On Saturday, September 7, 1991 a remarkable thing happened to me, my name was in the newspaper. And for once it wasn’t for a D.U.I. Nope, it was the byline for a feature article running on the front page of the Saturday section of the Pekin Daily Times titled: “The Sultans of Snoop.” Under the headline and hovering right above the lead paragraph were the words: “Story By Marty Wombacher.”
It was my first paid published piece of journalism and I was thrilled. I had been published but never paid before, mainly in my own magazine, People of Peoria. I wanted to write for other outlets and approached the Peoria Journal Star, but was told that, “you don’t just walk in off the street and write for the Peoria Journal Star.”
Well, it was a different story over at the Pekin Daily Times. I did walk in off the street, met the editors, Kent Davy and Kevin Kaufman and they agreed to let me pitch some ideas for freelance work and I was off and running.
I loved publishing and creating my magazine POP, but that moment when I pulled the paper out of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper box and saw my byline is a rush I’ll never forget. I’ve been chasing that dragon for over 23 years now and there’s no end in sight. MBIP allows me a daily deadline which causes me both grief and happiness. The grief is putting the post together, the happiness is publishing it and knowing people are reading it. And I thank all of you who read MBIP on a daily basis for that.
The last time I was in the Pekin Daily Times newsroom was in 1993. I was just about to move to New York and met my editor Kent Davy to have lunch and say goodbye. It was actually Kent and the Pekin Daily Times that led me to New York and I’ll write about that later in the post.
The newspaper has moved to a different building in Pekin (sadly the old building is now torn down) and I thought it would be fun to go and take a look around there and see who’s putting out the news in Pekin these days. So it’s off to Pekin we go!
We've arrived at the site of the new location of the Pekin Daily Times, 306 Court Street. Are there any windows in this joint?
Okay, that's better, windows and a cool neon "Times" sign. I could be wrong, but I think that's been transported from the old building. Let's go in and see what's shaking.
Here's the front office area, but I'm looking for the newsroom...
Which appears to be right over here.
Yep, it's the newsroom all right, I've wandered directly over to the desk of the editor of the Pekin Daily Times, Michelle Teheux.
This certainly looks like a newspaper editor's desk!
Ha, I love the Jerry Seinfeld quote taped to her computer. Perfect newsroom humor!
Michelle and I had a nice conversation about the Pekin Daily Times and newspapers in general. I told her that my first paid published piece was printed in the Pekin Daily Times. I also shared a story about how Kent Davy told me about legendary writer and editor Dick Stolley being from Pekin and how he suggested I mail my magazine and PDT clippings to him in New York, which I did. That led to a lunch with Stolley and that lunch planted the seeds for me moving out there in 1993. I'll write in detail about that down the road, but Michelle had her own Dick Stolley moment after she wrote a column that mentioned Stolley, here she is calling it up on her computer.
This column was written two years ago and within it she discusses an article Dick wrote about his twin brother dying and the Times moving out of the old building and into this one. You can read the column right here. After it ran, she got an email from Dick saying that he enjoyed the column that Michelle wrote.
And here's the article from Real Simple that inspired Michelle's column. You can read that story by clicking here.
In the course of our conversation, Michelle told me that her husband Harrie built a state of the art recording studio in the attic of their house here in Pekin. Here's a photo of some local musicians recording there. The studio is called, The Dutch Oven, because it can get hot up there. I'm planning on doing a post about this down the road. Stay tuned!
Here's another shot of the studio featuring a high tech mixing board and other equipment framed by brick walls and wood. You can see more photos at Harrie's facecrack page.
There's a familiar face over to the left, it's Alejandro, who plays bass with MBIP's favorite local band, The Black Roses. The band has recorded here at Dutch Oven and Alejandro is also part of a crew that records a weekly podcast here at the studio. The podcast is called, Soda Pop Comics Cast and you can check it out here. The gentleman on the right is David Griffin.
