A crowd "watches" the World Series covered by the Arizona Republican outside the Heard Building in 1921. In these pre-radio days, news wire services transmitted each at-bat and inning, which were placed on the scoreboard.
If you grew up in Phoenix in the 1960s and 1970s, the media landscape looked like this:
The Arizona Republic was the morning newspaper. The afternoon paper was The Phoenix Gazette. Although both were owned by the Pulliam family, their newsrooms competed fiercely. The Republic was the statewide newspaper while the Gazette focused on the city. Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam was known for his conservative views and occasional front-page editorials. Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Reg Manning's signature included a cactus. Well into the 1960s, news hawkers in green aprons shouted headlines from downtown sidewalks, ready to sell you a paper.
Surrounding towns had their newspapers, too. Among them, The Mesa Tribune, Tempe Daily News, Chandler Arizonan, and Scottsdale Daily Progress. The city gained an alternative weekly with New Times, founded in 1970 by a group of ASU students. Phoenix Magazine was started in the 1966 by the Welch family.
Television meant the local affiliates of the three networks: KOOL (CBS), KTAR (NBC) and KTVK (ABC). Phoenix had one independent station, KPHO, which was the home of Wallace and Ladmo. Radio ran from easy listening to top 40 (KRIZ, KRUX and KUPD). By the 1970s, newcomer KDKB played album-oriented rock with a hippie laid-back style (The staff is shown at the Mesa Southern Pacific depot in 1973, above right). Broadcast towers topped the Hotel Westward Ho and Greater Arizona Savings Building (Heard Building) downtown.
You knew personalities such as bola-tie-wearing Bill Close, the Walter Cronkite of Phoenix, on KOOL (promoted on the billboard, right). Mary Jo West became one of Phoenix's first female anchors in 1976, joining Close (a crusty guy who was not happy to work with a woman at first). In 1982, Close would be at the center of a famous hostage situation, where a gunman took over the studio and demanded to read a statement on the air. On KOY radio, Bill Heywood presided over the morning drive time, while Alan Chilcoat did afternoons and "sang the weather." Johnny McKinney at KUPD was one of the many popular rock DJs.
Overall, what would come to be called "media" was pretty bland in Phoenix of this era. There were exceptions, and not merely when New Times started to shake things up. The Republic and Gazette was capable of excellent investigative reporting and exposed land fraud and crooked pols, along with plenty of boosterism. Glendale Pontiac dealer, and future governor, Evan Mecham published a short-lived Evening American because he thought Pulliam was too liberal. But most Phoenicians felt a deep connection to these publishers and broadcasters.
What was most striking in retrospect, but taken for granted then, was that all these publications and stations were locally owned. For example, KOOL (along with KOLD in Tucson) was owned by Tom Chauncey, who started out as a page in the Hotel Adams. He bought KPHO radio in 1941 and befriended cowboy star Gene Autrey. The two went on to buy KOOL in the early 1950s.
KTVK was started by former U.S. Senator and governor Ernest McFarland and was owned by his family for years. Jonathan Marshall was publisher of the Scottsdale Daily Progress and a key member of the Scottsdale business leadership. Towering over all of these figures was "Old Man Pulliam."
The first newspaper in Phoenix was the Salt River Valley Herald, founded as a weekly in 1878. Two years later — and moving counter to today's "branding" in the metropolitan area — it changed its name to the Phoenix Herald and went twice-weekly. In 1881, the Phoenix Gazette started its presses. The town's population was 2,453.
The Arizona Republican began publishing in 1890. According to the Library of Congress, founding editors Charles. O. Ziegenfuss and Edwin S. Gill "began the daily as a partisan political organ to promote Lewis Wolfley, the territorial governor." Newspapering in the old West could be a dangerous undertaking, but there's no record of a Phoenix paper being burned down and its editor tarred and feathered. A bigger threat to Phoenix's three newspapers was the Panic of 1893.
The Republican gained a savior three years later when it was purchased by railroad and mining executive Frank Murphy. He hired former New York Times journalist Charles Randolph to be editor. The Republican installed the first linotype machine in the state. In 1901 the Phoenix Typographical Union 352 was established, Arizona's first labor union.
Even with Randolph's more professional journalism, the Republican was a supporter of its namesake party. That changed in 1912, as Arizona became a state, when it was bought by the legendary Dwight Heard, who owned the paper until his death in 1929. Heard was a progressive and made the newspaper more even-handed. He also began a tradition of it supporting public improvements for the city and state. The next owners, Charles Stauffer and Wesley Knorpp, changed its name from Republican to Republic and also bought the Gazette in 1930.
Meanwhile, in 1918, Phoenix gained the first of what would eventually be two African-American newspapers, the Phoenix Tribune. It lasted until 1931.
Radio revolutionized the media but arrived slowly in the less-populous Intermountain West. Phoenix sporting-goods store owner Earl Neilson won an experimental radio license in 1921. One of his first employees was a young Barry Goldwater, who swept floors among other things. Neilson's station became KFCB and, in 1929, KOY. A future KOY announcer, Jack Williams, became Arizona governor.
Other stations followed, including KFAD. It was purchased by the dominant newspaper and became first KREP and then KTAR, its call letters standing for "Keep Taking the Arizona Republic."
KTAR broke the local-ownership model in 1944 when the Republic sold it to John Louis Sr. of Chicago. Still, as the Louis family bought more stations, it gathered them into Pacific & Southern Broadcasting, headquartered in Phoenix. In 1968, it would merge with billboard company Eller Outdoor Advertising to become Combined Communications, with Karl Eller as chief executive.
