Signal 100 | A century of humorous Signal ads

Really, a good newspaper runs on truth. It needs introspection, both outward and inward. It needs humor, heroism, gossip, leadership and information, which includes where to buy fertilizer, retreads and/or halfway decent psychiatric help.

And a newspaper, like all of us, needs money. Scientists call this “Advertising.” Advertising is so important, the word should be always capitalized. Likewise, Advertisers should also be capitalized with the proper adjective of “Beloved” always preceding.

The very first Ad to appear in The Mighty Signal was on page 2 on Feb. 7, 1919. It touted the advantages of doing your construction business at Newhall Lumber. We were such a small town then, there was no need to post Newhall Lumber’s address nor telephone number (it didn’t have a phone back then; and when they finally got one, Newhall Lumber had the absolute easiest number to remember — 1; yup. 1).

Advertising took many forms back in the early 20th century. The owner of the Renfro Pharmacy on today’s Main Street had a unique way of dealing with the competition. Back then, the Amazon.com of the day was the Sears catalog. Our local pharmacist had a not-so-secret deal going with the SCV’s children. If they brought in their parents’ Sears catalogs, he’d exchange them for candy. And then, he’d burn them.

The catalogs.

Not the children.

More than a century ago, this was the very first advertisement to appear in The Mighty Signal. Notice that, due to their wise choice of using TMS, Newhall Lumber stayed in business until just a few years ago. Otherwise, we’d bill them for this free ad.

Speaking of different (and completely wrong forms of advertising other than The Signal) ways of messaging, Lysle R. Baas tried a unique way of advertising his brand-new Newhall Pharmacy in April 1926. To spice up the event, Lysle rented a biplane that not only buzzed the Newhall-Saugus area, but also dropped thousands of leaflets.

Today, we call that “littering.”

Mr. Baas was obviously a Renaissance Man. He not only ran the pharmacy and designed the leaflets, he also flew the biplane. Guy almost crashed twice, too.

Dear me, we are staggeringly much the same people as our SCV ancestors. But the valley was certainly different. “Slow-paced,” might be a good description.

One of the front-page stories that appeared 95 years ago read thusly: “Notice to patrons and friends of the Newhall Home Laundry, I have not given up the laundry business as has been rumored.” I’m guessing that was more in the form of advertorial, where the newspaper offers a freebie and shameless plug to an advertiser who is either powerful, struggling or relentlessly annoying.

Not that anyone local fits that last description.

The N.H.L. was a regular Signal customer.

Then there are public service announcements.

Same week as the Newhall Home Laundry Ad, a Mr. Hollingshead placed a notice that he found someone’s leg and that anyone missing a leg should contact him. It being a small town, there wasn’t an address (many places out here didn’t have them then) nor did Mr. Hollingshead say whether said leg was wooden, cork, copper or real.

How does one misplace a leg?

There is also the Classified Ad. Again, how we have changed as a valley. From our first issue in 1919 up until the 1960s, most of our classified Ads were agricultural in nature. People were interested in buying or selling everything from chickens, goats, horses, plows, artificial insemination kits (not for human consumption) and hayseed to pitchforks. Today, there may be a few outlying ranches passing as ag business, but the farm life is pretty close to extinct. Rare today in our Classified Ads (do visit signalscv.com or call 661.259.1234 to place a ridiculously inexpensive Advertisement for your garage sale items, auto parts or unusable husband) will you see anything remotely related to The Farm Life.

Example?

In our Feb. 25, 1957, issue, we ran a huge display Ad. Simply, in War-Declared-size type, it read: “FREE! Carcass Removal. Horses, Cattle, Hogs. Immediate service in Newhall-Saugus area. Call Newhall 475.” I think if some of the newer residents saw a dead steer, they’d call the National Guard.

Earlier, in 1947, G.H. Sullivan was not the first person to be kidded about Advertising with TMS. The tractor driver placed an Ad with us. It read: “Post Holes For Sale.” Poor G.H. He had to explain that he didn’t exactly just sell you an invisible hole. He’d come out to your place to dig them …

In our April 14, 1922, issue of The Mighty Signal, we ran a rather strange ad. First, the question. “Do You Wear Shoes?” For 1922 rural Newhall, that wasn’t exactly a dumb question. Many didn’t. The advertisement was for a shoe emporium over the hill in the neighboring big city of San Fernando. Note the name of the owner and store: A. Korn. Is that one of those strange juxtapositions of life or a joke?

