By Tim Reeves, former OCJ editor and current OCJ contributor as the Country Chaplain
The beginning of Ohio’s Country Journal was, literally, a dream come true; a dream that took more than two decades to evolve.
The late Ed Johnson and myself first birthed the idea of the OCJ as a magazine
dedicated entirely to Ohio agriculture over a pizza in 1975. I was an agricultural communications student at The Ohio State University, working for EJ’s Agri Broadcasting Network (ABN). My job was both easy and simple: I sent pre-recorded noon broadcasts out to radio stations via telephone.
One day after I was done sending the broadcasts, EJ was in the office eating a late lunch (Tommy’s Pizza, naturally) and he invited me to share it with him. Since I didn’t have any classes that afternoon, and being an always-hungry college student, I accepted. We talked about many things, but eventually we started talking about the future of agricultural communications/media in Ohio. Although primarily a radio man, EJ was also keenly interested in print media, which I was studying at OSU.
We both agreed that a magazine or newspaper totally dedicated to Ohio farmers, farm families and agribusiness that was printed in Ohio and run by Ohioans would be something good. Joining print with radio and electronic media would make a total information package, EJ pointed out. I think he liked the challenge of being a writer, but EJ was also way ahead of his time as a visionary.
I worked for EJ through that year and the next, and our discussions continued. When I graduated, I moved to a job at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, then to Indiana and Production Credit Association, back to eastern Ohio and the Farm & Dairy newspaper, to central Ohio and the Ohio Farmer magazine, then to North Carolina as senior editor for Southern Farm Publications, a publishing company with 10 state farm magazines.
During this entire span of more than two decades, EJ and I kept in touch as good friends; he continued to build his radio/television network and I was gaining valuable print media experience. Whenever we crossed paths, invariably we would talk about that dream of a magazine dedicated to Ohio agriculture.
As the ag communications industry changed in Ohio, and while I was living with my family in the Tarheel state, EJ and I had the chance to meet and the “dream” came up again. Only this time, EJ brought son Bart into the discussion and we actually started working out details to make it more than just a dream.
As things progressed, we became more convinced than ever that adding a farm magazine to the ABN stable would be a horse worth riding. EJ and Bart began laying the groundwork while my family and I moved back to Ohio to get the magazine going.
We decided to unveil the magazine at the 1992 Farm Science Review after a summer-long promotion through both the ABN radio network and Agri Country television program. While adding a fledgling magazine to the already strong and thriving radio and television media made sense, adding print to the radio and television also made ABN the only farm media in the nation at that time with all three media. Still, making this addition was not easy and that summer of 1992 was a whirl-wind summer, to say the least.
Although being able to offer all three media (television, radio, print) made the ABN even more special and unique than it already was, we were up against major competition. While the farm community, farm organizations and advertisers embraced the concept, the already existing competition did not like ABN getting into print, plus we were literally starting from ground zero.
Yes, it was that rough.
And to be honest, in the first dozen months, more than once we questioned if we’d made the right decision, especially as the red ink continued to pile up. We started, literally, from scratch. We had no staff, no printer, no computer publishing system for designing and laying out ads or for writing stories; we didn’t even have a name!!
Everything had to be purchased, organized, researched, and our first publication date was less than three months away. We didn’t even have a printing company who would print the magazine for us, plus we had no subscription base, either. We had a basement office in the former ABN building at 1515 West Lane Avenue, just west of OSU, but I was the only person in that office. I learned how the Maytag repairman feels.
All we had was a dream and a dedication to produce a magazine that would make Ohio farmers eager to read and proud to call their own. As you can imagine, paying for editing, printing, distributing, and selling a totally brand new farm magazine was a daunting task. We always seemed to have more questions than answers.
The concept of the magazine was also different from the start. We did not want to produce just another glossy magazine with a lot of pretty pictures but not a whole lot of substance worth reading. As EJ would point out, we wanted “real stuff” about Ohio agriculture. Our goal was to make the magazine as widespread across the state as the radio and television programs were, which meant traveling all over Ohio to cover stories, visit farms, attend field days, etc.
Many times as OCJ editor, I traveled with EJ and Bart in the ABN plane to visit a farm or agribusiness and we’d do triple coverage, with a remote radio broadcast, an Agri Country television shoot and an OCJ article. Talk about total coverage, we had it!!! We were able to bring all parts of Ohio agriculture into connection, from the lake to the river, from east to west.
Yet each month, even as the magazine was gaining popularity, we kept looking at the red ink monthly financials and we worried about the future of the magazine. I’ll be honest: we did a lot of praying during that time. However, EJ, Bart and everyone at ABN was dedicated and determined to make this magazine work because we refused to let the dream wither. Yes, you could call us stubborn!!
EJ’s patience, endurance and ABN’s pocketbook were stretched but in all the rough and tumble start, I never once heard EJ express regret at having started the OCJ. All I can say is God Bless him for that patience and persistence.
I also can’t thank the advertisers and subscribers who took a chance and continued to support the OCJ and ABN during those early months. Without your encouragement, your financial support and positive comments, it would have been tough to keep going. Every letter of encouragement or comment helped reinforce the dream.
It took more than a year to begin to show positive financial progress. Although we had a loyal and appreciative readership, the red ink was still flowing. It wasn’t until the end of the second year, right before Christmas, that the OCJ finally began to move out of the red ink.
Let me brag just a little here because that progress was nothing short of remarkable. The statistics show that more than half of new endeavors like this fail within the first two years and rarely are profitable within the first five years of start-up.
We beat those odds, again, thanks to all the readers and advertisers and the shared dream of one very remarkable and visionary man, Ed Johnson.
If I can speak for EJ, Bart, the entire Johnson family, myself and my family and all the employees who have worked on the OCJ these past 20 years, we can’t thank enough all of you who read and support this publication. While the OCJ was initially a dream, it is you who have helped make it a reality.
Thank you and God Bless.