Saturday, May 12, 2018

Historic Register locations now empty spaces

A vacant lot today occupies the southwest corner of Royal and St. Michael streets. But from the early 1800s till 1932, a building known as the Lafayette Hotel occupied the space and contained the offices of The Mobile Register.

The building is believed to have been constructed in 1804, and that the city entertained the Marquis de Lafayette there on his visit to Mobile in 1825.

During its ownership by William R. Hallett in 1830s, the building was known as the Lafayette Hotel and the sketched image above is how it appeared in 1860. In 1861, the title passed to Caroline Roper who changed the name of the building to the Roper House. The building continued as a hotel until purchased by the Mobile Register in July 1872.

Before the newspaper moved into the building, workmen gutted the building and then braced it with iron beams and pillars. On the first floor, accountants occupied the front rooms and the printing presses the rear. On the second floor were the offices of the publisher and editorial staff. Compositors, who sat at type cases 20 hours a day in shifts, occupied the entire third floor, one great room facing Royal Street. The news and telegraph room occupied the third floor.

The building remained the home of the paper until the consolidation of the Register and the Press in 1932. The iron work shown in the sketch was removed before 1935.

Connected to the back of this building and running along St. Michael Street to St. Joseph Street was the building housing The Mobile Item, which was acquired by the Register and became the News-Item. The site of the building is now a plaza.

Mobile News-Item Building fronting on St. Joseph Street at St. Michael.

Site of the Mobile News-Item today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Mobile Register in the movies

In a scene from To Kill a Mocking Bird, Scout and Atticus Finch sit in their home each night and read the Mobile Register.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

How often do you see a memorial to war reporters?

The National War Correspondents Memorial, part of Gathland State Park in Maryland, is a memorial dedicated to journalists who covered the Civil War. Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend built the arch in 1896 as a tribute to his fellow journalists, and it was dedicated October 16, 1896.

The monument contains the names of three men who reported the war for the Mobile Register: Peter W. Alexander, Felix G. de Fontaine, and Henry Watterson, famed editor of the Louisville Courier Journal after the war.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Cartoonists a Part of Newspaper's Long History

Cartoonists are journalists, too. Below are a few of the cartoonists and illustrators who were on the staff of the Mobile newspaper. Do you know of others?

Kentuckian J.D. Crowe began his journalism career cartooning for the Eastern
Kentucky University newspaper, the Eastern Progress. His professional journalism began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1982. He joined the Mobile Press Register in 2000. Today, he is the statewide cartoonist for the Alabama Media Group. You can see more of his works on his profile page.

The Mobile Press and the competing Mobile Register employed
cartoons in their battle for dominance from 1929 to 1932. This
one criticizes the Press for its supposed backing by the Alabama
Power Company. Many power companies financed newspapers
during the period. No artist's name appears on the cartoon.

After Iowan artist John Keith Henry left the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945, he worked
as and illustrator and cartoonist for the Mobile Press Register. He moved to
Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1948. This image is from a blog maintained
by his son, Robb Henry at John Keith Henry Drawings and Paintings.

Many Mobilians grew up reading Walter Overton’s Southland Sketches.
The Texan studied at the Arts Students League in New York and privately
in Boston, Italy and France. Overton also was a newspaper man as well as
an artist and traveled to the southern coastline in the 1930s. After crossing
Perdido Bay, through Summerdale and making camp in Fairhope,
Overton fell in love with South Baldwin County and spent 40 years publicizing
the region. He started creating weekly sketches in the late 1930s that he sold
exclusively to the Mobile Press Register, where the sketches
were published for 37 years.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Society News Helped Define a Sense of Place

Society Department in the 1939s. From left, Helen DuBois Johnson, Amalia Stevens Burns,
Alice Leseone Beville and Ann Battle. Note the one telephone for the office and the very clean desk tops.
Of course, there were no personal computers in the 1930s

After the Press and Register combined in 1932, Frances Durham became The Mobile Press Register’s first society editor.

The Society Department reported a good deal of high society news such as the coming out of debutantes and the activities of Mardi Gras societies. But the department also made room for feature stories of general interest. At some point it became the Women’s Department and eventually Living Today with its staff writing many of the feature stories in the newspaper.