Hate to confess this.

Sometimes, every few centuries, The Mighty Signal does make a mistake. Itty Bitty Teeny Tiny mistakes.

In April 1980, we ran a short Classified for a local, “PUTO MECHANIC.” Now, to be fair, this term did not originate with this newspaper. In some languages, “puto” means a male prostitute or catamite. We think our paper meant, “PINTO MECHANIC.” Like the old Ford subcompact. The previous definition would give a whole new meaning to blowing up the gas tank…

I can’t remember the year, but I do recall one of our Ads made it all the way to “The Tonight Show,” back when Johnny Carson was the host. Talk about billions in free advertising, Carson used to run a segment about humorous media faux pas. Seems a noble local chiropractor ran an Ad with us, seeking customers with “Disc Trouble?”

Small typo.

Instead of “Disc,” the Ad was somehow printed with two totally different and questionably appropriate letters. The “S” and the “C” at the end were somehow replaced with a “C” and a “K.” The darn thing was that the Ad rep, the Ad manager and the client all allegedly proofed the notice and didn’t see that which they probably couldn’t adjust via gentle massage or a sudden and violent cracking.

Ha ha. Ha.

Laugh at our rural expense.

Speaking of, times were different in the way-back-when. Back in the 1920s, we ran the following:

“AN URGENT MESSAGE TO

WOMEN WHO SUFFER

FEMALE WEAKNESS.”

It was a spot for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. “For over 60 years, Pinkham’s has helped hundreds of thousands of weak, run-down, nervous ‘ailing’ women to go smiling thru ‘difficult days.’ Why not give this wonderful ‘women’s friend’ a chance?” Some of these secret additives back then?

Alcohol and cocaine.

We used to run Ads for the Newhall Pharmacy where they SOLD cocaine and Advertised it as a refreshing ingredient in Coca-Cola. Historians note that public opinion tide turned against cocaine as a remedy in the very early 20th century, but that it was still used in medicines and elixirs up until about 1929.

(Have we mentioned in this feature that if you are presently in need of our advertising services, just dial 259-1234?)

Most of the time, we here at The Mighty Signal will rightly point out that there is no better local venue than this august periodical for touting your goods and services. But don’t be fooled. The sun never sets on The Signal’s circulation boundaries.

Case in point, from Jan. 18, 1984.

John Morelli, manager of the Canyon Country Datsun/Subaru dealership, had sent out several helium-filled balloon bouquets with advertisements in them for his business. Several of them landed several days later — in an Iowa cornfield. The farmer who found them, Lawrence Hartfield, called the dealership. Morelli promptly sent a sports coat, coffee mugs, two watches, some baseball hats and a map on how to get to Canyon Country Datsun/Subaru from Iowa.

Honestly, folks.

It doesn’t take that long.

Sometimes, and it only happens MAYBE once a century, The Signal, through no fault of its own, can upset An Advertiser.

Years ago, we used to have something called The Signal Express. It was delivered to every home in the valley, but was just a “teaser” newspaper. It had the front-page stories, but to read all the wonderful extras (like the daily Mr. SCV column) you had to cough up some loose change at the newsrack or buy a subscription.

One evening, as the regular paper was going to bed, we rolled on a gun battle on Soledad Canyon Road. Two salesmen from a prominent local car dealership were probably just demonstrating how well their brand handled under duress. That’s a big story. Alas, it wasn’t big enough for then-Managing Editor Tim Whyte to run out into the press room and yell: “Stop the presses!” He masterfully controlled the situation, noting that the paper had an obligation to cover the news, no matter whom it involved and couldn’t just kill a legitimate story. The owner was calmed.

Small problem.

Shift change.

The next day, the copy desk saw the car salesmen feud story in that day’s paper and decided to run it on the front page, top of the fold above the masthead of The Signal Express.

Remember? The Express went to EVERY household in the SCV?

The poor dealership owner almost had a heart attack. More apologies. Another shift change. Different copy editors. The story somehow ran again, with a “Martians Land In Castaic”-sized headline.

