loyal readership. When Hurricane Frederic hit in 1979, the devastation in the city was unlike any that I had seen. Photographer Alan Whitman and I jumped in a VW Beetle, and I drove around the city while he took some incredible pictures — our little car could get places others couldn’t. We had moved our production equipment to the Civic Center because they had power, so we were the first paper to hit the streets after the storm. That was the only issue where we had to do a second print run, and National Geographic ended up using some of Alan’s photos.

Left Jocko and close friends Jimmy and Hetty Newell. Right Jane Potts, who assumed a major role at the ACN&R and Mobile Bay, generating revenues and keeping the trains on the rails.

The maddest people ever got

In our April 2014 issue, we did a brief, two-page story on a woman who breeds English goldendoodles, a cross between an English golden retriever and a poodle. The dog community was storm-the-capitol mad, angry that we would dare do a story on a breeder. Their vitriol poured into the comments section on our website, and we learned our lesson to never, ever upset animal rights activists. (And before you dog people get mad all over again, please note that over the years, our staff has adopted/rescued many, many furry friends).

The second maddest people ever got

In 1995, some topics, especially homosexuality, were still sensitive. So when our September issue, headlined “Gays: Mobile’s True Secret Society,” hit mailboxes, we were hit with subscription cancellations and angry letters (one even compared me to Hitler). We actually received strong, emotional responses from both sides of the issue.

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Introducing Eugene Walter

A former coworker of mine always told me of her friend Eugene, whom she had worked with on local theatre projects. One day I was having lunch at Bernard’s, and I heard this guy at a nearby table being loud and exuberant, but in a good way. Somehow I knew it had to be Eugene, so I went up and introduced myself, and I asked him if he wanted to discuss contributing to Azalea City News. The rest is history. Our readers really took to him.

Interview with a legend

We got the opportunity to interview E.O. Wilson for Mobile Bay, and he is easily one of the most decorated and renowned people I’ve ever met. I spent a couple of hours with him, just listening to him talk into my recorder about growing up in Mobile. He was modest; rather than focus on everything he knew, he focused on all he thought he didn’t know yet. 

Fighting the law (almost)

We used to do an article, “The Best & Worst of Mobile,” in which readers would vote on things like best restaurant, worst eyesore, etc. A longtime friend, then the sheriff, took umbrage at the fact that he was voted worst politician. He called, threatening to come whip my ass, which he certainly could have done, as he was a former top-10 welterweight boxer in the world. Luckily, we are back to being friends again.

Employee turnover

We had one employee who would sleep at his desk, snoring loudly. Another that would be randomly standing on his head doing yoga. And another that walked off with computers.

But the one that easily stands out the most was the editor (for one of our other publications) whose last day went like this: Comes to work, starts drinking. Leaves for lunch, gets married. Returns from lunch with food from the McDonald’s drive-thru. Eats. Quits. 

Good times.

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