Wehco History


"A newspaper has a number of constituencies. Among those are readers, advertisers, employees, creditors, and stockholders. If a newspaper and its publisher always keep those constituencies in that order: readers first, advertisers second, employees third, creditors fourth, and shareholders last, then the newspaper will do well journalistically and financially, and the interests of all constituencies will be well served."

Walter E. Hussman (1906-1988)

In 1909, Clyde E. Palmer and his new bride Bettie boarded a train in Fort Worth, Texas, heading to Florida for their honeymoon. In those days, trains did not run at night because of roaming livestock. The train made a stop in Texarkana for the night. Clyde and Bettie left the train to eat dinner in town like most of the other passengers. After spending the night there, they decided that they would stay a few days as another train would be coming by and they would be able to take it to Florida. There were several newspapers in Texarkana at that time and Clyde decided to purchase one of them. He bought the Texarkana Courier for $900.


By 1912, Palmer had changed the name of the newspaper to the Four States Press. He eventually acquired the Texarkana Gazette. Palmer was part of a growing trend that was happening all over the country, consolidating newspapers.

In the 1920s, Palmer decided to expand, buying other newspapers in Arkansas, including the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, the El Dorado News-Times, the Camden News, the Magnolia Banner-News and the Hope Star.

Clyde Palmer's daughter Betty was born two years after they moved to Texarkana, in 1911. She attended college at the University of Missouri, where she met Walter Hussman in the School of Journalism. Betty Palmer and Walter Hussman were married in 1931, and after selling insurance for a while, Walter went to work for his father-in-law in the newspaper business. By then the Depression was two years old and many of the newspapers were in deep trouble, including the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. After working for a few years in Texarkana, Walter moved to Hot Springs to try to revive the newspaper that had been foreclosed by creditors. Since Hot Springs was a national park and a tourist destination, he came up with the idea of an annual "mail it away" edition. Under this promotion, subscribers and citizens of Hot Springs would pay to have a copy of one issue of the mailed edition sent to friends and acquaintances around the country, promoting Hot Springs as a tourist destination. The section was a big success, helping the newspaper repay its debts and get out of foreclosure. The newspaper has been consistently profitable since then.

Palmer used the most modern press equipment and the latest technology in his newspaper chain. In 1930, he introduced high speed telegraph service to his newspapers so that readers could have news from around the country.

Palmer had another accomplishment that was revolutionary for its time. In 1942, he established the first automatic teletypesetter (TTS) circuits, connecting a group of newspapers. This was the first use of technology to link newspapers instantly. In the midst of World War II, there was a shortage of workers that were skilled in the newspaper business. Palmer designed the "Palmer Circuit", a way for all six Palmer chain newspapers to share news without having to hire additional staff. This "Palmer Circuit" was the first of its kind in the United States and led to the establishment of such systems at other newspaper groups and press associations.

After returning from the war, Walter was determined to own his own newspaper and acquired an option to buy the newspaper in Midland, Texas, in 1949. However, Palmer, not wanting his daughter to be so far away, made Walter an offer. Palmer would sell one of his newspapers to Walter. In 1949, Betty and Walter Hussman bought the Camden News.

In 1933, Palmer put the first radio station on the air in Texarkana. Soon after, a decision was made to invest in television stations. In 1952, there was not a station in Texarkana. He wanted the station to become a CBS affiliate since CBS was the top network at that time. It was the only station in Ark-La-Tex. There was not a station on the air in Shreveport when the station went on the air in Texarkana. By 1960, Shreveport had become the larger market and CBS decided to leave the Texarkana area and go to one of the Shreveport stations. This meant Texarkana would become an independent station and there was no future in that. A deal was negotiated with NBC to become a NBC affiliate if Shreveport became the major market area for the station. A new tower was built for this purpose. At that time it was the second-tallest TV tower in the South. They called it KTAL for Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. KTAL was also called K-tall, because of the size of the tower. The large tower served the markets well by placing a good signal over both Shreveport and Texarkana.

In 1957, C.E. Palmer died and Walter E. Hussman Sr. became president and publisher of each of the Palmer newspapers in Camden, Texarkana, Hot Springs, El Dorado and Magnolia. That year he established a profit sharing/retirement plan for all employees.

In the 1960s, Walter Sr. wanted to invest in the cable television business. Palmer had already invested some in this market but mostly as a passive investor. Walter Hussman Sr. thought that one day newspapers might be delivered over cable TV. And in a way, he was right. Today through high speed cable TV connections, the internet can deliver the newspaper and much more. Walter Sr. invested in a company called Midwest Video. The video company obtained franchises in towns such as Greenville, Mississippi, and Bryan/College Station, Texas. These towns had almost no TV reception since they were located quite far from any other TV market. Walter Sr. went around obtaining franchises for towns that did not have cable systems. He bought franchises for Hope, Camden, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, as well as Kilgore and Longview, Texas and Vicksburg, Mississippi.

In 1963, Walter Sr. launched the first terrestrial microwave high-speed, high-definition facsimile network interconnecting a group of newspapers. This allowed the company to purchase expensive cold type composition equipment, handling all ad production in one city and sharing those ads with the entire group of newspapers. Typesetting of news copy also was available from this shared facility.

When Palmer died, his wife and daughter inherited most of the stock in the company. Through a reorganization in 1968, the Camden News ended up giving stock to shareholders and they turned in their stock in Texarkana, Hot Springs and El Dorado. The Camden News ended up technically becoming the parent company of all the other operations.

Walter E. Hussman Jr. followed in the family footsteps, first earning his bachelor’s in journalism at the University of North Carolina and then an MBA from Columbia University. In 1970, he became the administrative assistant to his father and then the general manager of the Camden News. Walter Jr. became vice president and general manager for the Palmer Newspapers in 1973.

