There were over sixty city magazines already being published in the United States when I sought the support of George A. Crump to start one in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I met George in 1969 when I was producing a film for The Association of Colleges and Universities for International Intercultural Studies. George was on the board of advisors for the ACUIIS summer-abroad project at the University of Graz in Austria, and he and his wife Marj accompanied the students.
We had a great deal of social contact as I was also in Austria to direct the film, The Graz Experience. George owned WCMS, a reinvented country-music radio station that also staged the Hampton Roads touring events of country-music stars. But George was more than an entrepreneur; he was a visionary personality of many talents and interests.
My first publishing effort for George was to produce WCMS SCOPE Magazine in September, 1970, which was essentially a 16-page, slick-page bi-monthly that promoted the radio station’s interests, which included their October Johnny Cash concert and the rise of Irvine B. Hill, executive vice president and general manager of the station, who was later to become the mayor of Norfolk. By the second issue of SCOPE Magazine, we were being threatened with a lawsuit for violation of trademark. The new sports complex in Norfolk that hosted the American Basketball Association’s Virginia Squires, was named Scope.
The first issue of a real city magazine under my editorship was named Metropolitan Hampton Roads SCOPE Magazine. It met my journalistic goals within its 24 pages in its first three feature articles: “Nursing Homes: Human Junkyards” (an investigative report); “I Remember Mr. Faulkner” (a cultural insight); and “Thanks for the Mammary: The Topless Scene” (a declaration that we would be different from anything else in the journalism marketplace). The magazine departments included a detailed listing of area-wide events, a restaurant review, a sports story about fishing with an infamous Norfolk traffic court judge, a women’s column article titled “The Liberation Thing,” and profiles on newsmakers that would, by the second issue, include black businessmen.
The second issue of METRO dated April-May 1971 established that our magazine would explore sensitive social issues and not shy away from the controversial ones. “Rape in Hampton Roads: The Facts and The Fantasy” and “The Refinery: To Have, or Have Not” were real pieces of open-minded journalism that would not have appeared in the politically dominated Norfolk newspapers of that day. The newspapers on the other side of Hampton Roads had a policy of not even showing black faces within their pages. METRO was out to challenge those parochial attitudes.
From the very first conceptual day, we saw the six cities of Hampton Roads as a single economic and cultural marketplace. Divided as they were, the cities had little to offer national media buyers and site-seeking business and industrial developers, but taken as a whole, they comprised one of the 30th largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). METRO Magazine championed that realization with editorials, Virginia’s first monthly business column, and its first restaurant review columns. We became the first print media that journalistically covered both sides of the Hampton Roads harbor. We were also the first in Virginia to pursue investigative journalism and publish stories that changed both laws and social behaviors.
METRO Magazine was designed, laid out, and edited on my dining room table when we were a bi-monthly. I shared my work area with a wife and two children under the age of three. I shamelessly wrote whatever was needed to fill magazine space; but as freelance writers, photographers, and artists gravitated to us, editing, managing, and advertising sales became my primary function.
George Crump was a very unusual executive manager. Although he probably invested over $200,000 in the first two start-up years of the magazine, all our business interaction was done in person at his home, at private clubs, or in good restaurants. George came to my office only once in all the years that I worked for him. The lunch-hour office was empty except for our receptionist who had been firmly instructed to bar anyone from entering our art department where the secrets of our next issue were laid out on drawing boards. George introduced himself, but did not offer his title as publisher, as he attempted to walk through to the art department. His way was then blocked by the dutiful receptionist, and George politely withdrew and went away. I was mortified when George called me later that day to describe (in good humor) what had happened. I quickly amended our employee orientation binder to open with an 8 by 10-inch head and shoulder portrait of George with the caption, “This is George Crump. He owns the magazine!”
By 1974, METRO had arrived at its fixed name and logo. The magazine had grown to a 100-plus page monthly with national advertising and inside color. The circulation was approaching 20,000 monthly copies. I left METRO in 1975 to become the Associate Publisher of Holiday, the national travel magazine published by the famed Curtis Publishing Company. Within two years, I was the CEO of two Curtis subdivisions and a public face of the Holiday Fine Dining Awards and the Holiday Awards Cookbook.
