In the spring of 1946, Geoffrey William Stirling launched his weekly paper, The Sunday Herald, a modest tabloid that would spawn a media empire. Over 3,300 issues later, we head back to where it all started, and peek inside the tattered pages of that original issue.
It’s 1946, the year 51-year-old military officer, Juan Perón, is elected president of Argentina, the same year Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech warns of a Soviet expansion. Italy abolishes its monarchy, and 12 Nazi leaders are sentenced to hang as a result of the Nuremberg war trials.
A world away, on an insular island in the middle of the Atlantic, a contested referendum is held to decide the colony’s future, posing a tormenting political question. Would we, the people, continue under a Commission of Government, restore responsible government or — as proposed by a fiery hog operator, journalist and aspiring politician— join Canada?
Joey Smallwood’s motion was thwarted in ’46, but, as history reminds us, he’d prevail a few years later.
In ’46, an electric range down at City Service on Water Street would set you back about $220, while a boiled ham just up the road at F.J. Scott demanded 75 cents. A gallon of potatoes over at Paul Kavanagh’s was 25 cents, and a shiny new Dodge DeLuxe came with a $1,069 price tag.
In the spring of that year, an ambitious 24-year-old by the name of Geoff Stirling was hawking his own product, St. John’s Sunday Herald, a 20-page weekly tabloid,modestly costing five cents.
Some instantly predicted its demise. Smallwood, a seasoned journalist who owned a newspaper, warned him to dismiss the idea. Stirling persisted. After working at his father’s restaurant, stashing away $25 a week, he’d saved $1,000, enough for four issues.
The legacy that is Geoff Stirling, the media maverick and visionary, was born. The work, though, was only beginning. On May 12, that first issue, the inaugural of over 3,300 and counting, rolled off the presses. Stirling, fusing ink and sweat, wrote the paper himself (all but five columns and the letters-to-the-editor), sold all the advertising, printed the product and personally sold copies door-to-door.
A TIME FOR CHANGE
That first issue — with the headline screaming “Hitler’s Son Alive in Germany” — sold out in just hours. The rest, as they say, is history.
For this editor, who’s proudly spent much of his young professional life working at this magazine, thumbing through that first issue is like an archaeologist unearthing a hidden treasure. Blowing the dust off that original issue, it’s hard to believe over six decades have elapsed since Stirling created a product that would help document our history.
There’s been an obvious metamorphosis over the past six decades, yet the ghosts of that cardinal issue still live inside the pages today. The Phantom, Lee Falk’s famous comic strip, appeared in the first issue and never left. Some of the province’s most celebrated citizens assaulted a keyboard to contribute to that first issue, columnists like author Michael Harrington, who later became editor of The Evening Telegram, and mayor Andrew Carnell, who surmised, “it (Herald) typifies the progressiveness of the city.”
No doubt, the weekly was progressive, if not avante-garde. Some of the headlines were shocking, yet rousing … “Husband Cuts Wife’s Throat. Wife Forgives All.” Another read “Negro Rapist Killed By Miami Police.”
Stirling blended Yankee sensationalism alongside pressing local issues. In a story on page 7, he hit the streets, asking locals what the National Convention meant to them. Like today’s product, that debut issue was a cluster of content, from an interview with local youth queen (Miss Shea), to an eye-popping story of page 3, a recount of Patrick Murphy’s dramatic jail break from Portugal’s most notorious prison, Cadiz.
Unlike today’s high-tech world, where journalistic technophiles comb the internet for details, Stirling and his contemporaries weren’t as lucky. He had a phone number (901), the dinosaur of technology, a typewriter, and a reporter’s hunger. “I simply told the stories,” Stirling said in a 2001 interview.
But Stirling did more. He enticed readers with more than words. On the final page of that issue — in a prelude to what’s become a staple in today’s mag, he offered up a contest, a $265 trip for two to Miami Beach. The response was overwhelming, as was the demand for the product. It’s hard to believe, but a one-year subscription back in ’46 cost $2.75, about the price of one issue today. Little did Stirling realize back in the spring of ’46 what lay ahead. His little paper would evolve into an institution, selling tens of millions of copies, creating what would develop into a media empire. Just six months after that first issue hit the streets, its paid circulation was already at 11,894 and had grown to 36 pages. Asked what’s given him the most enjoyment, Stirling didn’t cite his successful television station, NTV, or pioneering radio station, OZFM, nor mention his numerous business accolades or financial windfalls. “The Herald,” he says, “because it gives me the most freedom. I enjoy watching it hit the streets every week.” Happy 65th anniversary, Geoff.