The first television station went on the air in 1949, KPHO. Before Wallace and Ladmo, it started the Lew King Ranger show. One of the announcers was a young Wayne Newton. It was followed by KTYL (soon KTAR) in 1953. By 1955, the TV firmament was set with KOOL and KTVK.
Eugene Collins Pulliam was 57 years old when he purchased the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette in 1946. Two years earlier, he had bought the Indianapolis Star and was in the process of turning it into the largest of the city's dailies. But he was a newspaperman, not from "the business side." He had started as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star and at age 23 had become editor of the newspaper in Atchison, Kan.
Pulliam forcefully used his print near-monopoly to advance his vision of the public good and political conservatism.
In the former, he joined the businessmen who were eager to see Phoenix grow after World War II. Their efforts included recruiting well-paying "clean industries," efficient city government including the Charter Movement, improvements to the city's infrastructure, annexation, and making Arizona State College in Tempe into a university.
In the latter, he was an early supporter of Barry Goldwater and Republicans in what had been a Democratic (but still conservative) state. Pulliam's conservatism was that of fellow Midwesterner Sen. Robert Taft: smaller government, suspicion of the New Deal and unions, but with a pragmatic streak and rejecting Taft's isolationist tendencies. Pulliam was a staunch anti-communist, as was his longtime top editor, Fritz Marquardt.
It is an open question of how much power "the Pulliam press" actually had in post-war Phoenix. The city was attracting large numbers of middle-class Anglos from the Midwest that already shared his larger political philosophy. Pulliam was a civic leader, but hardly the only one, and most shared a common vision of a "business friendly" low-rise city with minimal restrictions on individuals. At least on white people.
He was not always a doctrinaire Republican. For example, a young Bill Stephens was a Democratic representative in the Legislature in the early 1960s when he was summoned to see Pulliam. The publisher told him that his newspapers might support him for governor — someday. But first, Pulliam said, Stephens needed to get his law degree. Stephens followed the advice, going on to become a noted Phoenix lawyer. But he never sought the governorship. The right-wing Stay American Committee (SAC) found no support from Pulliam in its bid to win the City Council in 1962. Also, in 1964 Pulliam refused to endorse Goldwater for president.
Like Phoenix leaders of his generation, he failed to understand the damage being done to the city by nascent sprawl. Thus, as I have written at length elsewhere, he was absolutely right to mobilize the public against the Papago Freeway inner loop. That it was defeated in a 1973 vote was not because of the evil power of the Pulliam press, but the horrific destruction the freeway would bring. But he and other leaders opposed transit, much less growth boundaries. And they did not push to attach I-10 to the Maricopa Freeway at Durango, saving hundreds of irreplaceable historic houses.
When Pulliam died in 1975, it marked the beginning of the end of the old civic stewards. A year later, Don Bolles, one of the Republic's best investigative reporters was murdered with a car bomb in Midtown. People said, "They would never have dared do this if Old Man Pulliam were still alive." But the "they" was never adequately answered.
Investigative Reporters and Editors committed a team to dig into the killing. The resulting Arizona Report was not run by the Republic. New Times did run it. But the project was more about exposing the sleaze of Phoenix's underworld than nailing the Mister Bigs behind the Bolles murder. It's also important to remember that the Republic still had some fine investigative reporters, such as Al Sitter.
Indeed, the Republic and Gazette had strong, talented staffs and were capable of producing excellent work. It was a paternal company that took care of employees, even maintaining the R&G Ranch in the citrus groves of Arcadia for worker events and picnics. Through the 1990s, R&G journalists were still capable of crusading against corrupt or incompetent politicians in a way that is inconceivable now. In 1985 that came back to bite them when a targeted pol discovered publisher Duke "I tell Arizona what to think" Tulley had invented his past as an Air Force hero.
The newspapers became more pragmatic editorially. In the late 1980s, publisher Pat Murphy pushed for Phoenix to move beyond the population growth model to emphasizing quality and urban solutions. Unfortunately, the newspapers and the prevailing business interests, and even many voters, were no longer in sync. The city had grown too fast.
In 1986, the papers endorsed Burton Barr, the veteran state House leader and a mainstream Republican, for governor. He lost in the primary to Evan Mecham, a precursor of today's Kookocracy. Three years later, they campaigned for ValTrans, a visionary, rail-centric commuter system that would have prevented much of the worst sprawl. Voters turned it down.
The R&G held a commanding position in advertising and penetration. The closest this came to being undermined was when Cox Enterprises, publisher of such newspapers as the Atlanta Journal, Dayton Daily News and Austin American Statesman, bought the Mesa, Tempe, Chandler and eventually Scottsdale papers. The Mesa Tribune enjoyed a strong run under the late Max Jennings as executive editor in the 1980s. But Cox could not break the hold of the big dailies from Phoenix and sold to Thomsen Newspapers in 1996-97. The papers were consolidated and renamed the East Valley Tribune, then sold to Freedom Communications, publisher of the Orange County Register. The recession nearly killed the Tribune, even though it won a Pulitzer in 2009. A new buyer was found for what remained after savage cutbacks.
Another loss for the Pulliam press came in 1997, when the afternoon Gazette was closed. This was particularly short sighted: Imagine if the Gazette had become an online only newspaper, competing editorially against the Republic? But it was not to be. Meanwhile, media companies were becoming bigger and local ownership more rare.
At least the Republic and its parent company, Central Newspapers, kept faith with downtown and built a new building on Van Buren, a new headquarters for a multi-state newspaper company. In 2000, the company was sold to Gannett. Now, a long way from the weekly of 1890, the newspaper is part of Republic Media, which also includes Channel 12 and AzCentral, the state's most popular news Web site.
Read more about the city's rich history in the Phoenix 101 archive.