In 1977, I returned briefly to edit METRO before founding, co-authoring, and editing five titles in the Insiders’ Guide travel book series. I later sold the series rights, and by 1982, I had turned full time to the writing of novels and other literary works. By 2015, I had authored over 20 published books and published award-winning short stories and poetry in anthologies, journals, and magazines. I had also written seven screenplays and an oratorio libretto that was premiered in France in January 2015.
My remembered history of METRO Hampton Roads Magazine has its focus on the remarkable feature stories that were published during my editorship. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ed Bacon, a copy editor for Norfolk Newspapers, wrote two of the most daring and provocative METRO cover stories that we ever published. We began discussing the possibility of his taking a detailed look at the judges in Hampton Roads courts in November 1972. By July 1973, Ed was using all of his personal time to observe the judges in their courtrooms and to talk to the attorneys who practiced before them. It took Ed an entire year to complete the assignment and write the October 1974 issue cover story “Judging the Judges.” The judges were judged on a scale from one to ten, with a federal district judge alone at the low two-point level. Only a couple of the judges were awarded a ten. Attorneys who had talked to Ed dove for cover and denied ever knowing him. The public dialog about “Judging the Judges” led me to publish Ed’s follow-up article “Justice in our Courts” as the November cover feature. It was another blockbuster. I paid Ed the maximum that we allowed for cover features—$300 each. He deserved thousands.
With the entire state talking about our explosive series on the judges, Ed found himself in an uncomfortable position at Norfolk Newspapers. I had hoped that Ed would be recognized as a journalist of genius and given assignments worthy of an ace reporter, but instead, the powerful newspaper corporation pressured their employee union to change their contracts so as to block their members from writing for a labeled competitive publication within the newspapers’ marketing area. How can a monthly magazine scoop a daily newspaper? But we did—too many times. The new union restrictions robbed me of a lot of talent that was wasted at Norfolk Newspapers.
That November 1974 issue is also remembered for the feature “The Airport Fire Fiasco.” On September 1st, what should have been a routine fire in a grounded aircraft turned into a near catastrophe at Norfolk Regional Airport. Our staff reporters exposed the cover-up that Norfolk Newspapers missed and showed dramatically why the airport needed an on-site professional fire department. As it happened, a paramedic stationed at the airport was trying out a new camera, and he photographed the firefight after regular Norfolk fire department trucks had been turned back as unnecessary.
The fire got dangerously out of control before the volunteer airport firemen, mainly composed of baggage handlers and ticket agents, yielded to the recalled professionals. The twin-engine Martin had 800 gallons of fuel in its wing and belly tanks. It was waiting for the Dooby Brothers band and crew to board the aircraft after a Norfolk concert appearance. The engulfed Martin might have set off the entire flight line of private aircraft if it had not been contained.
The Norfolk Paramedical Rescue Service, then a private company, had an active qualified paramedic patron in George Crump. He and wife Marj, who was also trained, served the rescue service as volunteers. George was thus brought the incredible photos of the airport fire, and I had two investigative reporters on the case the next day. The outcome was that our investigative story made the case for a huge federal grant that established a professional fire department at the airport. The Port Authority chairman, who had once cursed me, then invited me to a thank-you lunch.
We had an idea to document all the murders that occurred within a single year in the cities of Hampton Roads. It took writer Joyce Copes the better part of a year to meet with homicide detectives and put “MURDER, The Victims of ‘74” in chronological order for our February 1975 4th anniversary issue. The Joe Friday “just the facts” style of the article startled readers as the 120 murders were described. The cases and the gun violence issues are as relevant today as they were in 1974.
Kathy Harley, a bingo fanatic, brought us an incredible story about the often-illegal $5 million in Hampton Roads bingo play. Her knowledge and research figures were flawless. We estimated that there were at least 100 civilian games and 20 military games in operation without any local or state law oversight. Most bingo operations
violated federal tax laws. Included in the extensive seven-page October 1977 cover feature were boxes on how bingo operators cheat, how bingo players cheat, and how to start a bingo. The METRO article shook-up the bingo parlors across the entire state of Virginia and resulted in local and statewide legislation to control this formerly overlooked form of gambling.
METRO Hampton Roads Magazine was for me a license to explore my home region and to share those discoveries with a reader demographic that could act on the information so as to improve our social awareness and our developmental interaction. In an era of dramatic social change, I thought that we played an enlightening role in the potential of our community.