In December of 1982 Ronald Reagan was President. Home mortgage interest rates were at 14-16%. The U.S. was just coming out of an inflationary spiral. Locally the Port Clinton Press, a free weekly newspaper that had been in business since 1975, was set to close its operations. The recession and hyper-inflation had taken its toll. It was just about that time when former local radio personality John Schaffner, along with his two partners, sold their broadcasting license for WKIQ FM Radio in Bowling Green. Schaffner was in an unusual position. He was looking for work again.
In November of 1982 Schaffner contacted the Sandusky-based owners of the Port Clinton Press about taking over as the newspaper’s manager. That is when he learned of the pending closure and decided to revive the newspaper he had managed in 1977 and 1978. However, a legal dispute made it impossible to keep the name of Port Clinton Press. In a dream, Schaffner envisioned the banner for the new newspaper, and named it The Port Clinton Beacon. The 1967 Port Clinton High School graduate then went to work. He put together a staff made up of his two nephews and sister-in-law and launched the 16-page tabloid newspaper on Feb. 20, 1983. 30 years later, The Beacon is still thriving.
The 30th anniversary celebration for The Beacon was hosted by The Port Clinton Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Feb. 7, at the 1812 Food and Spirits at The Island House in Port Clinton. The 5th and 25th anniversary celebrations of The Beacon were also held at the Island House. Schaffner, now president of Schaffner Publications Inc. and publisher of The Beacon, announced plans to hold the 50th anniversary celebration of The Beacon at The Island House as well.
Looking forward in time, Schaffner put on his Swami’s turban and predicted how The Beacon will look when it turns 50 in 2033. “The original business plan for The Beacon in 1983 was the same then as it is now, and I believe will be pretty much the same in 2033,” said Schaffner. “Technology is moving media so fast these days that it will be hard to predict, but I still believe that people will enjoy holding that newspaper in their hands to catch up on local events.”
Looking back in time, Schaffner quoted from the movie “Meet Joe Black”, “When the Anthony Hopkins character made a speech on his 65th birthday, he told the attendees that ‘every face is a memory!’”
In 1983, the chances of success for the fledgling newspaper were slim, but Schaffner persisted. He loaded his newspaper with local news and sports, avoided the “ugly” news stories and focused on the positives. The newspaper was distributed from the Marblehead Lighthouse to the west side of Oak Harbor, just as it is today. Schaffner was fortunate to have made many friends in his time at WRWR and is convinced today that those friendships gave his newspaper the level of credibility to help it succeed almost immediately.
“Many of those friends have passed on, but many are still with us today,” Schaffner stated. “In the 30 years since the 1983, we have been fortunate to keep those old friends and make many new ones. That’s why I repeated the Hopkins line ‘every face is a memory’, because it is true!”
The biggest changes over those 30 years have come in technology. “When we first started, we had to hand-deliver written ad and editorial copy four days a week to Sandusky. In the mid-1980s we got our own typesetting equipment and started composing the paper locally. That was just about the time when desktop publishing became a reality. We still had to cut and paste the entire paper together and deliver ‘flats’ to the printer each week. Today it is all done electronically via cyberspace. We have always attempted to keep up the most current printing and publishing technology.”
Several years ago The Beacon added its own website, www.thebeacon.net. “Ten years ago or so, all newspapers understood they needed to be online. Our advantage was that being online didn’t mean losing newspaper readership and circulation. It was a way to extend the reach of The Beacon outside the borders of Ottawa County and reach huge audiences who find our local area interesting, for whatever reason,” said Schaffner. “Being a free community newspaper from the start has made a huge difference in this arena. Instead of our website being a detriment to readership, it is a bonus to readers, because now we can update our local news on a daily, even hourly basis.”
So, from 1983 when the first black and white issue of The Beacon was printed to 2013’s Beacon in full size and full color, the evolution continues. “The original concept, however, remains,” says Schaffner. “The Beacon was designed from the start to be totally integrated within the communities we serve. It has been designed to help our readers and our community as a whole to live here better.” The Beacon has proven that over the years and has been named the Business of the Year by both the Port Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. It was also named the Economic Partner of the Year by the Ottawa County Community Improvement Corp.
Looking at today’s Beacon, Volume 31, Issue 1, Schaffner finds much to celebrate. He is appreciative of The Beacon’s loyal readership base. According to the most recent independent audit, it’s average circulation of 13,600 soars to over 17,000 in the summer months, and, with each paper being read by an average of two readers, that means a readership of upwards of 34,000, making it by far the most read publication in Ottawa County. The growing number of website readers are adding to that base. Those who are wintering in warmer climates, those who maintain ties to family and friends in Ottawa County and those who do all their reading electronically read The Beacon online. The upcoming enhancements for The Beacon’s website, www.thebeacon.net, are also cause for celebration for Schaffner.
“It doesn’t happen without the help and support of family,” says Schaffner, “immediate family Mary Alice and son Mark, extended family, staff members past and present, and the larger family, legions of Beacon readers--my sincere thanks to one and all.”