Here's the newsroom from the vantage point of Michelle's desk in the back of the room. She kindly agreed to give us a little tour so let's go look around in here.
Bound editions of the Times are kept in these large library like books over here on a table in the middle of the newsroom.
This is Jared who has a desk up at the front of the newsroom and is the Community Editor of the Times.
Here's a framed photo of F.F. McNaughton who bought the Times in 1927.
Michelle stands in front of a wall that was transported from the old Times building. As you can see, it's plastered with old newspaper clippings and used to be a wall in the old conference room. Randy Price moved the wall from the old building to this one. Let's check out some of the clippings.
Michelle pointed out this political cartoon which shows a chopped up swastika changed to represent the year of 1944. Very clever!
Uh oh, double exclamation point alert! Shame on you whoever edited that headline!
The type font for the name of the paper here has been changed to mirror the politically incorrect era when it was okay to name a sports team, The Pekin Chinks.
Here's the front page of the very first printed edition of the Pekin Daily Times.
This is Carla Spotser who's the General Manager of the Times. She's got candy on her desk and I'm jealous!
Here's the lunch room at the new Times location. It's empty because it's past lunch time, but the place still leaves me longing for a sandwich.
Well, this certainly brings back memories, it's a photograph of the newsroom on the second floor at the old Pekin Daily Times where I used to turn in my articles and hang out with Kent, Kevin and the rest of the news crew back in the day. And this is a perfect spot to lead into the next section of this post...
My Back Pages: A Half A Dozen Feature Stories I Wrote For The Pekin Daily Times
Title of article: “The Sultans Of Snoop”
First sentence in the story: “On the street, they’re called PIs, gumshoes and dicks.”
Sometime in August of 1991 I met Kent Davy and Kevin Kaufman, the two editors of The Pekin Daily Times. My friend Julie Reynolds, was writing freelance for them. She also wrote for my magazine POP and suggested I should meet them. I was a little gun-shy after pretty much being thrown out of the Peoria Journal Star, but I gathered up some copies of POP and drove to the Pekin Daily Times office. Kent and Kevin were real nice guys and we talked about writing, music, bikers and all kinds of topics. They told me they’d be happy to have me pitch story ideas to them. So on the way home I stopped at a phone booth, ripped the Pekin phone book off of the wall and went home to look through the Yellow Pages for story ideas.
I discovered that there were two listings for Private Detectives. I remember laughing and wondering how one Private Detective could survive in Pekin, much less two! I phoned Kent, told him my story idea and he told me to go ahead and write it up and they’d assign a photographer when I finished the piece. I interviewed the Private Detectives got some stories out of them and wrote it all up. I was especially proud of the line that started the article off: “In Pekin, there’s three men that don’t mind it at all if you call them a dick.”
I turned it in and as soon as Kent read the first line he looked at me and said, “That’s got to be changed.”
I argued and soon found out that arguing with an editor is like arguing with a cop, you’re never going to win, so I adjusted it and the story ran the following Saturday.
I’ll never forget seeing my byline in the newspaper. It was a real thrill and it was only topped when I moved to New York and saw my byline in New York Newsday when my first feature article was published in a New York daily newspaper.
Title of article: “Peace Love and Pekinites—A Personal Woodstock”
First sentence in the story: “At the beginning of the decade, I heard that the 1990s would turn out to the the ‘60s upside down.”
Soon after the “Sultans of Snoop,” was published I was hanging out in the newsroom talking with Kevin Kaufman. He told me that the upcoming weekend was a big deal in Pekin. It was the Marigold Festival and said it was a three day event.
“Three days all about celebrating flowers?” I laughingly replied. “Could I go and cover it like it’s the ‘90’s version of Woodstock?” I jokingly spat out.
Kevin looked up from his desk and said, “That’s a great idea, can you have the copy to me first thing Monday morning?”
