Just like newsprint and ink, Melton an integral part of Messenger
Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 9:18 pm
Arthur Melton’s employment at The Union City Daily Messenger reached a historic landmark this past weekend.
Although he might not like to admit it, his 60-year anniversary at The Messenger means he has worked at the local newspaper longer than most current newspaper employees have been alive.
He began work when Harry S Truman was president.
He sold ads when the Palace Hotel was still standing in downtown Union City.
Melton came to work at The Messenger when the newspaper published Saturday editions and the newspaper offices were located across from the former Davy Crockett Hotel in downtown Union City.
Publisher David Critchlow Sr., who worked with him for most of those 60 years, said Melton has been as much a part of the newspaper as the paper and ink used to publish every day.
“Arthur tried to retire 20 years ago and we wouldn’t let him,” he said with a laugh. “He was too important to us for us to let him go.
“He’s been advertising department manager, office manager and worked in the circulation department and as a computer tech, but he’s done so much more. He’s been an integral part of The Messenger’s 86-year history and we appreciate his lifetime of commitment and continued contributions.”
And over the past six decades, Melton has seen many changes in Obion County’s landscape and in the newspaper industry.
Melton’s first day on the job at The Messenger was Jan. 22, 1951, on a Monday.
At 25 years old, he had just finished his last exam at Mississippi State University that previous Friday.
It was actually during his Thanksgiving break that he was hired by then-Publisher Ed Critchlow. He couldn’t report for work until after he graduated from Mississippi State in mid-January.
And so began his long career serving the advertising needs of Obion County’s businesses.
“It was a different ballgame altogether,” Melton said about his early days at The Messenger.
“The reason I’ve stayed here for 60 years is I’ve enjoyed what I’m doing,” Melton said.
He explained that most of the businesses in Obion County were locally owned back then, while a large number of local businesses are corporately owned today.
“We’ve lost most of our mom and pop stores,” he said.
On the day he started at The Messenger, the newspaper’s eight-column front page contained no photographs, but did have 18 articles. Some of the headlines the day Melton started work were “Good Crowd Attends CAP Maneuvers,” “Police Warn on Shooting With B-B Guns,” “Jaycees to Gather Tonight” and “Debate Rages Again About Lake Fishing.”
An advertisement for the Ritz theater promoted John Wayne and Randolph Scott in “Pittsburgh.”
Showing at the Capitol theater was Bing Crosby in “Mr. Music.”
On the funnies page were such favorites as Joe Palooka, Buz Sawyer, Blondie and Little Annie Rooney.
Like Blondie, Melton is still around. When he isn’t out calling on his customers, he can usually be found behind his desk at the back of the advertising department.
Melton recalls when The Messenger moved from downtown to the former U-Tote-Em store on East Jackson Street, where the newspaper still publishes today. Prior to being the U-Tote-Em store, the newspaper building previously housed the Moo Oink market, Melton recalled.
To put his career in perspective, and to back up his claim that most area businesses were locally owned, The Messenger’s January 1951 pages paint the best picture. Ads in the newspaper promoted the new Sears & Roebuck catalog, the Morgan-Verhine store — “Leaders in Ready-To-Wear Since 1904,” and the McCann Motor Co. with its bold ad, “It’s more than a car — it’s a PACKARD.”
At the New York Store you could buy Tilly Tyler blouses on sale for 77 cents and the Black and White Store featured ladies wool gabardine suits for $15.88.
Melton remembers it all. He remembers the Black and White Store, Wade Furniture, Timm’s Furniture, the U-Tote-Em, the Dotty Shop, Libby’s, Ben Franklin’s and Kroger.
“Many of them were locally owned. That’s just not the case nowadays,” he said.
Melton has watched as the old mom and pop businesses gave way to corporately-owned stores and he has witnessed the county’s many changes over the past 60 years.
The biggest change in the newspaper industry — technology, according to Melton.
“The printing industry has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 100 years,” he said.
Melton said the newspaper was a hot metal operation and printed on a Goss Comet Flat Bed press when he first came to work at The Messenger.
“We had to do our own ad layout by hand. Now it’s done more on computers,” he said.
He said lead cast mats were used for illustrations in ads and said a double-truck (two opposing pages) could weigh as much as 100 pounds.
“Everything was hot metal,” Melton said.
The newspaper converted to offset web printing in the early 1960s and most recently The Messenger converted to a digital publishing system. Melton said The Messenger was one of the first newspapers in the region to convert to offset web printing.
As a 60-year veteran of the newspaper business, Melton said he still believes The Messenger and newspapers in general serve a vital role in the community.
As for newspapers going the way of eight track players, drive-in movies and rotary phones, Melton said, “I’ve been hearing that since I started.”
He believes newspapers, and more specifically The Messenger, are destined to remain relevant in society.
Melton said one of the biggest transformations that took place at The Messenger involved the introduction of Apple computers. That changed everything.
“I feel like I was lucky enough to be involved in it while it was happening … it was kind of interesting,” Melton said about the newspaper’s changeover to computers.
Melton has also watched as The Messenger has grown into a regional publishing firm. Today, the newspaper’s working staff is far larger than the handful of workers who put out a newspaper six days a week back in the 1950s.
Back then, Melton said he worked alongside Ed Critchlow, Bill Burdine, a bookkeeper who also handled classified ads, a society editor, one reporter and a circulation manager.
“That’s all there was in the front office,” Melton said.
He remembers about five or six typesetters, makeup people and press operators in the back shop.
Today, Melton continues to work part-time with The Messenger’s advertising staff.
Other than taking time off to do a little fishing in the warm weather months, Melton said he has no intention of retiring from The Messenger any time soon — not that he would be allowed to anyway.
Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 1.25.11