This remained the case until 1992, when news in the section was “democratized” to carry more stories about society doings in general and far less about high-society elites. An advertiser and reader backlash resulted in the paper starting a Thursday section called High Profile, which was run by a society editor and carried more of the old society news type of stories.

In 2009, the Press Register began publishing the weekly lifestyle magazine ‘Zalea, which covered much of the Mardi Gras and other high-society news.

As elitist as content might have during most of the department’s existence, it did give readers a sense of place and uniqueness about Mobile. Modern editors tended to bring the Press Register up to big-city journalism standards and drive out everything that made it unique.

Until the 1990s, the Living Today department occupied a cramped, L-shaped space on the second floor of the Press Register building on Government Street. Photo courtesy of Carol Cain Warren.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Clowning Around

Police reporter Tom Jennings left the Press Register in the 1990s to become the public relations spokesman for the police department. This photo taken as a joke is from 1982.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Press Register Enters TV Broadcasting in 1958

The need to fight World War II stalled the development of television broadcasting until peacetime. There were just 15 TV stations broadcasting in the United States 1947. Newspapers owned six of them, investing in the new medium just as they had radio. Mobile was not yet among the cities with a station and wouldn’t have one for some time.

Many companies wanted to operate TV stations and hundreds of broadcast license applications flooded into the Federal Communications Commission. In 1948, the FCC put a temporary, six-month freeze on new TV licenses in order to figure out how to allocate channels, avoid interfering signals, and other technical issues. Six months turned into four years in part because of government foot dragging and in part because of the Korean War.

Even before a television station opened in Mobile, Press Register Executive Editor George Cox was the subject of a national TV and radio program broadcast by NBC. Cox appeared in the “Big Story” series in 1949 for an episode titled “Murder by Memory.”

The TV series was based on the popular radio series. Each show featured a different reporter’s true story selected from newspapers across the country. Reporters commented at the opening and closing of the show. In between, a narrator explained the plot to the audience and a featured actor dramatized the reporter’s role.

“Murder by Memory” depicted the case of James Robert Collins of Mobile. Collins made the youthful mistake of becoming involved in a Citronelle, Alabama, bank robbery in 1928 that left the bank president dead, killed by one of the bandits. Collins was imprisoned for his part, but escaped in 1937 and was living in Pennsylvania in 1949. Cox waged a newspaper campaign to prevent Collins’ extradition to Alabama after the Press Register established that he had gone straight in the years since his escape.

As the date neared for when the FCC would begin issuing TV licenses again in 1952, the Mobile Television Corporation, a subsidiary of the Press Register, was among the applicants standing in line for approval. But it was not the only one, or the first.

On March 22, 1951, Pape Broadcasting Company, owners of WALA AM radio, the former WODX started by the Register, filed an application for a TV station. The Press Register filed its application a few days later, as did Giddens and Rester, a firm that already operated radio stations WKRGAM and WKRGFM in Mobile as well as a chain of movie theaters in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.

In July 1952, a fourth company filed for a license, the Pursley Broadcasting Service, which owned radio station WKAB AM. WKAB-TV became the first TV station in Mobile to begin broadcasting on December 29 from a studio in community of Toulminville.

In an ad in Broadcasting Magazine, the station claimed that 15,000 TV sets had been sold in Mobile even before the station announced its first broadcast day. The station aired programs from CBS and DuMont, a network at one time rivaling CBS, as well as local public affairs programs, amateur acts, and country music programs. On August 1, 1954, WKAB went off the air supposedly to install new equipment, but never resumed its signal. The real problem was that WKAB operated on UHF at a time when few people had UHF tuners in their TV sets and those receivers that existed were of poor quality compared to VHF. The station probably couldn’t attract enough viewers or advertisers to be profitable.

WALA TV began broadcasting January 14, 1953, from a Government Street building two blocks away from the Press Register. A July 1954 storm destroyed the station’s tower and took it off the air for six months. WKRG TV didn’t begin broadcasting until September 5, 1955. The Press Register never started its own station. Instead, on April 5, 1958, the Press Register became half-owner of WKRG TV Inc. As part of the $1.05 million deal, the newspaper agreed to sell WABB radio.