“Yeah, no sweat,” I told him and got up and walked out to my car. I felt panicked because I had no idea how I was going to pull this off. This was a good journalistic lesson: If a story scares the shit out of you, then you definitely need to do that story.
I went to the Festival and it fell right into place and Kent snapped a photo of a hippie looking guy selling tie die t-shirts and that story is one of my favorite pieces to this day.
Title of article: “On air...it’s Greg Batton”
First sentence in the story: “When Greg Batton caught a bug from his journalism teacher his junior year at Pekin High School he was embarrassed and kept it a secret for more than ten years.”
This story evolved when I was doing Greg’s afternoon show on WMBD plugging the latest issue of POP magazine. I asked him how he got into radio and the story was an interesting one and I asked him if the Pekin Daily Times had ever done a story on him. He told me no, I pitched the idea and it’s my one and only freelance piece that has made the front page of a paper. I knew he’d have me on his show to talk about it and then I could get some free plugs for my magazine. It was then I realized I had merged being a media whore with a journalist and I felt pretty fucking proud of myself.
Title of article: “Lytle & Lamb’s Red Light Radio”
First sentence in the story: “Ray Lytle screams into the microphone.”
The Greg Batton piece worked so well, I went to the FM side of the dial and did a piece on Lytle and Lamb, a popular duo doing morning zoo show duty on WWCT back in the early ‘90s. And yes, after it ran I went back to the show and talked about it on air along with heavily plugging the latest issue of POP. I had that journalistic media whore schtick down pat by now!
Title of article: “No. 42037894—My HIV Test”
First sentence in the story: “Do you believe in Magic?”
In November of 1991, Magic Johnson announced that he had tested positive for HIV. This sent a shock wave among a large portion of heterosexual men who pretty much thought HIV/AIDS was strictly for the gay community. I was one of those heterosexual males and I was kind of scared. I had just come back from a trip to New York City and had been with a woman I picked up in a bar the East Village who had probably been around the block about 10,007 times. And a condom wasn’t put into play. I felt kind of sick when I heard the Magic Johnson news (it turns out his Johnson wasn’t magic after all...sorry, couldn’t help myself) and thought I should get an HIV test.
Then I remembered my rule about if a story scares the shit out of you, it’s a story you should cover. So I pitched it to Kevin Kaufman and told him it was a real worry to me and he said to be honest in the story. I went to the Free Clinic in Pekin and was told you had to wait seven days for the results. The results were negative and as I left I took a bunch of free condoms that were sitting in a candy dish.
And check out the Paul McCartney inspired Mullet I’m sporting in that picture!
Title of article: “A Long, Winding Road”
First sentence in the story: “Richard Stolley picks his words slowly, as if editing his thoughts before he speaks.”
July 7th of 1994 marked my one year anniversary of living in New York City. I had moved there to pursue my writing career and while I hadn’t gotten a staff writing job, I had written for a slew of the weekly papers and had gotten freelance features into the NY Daily News and New York Newsday, two of the big daily papers in Manhattan. (And yes, I just walked in off the street and wrote for them, Peoria Journal Star!) I was working nights at Sarabande Press, a pre-press service bureau (hi Joe!) in downtown Manhattan and Dick Stolley took me out to lunch that week to celebrate my one year anniversary in New York. In the course of our lunch at The Rainbow Room I discovered that the Pekin Daily Times had never done a feature story on him. I couldn’t believe it, Stolley’s a legend in the world of journalism and they had never done a feature on the man? After lunch I called Kent Davy and he gave the green light for a feature story on Dick Stolley.
I interviewed Dick at his office in the Time-Life Building and then sweat bullets until I got a phone call from his secretary Sally telling me that Dick loved the story and wanted to take me to lunch. Dick Stolley was really nice to me during my years in New York and I was always proud to call him a friend, so it was a thrill that he liked my feature story on him. That was the last piece I ever wrote for the Pekin Daily Times, I thought it was best to go out on top!
Related post: Vic Burnett: The Weatherman Who Changed My Life.
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