By Tim Reeves, first editor of Ohio Country Newspaper
While the first edition of Ohio Country Newspaper was unveiled in September 1992 during the Farm Science Review, the seeds of OCJ were actually planted in the spring of 1976 at the offices of the Agri-Broadcasting Network on Riverside Drive, Upper Arlington. The late Ed Johnson had operated ABN for several years and had established ABN as the premier farm radio and farm information network in Ohio. I was just preparing to graduate from Ohio State University in March 1976 with a double major in agricultural economics and journalism. Since Ohio State University did not major in agricultural communications at the time, those of us interested in a career in agricultural communications had to major in something else and take journalism/communications courses in as a “minor”. In fact, I’ve taken as many journalism/communications classes as I’ve had econ!
We had a handful of students with a keen interest in agricultural communications and as a group we and our faculty advisors decided that we needed to branch out from college and get involved in as many internships, part-time jobs, etc. . we could. I was able to secure two internships: one summer with the statewide Landmark Cooperative and the other with EJ and ABN. At ABN, my job was to send each day’s farm/rural radio broadcasts to the over 35 radio stations in Ohio that received Ed’s daily broadcasts at noon. I would call each station, identify myself, and they would then tape EJ’s pre-recorded show over the phone connection. Each station was contacted individually. It took about 90 minutes, on average, for this to happen five days a week in the noon slot.
I arrived around 11 am and I had normally finished at 12:45. I was able to take ABN work between classes, which wasn’t easy when I had a 1pm class on an agricultural campus! I’ve never had a speeding ticket going down Lane Avenue, but I’ve been awfully close more than once.
One day, about four weeks before graduation, my 1 p.m. class had been canceled and as I was about to leave the ABN office, I saw that EJ was in his office. This was unusual, as normally he was either having lunch, or going somewhere on radio business, or on his way to his farm.
He saw me and asked me if I had some time to talk. He first asked me if I had a job planned after graduation. I said no and was a bit worried because I was going to graduate in March and get married in May. He laughed and told me he would offer me a job because he liked my work ethic and saw potential in me BUT he really had nothing available at the time. I said I appreciated the offer and maybe we could keep in touch and something might happen in the future. I had no idea the “future” would be nearly 16 years later.
We started talking about agricultural magazines, newspapers, etc. EJ was very interested in these and admitted that he knew more about electronic communication than printed communication, but he wanted to learn. Then he picked up copies of a few agricultural publications that already existed in Ohio, looked at me, and (I still remember the words!) “Don’t you think we can do better than these?”
I said “Yes, because I believe we need a state farm publication that better reflects all of Ohio agriculture and not just the largest operations.” I remember learning in my classes that Ohio at that time had one of the largest small and medium farm sectors of any state. The majority of them were operated by part-time farmers, who worked off the farm. At the same time, Ohio also had one of the most diverse agricultural sectors, from large grain/livestock/poultry farms to produce from vegetable farms and orchard operations of all sizes: large, medium and small.
“We could use a publication that covers all of Ohio’s multifaceted agriculture and meets the needs of all of Ohio’s agriculture. Maybe you should think about it, EJ, I said.
He smiled and said he’d thought a lot about it already, so we used the next half hour to brainstorm what we’d like to see in a post like this, what we didn’t want to see, the potential of such a publication, etc. It wasn’t a formal discussion, just two people who loved Ohio agriculture talking about a topic they both had a keen interest in.
Well, I graduated and went out into the world to pursue a career in agricultural communications and EJ continued to grow ABN. Whenever our paths crossed, we invariably spent a few moments discussing the idea of a new agricultural publication devoted entirely to Ohio’s diverse agriculture.
Over the next nearly two decades, I worked (and learned!) my way through jobs in agricultural public relations, publishing weekly farm newspapers, and then nearly a decade in publishing farm magazines. state, here in Ohio and in the southeastern states. In the early 90’s I was senior editorial director for 8 state farm publications in the SE, but I was ready to move back to Ohio and start a publication.
By this time EJ’s son Bart had become much more involved in ABN operations, so the three of us met at the old Monihan restaurant near Ostrander for a working lunch to specifically talk about the launch of a new agricultural publication in Ohio. We agreed on the timing and the economy was good. The opportunity was open due to the consolidation of a few national agricultural publishing companies, which had left Ohio without a fully invested state agricultural magazine, and the ABN was financially able to afford to set up such a publication.
Most people who read the OCJ today will never experience the difficult times we had to get the magazine published. First, there was the logistics and economics of building a team, finding a company that could print what we wanted, and more importantly, the circulation base and advertising to pay for publication. . Many sleepless nights and many “kneeling” prayers have occurred during these months because we really started the OCJ from scratch.
EJ had an outstanding team of employees in the ABN at that time and it was an absolute total effort by the company to get Ohio Country Newspaper take off and go. OCJ’s first staff included myself and our production manager, Sharon, but in fact, the entire ABN family was day one ‘staff’.
Unexpectedly, one of our first “promoters” was the late sausage and restaurant king Bob Evans. Evans was an unabashed promoter of Ohio agriculture, especially in his beloved home region of southeast Ohio. When Mr. Evans received his first copy of the OCJ and learned that we would regularly be offering intensive grazing (which he promoted!), he called me late at night (very late, around midnight! !) and wanted to talk about the publication and intensive grazing. He spoke for over an hour and after that he became a relentless promoter of the OCJ. He was so convinced by the publication that he carried stacks of OCJs with him in his car and distributed them everywhere he went. He was also a good personal friend to EJ and myself. Ed and I have both admitted more than once that our strong faith in God and our belief in what we were trying to do with the OCJ was sorely tested in those early years, especially when the OCJ financial statements for each month showed solid red ink.
At the time, the expected viability of new releases was less than 5 years, on average. It is even more difficult for agricultural/rural publications! And even if you can do it in the first 5 years, it was still a struggle to survive, as the majority of publications never show a profit in their first five years and normally take 7-10 years to make a profit. profit.
Thanks to the grace of God, a lot of hard work, sacrifice and perseverance, the OCJ was able to show a profit in the first 3 years of its existence. Although, as I said, we sometimes had questions, we thought the OCJ would succeed because we knew we had a solid product that people liked and embraced and, quite honestly, it’s readers like the late Mr. Evans who helped sell the magazine. for us.
Undoubtedly, it also helped to have the ABN radio network and the Agri-Country TV show as companions to the OCJ. And, when someone picked up the latest edition of the OCJ, they could expect to see a neighbor, a friend, someone they knew, or maybe even their own family farm, featured on the pages each month.
With this trio of radio, television, and print media, Ed Johnson and the ABN were the only private agricultural communications media at the time that had all three media under one roof. It was a powerful and impressive business that EJ and his family built.
One thing never wavered, whether in those early years or in the years that followed: Ohio Country Newspaper is all about the diversity and importance of Ohio agriculture to the state’s economy and more specifically, the wonderfully amazing men, women and children who farm and Ohio farming communities are wonderful places to live and raise a family. The OCJ has always had and hopefully always will have its roots firmly and firmly planted in the agriculture and rural communities of Ohio.
The OCJ was born and raised in Buckeye State, born out of a chance conversation in an office building in suburban Columbus. I will be eternally grateful that even though it took over 15 years to arrive, I had the chance to finally work with Ed Johnson, a man whom I consider both one of the best bosses I have ever had never had but also as one of the best friends. which I have never had in my life too.