In a day or two we will be saying goodbye to 2018. As The Signal prepares for its 100th birthday, I am ending my year with a column instead of a news story which is pretty much how I started my career at the paper.
It was 1996. My neighbor Ronnie Silver wrote a weekly column for The Signal about education — the school children, the teachers who were innovative or getting ready to retire and how the classroom was changing with new technology making its way in the door.
Ronnie was moving back home to New York and she asked if I wanted to take her job at the paper. (I was pretty involved in the schools at the time.) It was still a small town. With only four high schools and a handful of elementary schools, it was pretty easy to find a story and write about it.
A lot has changed in journalism since I wrote my first column more than 20 years ago and a lot has changed in Santa Clarita since first moving here in 1977.
My husband and I chose Newhall when we got married. He was a Lancaster boy and I was raised in the Valley. We figured Newhall was right in the middle of those two places and since his brother already lived here, we had instant family.
There were about 50,000 people in Santa Clarita then and we were not a city yet (that would come in 1988) Charlie and I ended up buying a house around the corner from his brother and directly across the street from a local celebrity: Tex Williams. For those who do not remember Tex, you only have to think of his most popular Country Western song, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.”
He and his wife, Dallas, had a daughter close to my age so we all became pretty good friends. Charlie was in awe of the people that would come to visit Tex, always going across the street to listen to them play guitar and drink a little Jack Daniels. Tex and his band even sang at Charlie’s 30th birthday party.
We had another neighbor, Tom Frew, and had no idea how far back his family played a role in the development of this town (think town blacksmith) but he could throw some awesome parties that included a full-on circus (Tom rode on an elephant down Maple Street) and a Renaissance Faire with castles and kings and ladies and knights of the Round Table.
Soon children came into our picture. We had four of them to be exact and all boys. We loved our Happy Valley neighborhood but the fourth boy made our house a little smaller so we put a “For Sale” sign up and moved about 10 minutes away into Placerita Canyon. (It was important to my husband that we didn’t move too far away from Newhall Hardware). With horses and the dirt roads, creeks and wildlife — the canyon was a great place to raise four boys.
Soon half the boys were off to college and that’s when I decided to take Ronnie up on her offer to write a weekly column. I had a friend at the paper, Carol Rock, and she took me in to meet the editor, Tim Whyte, who at the age of 30-something was no Lou Grant.
Tim gave me the rules about columns and how much it paid. He pretty much said I could write about anything as long as it was 700 words and in to him by Thursday.
For the next four years I visited schools, sat in on board meetings, got to know the superintendents and principals and tremendously enjoyed my time. When a full-time position opened in the newsroom, I was offered the job.
The Signal was a different beast in those days. After moving from a couple of old buildings in downtown Newhall, the new Signal offices on Creekside had room for everyone — reporters and photographers (with a dark room as digital had not quite come in yet), advertisement, a large conference room, and a huge warehouse type room to hold the mighty press machine. Yup, the paper was printed right there in the building.
Our deadline was at 5 p.m. Tim expected the news reporters to turn in two and a half stories every day. The sports guys were just coming in and getting ready for their night. And the press machine was warming up.
It was an exciting time.
Probably the two biggest stories I covered at my time in the newsroom was 9/11 and the shooting of Deputy Jake Kuredjian, both within a month of each other.
As tragic as those two events were, I think the car crashes of young teens and the funerals that followed were the hardest on me. The “Every 15 Minutes” program in the high schools — led by Tom and Alice Renolds, who lost two sons in one moment — were heart-wrenching and eye opening for both the parents and the teens.
It’s been over 10 years since I worked in a newsroom but I went back for a couple of days last month to fill in for the education reporter. Like I said, much has changed in journalism. The kids were great but oh so young. Tim Whyte was back at the helm in a new building but still pretty laid back (no Lou Grant moments while I was there) Advertisement was upstairs. Reporters were in cubicles, so gone were the days you could just swing your chair over to a co-worker for advice on a story. Also gone was the dark room and the mighty press machine as the newspaper gets printed out-of-town.
While we might have had Tell It To the Signal back then (and Tim was always deleting inappropriate content), there are now hundreds of sites reporting the news, not to mention hundreds of 24-hour news channels.
But here’s why a paper like The Signal is important: You will never get a story about a student who comes in with a perfect ACT score (we just had three in our town this year). You will never know about local city council race in the big Los Angeles papers or on the news channels. And you will never hear about the passing of people who made our town what it is today.
This will be an exciting year for The Signal as we look back at 100 years of history.
I am proud to be just a small part of that.