In 1973, Walter Hussman Sr. came up with WEHCO "W-E-H-C-O" for Walter E. Hussman Company WEHCO Media.

Around 1970, the cable system that served Hope, Camden, and Prescott became operational. Resort Cable in Hot Springs was in the process of being built. Then by 1973, Hot Springs was operational and Vicksburg was the next cable system to be worked on. By 1974, the cable system in Vicksburg was completed. With the combined operational cable companies, there were about 7,700 subscribers. Longview was the next in line and it was the biggest risk since they could carry very few channels. The original Longview system started out with only thirty-two miles of what ended up being about a 250-mile cable system.

In 1974, WEHCO Media bought the Arkansas Democrat, an afternoon daily newspaper with 62,405 circulation. At the time, the Arkansas Gazette, a morning newspaper, had a daily circulation of 118,702. Walter E. Hussman Jr. moved to Little Rock, and at age 27, became publisher of the Arkansas Democrat.

To be competitive, for three years after 1974, the Democrat pursued a strategy of reducing operating costs and focusing subscription efforts in the city zone. This effort was not enough to reverse circulation and advertising trends, so in 1977 Walter E. Hussman Jr. sought a joint operating agreement with the Gazette. Both the specific offer and the basic concept of a joint operating agreement were rejected by Hugh Patterson at the Gazette. Hussman concluded he had two options: Either to close the Democrat or to make a commitment to vigorous competition. He chose the latter. A hotly competitive 13-year newspaper war ensued.

In late 1978, the Democrat began an extensive effort to expand its news and classified advertising in order to become the state's largest newspaper. Included was a free want ad program that more than tripled the size of the paper's classified section. The Democrat became the only Arkansas newspaper ever to publish more than one million classified advertisements in a single year. Dozens of new reporters, editors and photographers were hired in an effort to ensure the most thorough local news coverage possible. In 1979, the Democrat switched to all-morning publication -- one of the first newspapers of its size to do so.

As a result of these vigorous new policies, readership increased dramatically. Circulation totals showed that the Democrat was the fastest growing newspaper in the United States during 1980. The Democrat continued to make changes and in 1982 the newspaper inaugurated the use of color, using offset lithography printing presses; the Gazette followed in 1987.

Two other significant developments that would affect the course of the competition occurred in the 1980s. First, the Gazette filed a federal antitrust suit against the Democrat in 1984. Second, the Gannett Corp., the nation's largest newspaper chain, bought the Gazette in 1986.

The suit accused the Hussman enterprises of trying to put the Gazette out of business. The Democrat responded that it was only trying to remain competitive, and that none of its practices were intended to run the Gazette out of business. A federal jury in the court of U.S. District Judge William R. Overton rendered its verdict on March 26, 1986. The Democrat was found innocent of all the allegations leveled against it by the Gazette.

Just a few months later, on Oct. 31, the newspaper war's biggest bomb was dropped: Gannett was coming to Little Rock. The Heiskell-Patterson family sold the Arkansas Gazette to Gannett on Dec. 1, 1986. WEHCO Media Inc., the parent company of the Arkansas Democrat, was the largest media company in Arkansas. But Gannett was the largest in the country.

Within five years the Democrat closed the circulation gap while Gannett was suffering increasing financial losses with the Gazette. Throwing in the towel, Gannett closed the Gazette after publishing a final edition on Oct. 18, 1991. Later that day, the Democrat purchased all the assets, including the subscription list of the Gazette, and renamed the combined newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the next day. "We survived the greatest competitive onslaught in the newspaper business," Hussman said at the time.

Since the Gazette closed in 1991, competing newspapers have also closed in Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Antonio and Tulsa, further reducing the short list of competitive newspaper cities in America.

Since that time, the company has made additional newspaper purchases, formed new newspaper partnerships, and launched new cable television products and services.

In 1998, WEHCO Media purchased the Chattanooga Free Press followed by the purchase of the Chattanooga Times in January 1999. The two publications where then combined into the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WEHCO Media, Inc. purchased three Missouri newspapers on May 1st, 2008. The Jefferson City News Tribune, Fulton Sun and California Democrat were purchased from Weldon Holdings Co. to form the new WEHCO subsidiary, Central Missouri Newspapers, Inc.

On November 1st, 2009, after an intense competition in Northwest Arkansas, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. and Stephens Media LLC combined the operations of their Northwest Arkansas publications to form the new company, Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC, which is owned '50/50' by the owners of Stephens Media and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc.

WEHCO Video Inc. launched its cable broadband solution, Cablelynx™, in November 2000 which reached over 37,000 subscribers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas by December 2009.

In June 2006, WEHCO Video Inc. launched Cablelynx™ Digital Phone, an IP-enabled voice service which allows customers to make phone calls over the cable television provider’s network.

In July 2012, WEHCO Media introduced the company's newest division, WEHCO Digital Services, Inc. Led by Executive Vice President Conan Gallaty, WEHCO Digital Services, Inc. offers services to the public in internet marketing, digital product development, and web site design.

After serving as WEHCO Media President for over two years, Nat Lea was named WEHCO Media Chief Executive Officer in May 2016. The position was formerly held by board Chairman Walter E. Hussman Jr. since 1981. Lea joined the company in February 2002 and had served as President of WEHCO Media and its approximately 2,000 employees since January 2014.

Resources:

* Interview with Walter Hussman, Jr. by Roy Reed, June 30, 2004

* "The Palmer-Hussman Families" by Walter E. Hussman Jr. published in the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association 100th anniversary edition in November 2004.

* The History of the Arkansas Democrat/Gazette - Arkansas' past entwined with newspaper's vivid story. History of the newspaper Online edition.

* History of newspapers in Arkansas - Old Statehouse Museum - online