Three.

Days.

In.

A.

Row.

I bumped into the sales manager at a local movie and made the mistake of asking “How’s it going?” He told me. I bought popcorn and drinks for his entire family.

And. Didn’t. Even. Expense. It. 

I believe former and beloved editor Ruth Newhall had a hand in this Signal correction from March 14, 1984: “Due to a proofreading error, an article in Wednesday’s Signal stated that it is “likely” dead cats will be sold in the College of the Canyons bookstore. The word should have been “unlikely” and college officials assured The Signal that dead cats will not be sold in the bookstore.”

I recall being slightly disappointed (and writing about it) that now, there wouldn’t be a single establishment in the SCV supplying the public with dead cats.

Speaking of strange Ads, this one was a show-stopper.

For the collective life of everyone who’s ever been in advertising, please explain something. Why would you want to buy slabs of raw meat from a butcher who uses a skunk as a mascot? This one ran in 1959. Guess people weren’t buying skunk for their pot roast back then. The shop went out of business, despite this newspaper’s noble efforts.

Advertisement Of The Decade has to go to the Double R Meat Co. In May 1959, this long-gone butcher shop placed a quarter-page ad with a big picture of a skunk’s butt facing the viewer with the caption: “Where every cent counts.” I’ve read a cliche that “there’s no such thing as bad advertising.” But, I can assure you. Everyone in town was asking if the Double R was selling skunk meat or just stinky meat?

Speaking of meat and syntax, here’s one of my favorites. It’s from The Mighty Signal, April 14, 1949: “More People Eat At The Chili Grill Than Anybody.”

Now it’s not that your local newspaper for lo these past 100 years has completely kowtowed to those wonderful souls who keep the lights burning brightly. In 1920, one of Signal owner Ed Brown’s regular customers was a name you might recognize — Will Noble. His San Fernando Valley mortuary has been around for more than a little bit. He also ran a series of furniture stores in the SFV. In one of Brown’s tidbits, he noted that Noble was hosting a weekend mattress sale. “Makes you wonder where some of those beds had been.”

On the other hand, in the late 1940s, people were complaining about the noise coming from all the trains motoring through in the odd hours of night and morn. Fred Trueblood ran a series of fire-and-brimstone editorials, condemning the invasion and racket.

Odd thing happened.

Southern Pacific bought two full adjoining pages in The Signal. I’m terrible at math, but I do know two full pages is a very good business week when your newspaper is only 8 pages thick.

Coincidence?

Trueblood that week penned an editorial, doing a complete 180. He composed delicate prose, noting how unfair figures of speech, like, “the wrong side of the tracks” had sneaked into our vocabulary. Trueblood went on to note how the melancholy distant hum of a train passing through was “conducive to sound and restful sleep.”

Some louts (the ones not getting two full pages of advertising) might contend that this is nothing more than brazen advertorial.

I’ve seen brazen advertorial.

My favorite? In the 1990s, we ran a springtime home improvement section. An advertiser so intelligently chose to place a half-page ad in the tabloid. He sold furniture. What are the odds? We ran a story right next to his ad. Which is fine. I still wince at the subject material. It started off by asking readers if they owned a house, and did they think it might be a good idea to have chairs in it?

No fooling.

I can see that happening. You buy a house. Move in. You’re wandering around, scratching your head. Something is missing but you can’t figure out what. Then, after 10 years of marriage, it hits you: “Honey! We don’t have any CHAIRS!!”

I suppose a book could be made of all the typos, mistakes and innuendos that have made it past Signal editors, ad execs and proofreaders. Bottom line?

There is a wonderful by-product with advertising with a community newspaper. A business person may think they’re selling tires or eyeliner, haircuts or a pizza. But really, advertisers support that little kid on a youth soccer team who gets his picture in the paper. They pay for a forum for locals to sort out differences, from the operation of government to recommending a good movie. For more than a century, The Signal and Santa Clarita business have worked to keep their portion of America singing.

Starting in the 1960s, off-and-on, John Boston has worked for The Signal for nearly 40 years. He’s the local historian, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal. Come back next Saturday for installment No. 26 in our 100th Anniversary and History of The Mighty Signal.

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