Ask a veteran of the armed forces for two dates in his or her life, and in my experience they will be able to tell you the date entered on active duty and the date released to civilian life.

I entered the service on July 26, 1962, eight weeks after graduating from FSU and being commissioned in the Army, and was discharged two years later on July 25, 1964.

It was a point of pride with me never to have been unemployed from high school until the day my active Army service ended.

Thus it was that I decided to join the staff of The Polk County Democrat — the community newspaper founded by my grandfather and great-grandfather in 1931 — on July 26, 1964, the first day of my civilian life.

I began publishing my column that first week. With today’s issue, I have been publishing my column for 55 years.

The first few columns seemed to flow rather easily, because at the age of 23, I knew everything, or so I believed. Put more accurately, I was occasionally in error, but I was never in doubt.

When I reflect on some of those earlier efforts, I cringe.

I hope that 55 years later, I show a little more restraint. But my evolution as a columnist pales in comparison to the evolution in newspaper technology over the course of five-and-a-half decades.

In 1964, all of our writing was done on manual typewriters and then set into type on Linotype machines. These unbelievably complex machines set one line of type at a time (hence the name), casting lead slugs by forcing melted lead into a line of tiny brass molds called matrices.

Most smaller headlines also were set on Linotype machines, while larger heads were cast in type on Ludlow machines. Special purpose headlines, like those for wedding and engagement stories, were set by hand in a more ornate typeface.

Any heads larger than 72 points (one inch high) were handset in wooden type, which also was used for large display lines in advertisements.

When I joined the business in July, 1964, we were printing on a Goss flatbed press that would print up to 8 pages at 3,600 copies an hour.

In October of that year, we moved into much larger quarters and upgraded our printing to a Goss tubular press that would print up to 16 pages at speeds of something above 10,000 copies per hour. The technology was still letterpress, but with advancements that allowed the higher press speed.

In 1970, we switched to an entirely new technology called offset printing. It allowed type to be set by computer, and with major advances in technology every few years, eventually allowed reporters to set their own stories, which were put on pages by graphic artists, shot on page-size film, and printed from aluminum plates.

Our new offset press would print up to 12 pages at 10,000-plus copies per hour. Clarity of reproduction, especially photographs, was vastly improved.

Addition of a fourth printing unit to our press increased our capacity to 16 pages.

Purchase of a four-color unit allowed us to print full-color photos on the front and back pages of each section.

By this time, editors and graphic artists could assemble entire pages from a computer screen, producing page negatives without the use of a process camera.

By the time I retired on Jan. 1, 2010, images were being transmitted electronically from our Bartow office to the Sun Coast Media Group pressrooms in Charlotte or Venice, where printing plates were created without the use of negatives.

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He managed to keep up with changes in technology, from setting a few lines on a Linotype machine to creating plates for color printing on the Bartow press. When it came to sending digital images to South Florida, his contribution was to stay out of the way of those who could do it. He is still trying to get the hang of sending pictures to his children and grandchildren on his iPhone.)

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