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Soundings at 50 - A lot has changed in two decades

It was so different back then. April 1994 — 20 years ago. With two college-age kids in the family, I was seeking full-time work instead of the part-time job I was happily ensconced in at the time. Soundings editor-in-chief Marleah Ross hired me to be the editorial assistant for “The Nation’s Boating Newspaper.”

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The company was in offices in the Brewer Dauntless Shipyard on the Connecticut River in Essex, Conn., and consisted of more than 50 people who worked in advertising, circulation, production, accounting and, of course, editorial. We enjoyed our location on the waterfront and watched the seasonal changes in the boatyard — launchings and haulouts, as well as occasional pile-driving to stabilize the docks. There was always a lot of activity.

During winter we’d view bald eagles and turkey vultures perched in the trees on the river islands, scanning for food. The other three seasons, we watched boaters preparing for cruises and boatyard staff upgrading the marina or working on boats.

In 1994, Soundings was 31 years old, and founder Jack Turner called the shots. He was known to blow on an old conch shell to call the crew together for important announcements or celebrations, which often included pizza and beer — and soda.

The offices mostly consisted of handcrafted cubicles snaking around each of the building’s two floors. Telephones, early desktop publishing computers and typewriters were the major equipment. We received stories from writers in the field through a bulletin board system — a BBS, for you techies who remember the days before email attachments — on a very early and basic Apple computer. It was cutting-edge technology, and Michael LaBella (now senior editor) checked it several times daily.

The production department assembled the tabloid-sized pages on paste-up tables, and a huge camera was used to take photos of pages, the negatives from which were sent to the printer to produce each issue. There also was a darkroom where photographic department personnel would develop film shot by the editorial staff. It was a labor-intensive process that required far more people than today’s digitally produced magazine.

My job was to handle the business work of the editorial department. I was the only one in the department who didn’t edit or write articles, but I did occasionally attend boat shows and enjoyed being the liaison between readers and freelancers and the Soundings staff. However, time marches on and new challenges and opportunities come along. The years between 1994 and 2014 saw a lot of changes in the company and seemed to go quickly for me. The digital age dawned, and writers became dependent on access to the Internet and email at all times.

Jack sold the company to Trader Publishing Co. in Norfolk, Va., in March 1997 and retired, introducing us to the corporate world. Trader morphed into Dominion Enterprises in September 2006 and we had several general managers over the years to oversee daily operations. For a while I was assistant to the general manager, but I later returned to editorial assistant for Soundings. Bill Sisson had by then been named editor-in-chief.

In 2003 Soundings took on a massive undertaking: We moved 2 miles inland to a countryside setting and a new two-story, barn-like addition off an historic farmhouse. It wasn’t quaint Essex village, but at least we no longer had computer and telephone lines dangling from the drop ceiling. And although the pond at our new home didn’t attract eagles, there have been heron and egret sightings and even — only once — an alligator. (It turned out to be a pet caiman that someone had released — likely after it had grown too large to have in a home — but local news crews camped out for several days until the Department of Environmental Protection caught the thing. It was quite a spectacle.)

Our parent company now is Active Interest Media, and this has resulted in the union of several boating titles — Soundings, Soundings Trade Only, Power & Motoryacht, PassageMaker, Yachts International and Sail — as the AIM Marine Group.

It has been a plus for me to work with Bill, Michael LaBella and Jim Flannery for these 20 years, and to be joined later on by such other talented staffers as Rich Armstrong, Chris Landry, Steve Jylkka and Jack Atzinger.

As readers often tell me, Soundings is their favorite boating magazine, and it’s survived the last 50 years through many changes very successfully.

March 2014 issue