Q&A Interview With Newspaper’s Founder Reprinted As Publication Marks 30 Years

(Editor’s Note: The year 2014 marks The Dispatch’s 30th Anniversary. A number of special features are planned in the coming months, but we wanted to start with the republication of an interview in 2004 with our founder Dick Lohmeyer, who passed away the next year. The following is the transcript of an interview that occurred in a special publication celebrating the paper’s 20th year in circulation in March of 2004.) (Editor’s Note: The year 2014 marks The Dispatch’s 30th Anniversary. A number of special features are planned in the coming months, but we wanted to start with the republication of an interview in 2004 with our founder Dick Lohmeyer, who passed away the next year. The following is the transcript of an interview that occurred in a special publication celebrating the paper’s 20th year in circulation in March of 2004.)

BERLIN — Richard V. “Dick” Lohmeyer first got ink on his fingers as a young man back in the 1950’s when he arrived in Ocean City and quickly found work at the long-defunct Ocean City Post. He later started his own magazine in the resort, fittingly called the Resorter, and after a brief stint as a motel owner, a role cut short by one of the most ferocious storms in Ocean City history, he launched a decades-long career as a maverick in the resort newspaper publishing business.

After a 20-year run with the Maryland Coast Press, Lohmeyer sold the publication and introduced the Maryland Coast Dispatch, and its sister publication simply called The Dispatch, which has also spawned a few other resort papers over the years.

The Dispatch, however, has stood the test of time and remains one of the favorites for readers looking for a real story. Lohmeyer has distanced himself somewhat from the day-to-day operations at The Dispatch these days, but the newspaper business is in his blood and he continues to be a force in local journalism. He reflected on his nearly 50 years in the business at our office in Berlin.

 

Q. When did you come to Ocean City? How did you end up in the newspaper publishing business?

A. I came to Ocean City for the summer in 1954 and I liked what I saw and stayed. I was working at a little paper called the Ocean City Post. I had studied journalism at the University of Baltimore when I got out the Navy. The only reason I went to UB was because the lieutenant told me I should study journalism and made arrangements for me to go to the university. The only reason I’m in journalism today is because it was like an order from the Navy, and I was used to taking orders.

So went to Baltimore and studied journalism and did some things like election coverage for the Associated Press and other things that were part of the schooling, but it was when I was finished and ended up in ocean city when I got my first real taste of the business with the Ocean City Post. The guy that owned the paper was an alcoholic, so it was basically his wife, myself and this guy named Stan that basically did everything. It was a great experience. We sold the ads on Monday and Tuesday, put the paper together on Wednesday and Thursday and I delivered it on Friday.

To this day, I can still remember standing by that old flat-bed press feeding the sheets in. We were down in the south end of Ocean City and I could hear the people on the Boardwalk, the merry-go-rounds and the roller coasters. I remember thinking, “here I am in Ocean City and I should be up there. What am I doing down here?”

 

Q. How long were you involved with the Ocean City Post?

A. I did that for about two years and then I started my Resorter magazine somewhere around 1956. That was my first dabbling in my own publication and it was very successful.

 

Q. Somewhere in there, you dabbled in the motel business in Ocean City. What was that like?

A. Around 1956, I brought two oceanfront lots and put a motel on them – a 10 unit motel called the Coronado. The women overcharged me for the lots. She charged me $13,000, and I knew I was being overcharged but I didn’t care.

 

Q. The infamous storm of 1962 demolished the Coronado and ended you brief stint as an oceanfront motel owner. Didn’t you also make a profound change in your life and career path?

A. After the ’62 storm, all I had was the clothes on my back. Even my car got wiped out. Everybody felt sorry for me and that was nice. The storm wipes out the motel and the insurance company said, “the ocean knocked it down and therefore, we don’t owe you anything.” But I had witnessed who said they saw my roof lying on top of my neighbor’s roof, so it was obvious the wind did it. You see, I was covered for wind damage but not ocean damage, and they said the ocean di it, so they took me to court in Baltimore because if they could knock me off, they could knock off everybody in the same boat. It was a test case for the insurance company, but I whipped their ass.

Not only did they award me the full value of the motel, but they made them pay me the interest because they should have known from the beginning the wind destroyed the motel. The bottom line was, I won the insurance case, paid off the mortgage and I still owned the two oceanfront lots I paid $13,000 for and sold them for $35,000. I was also eligible for an SBA disaster loan, so I sold the lots, took the $35,000, borrowed money from the SBA and built 10 units back on the bay called Pier 7. It’s still there.

So I came out of the storm of ’62 smelling like a rose. Somewhere in there I bought a brand-new Cadillac wen to Florida for a few weeks. That’s not bad for a disaster. I low as a person could be, but it didn’t bother me because I didn’t have a wife or kids or anything. I just picked up the pieces and moved on.

 

Q. Throughout that process, you still had the Resorter magazine, but how did the storm serve as the impetus for jumping in the newspaper publishing business?

A. I went into the newspaper business in self-defense. In the aftermath of the storm, a big real estate company in Delaware was moving into Ocean City and they were also big in the newspaper publishing business. They were buying up every newspaper down here. They weren’t interested in my Resorter, but I could see the writing on the wall. They were going to overwhelm me and push me out.

I knew they were going to start a newspaper in Ocean City. They had a paper called the Delaware Coast Press and logic would dictate they would start a Maryland Coast Press, they would do it after Labor Day, so I thought I would bring my own Maryland Coast Press, they would have to buy mine and I brought it out on Aug. 19.

It was funny. The IBM guy who set our type also served the Delaware Coast Press, and he comes in one day grinning from ear to ear. He had just come from their offices, and he said all they could do was shake their heads and said, “that bastard, that bastard” over and over again. A week later they came out with their Maryland Coast Press, but you could see where they deleted press and inserted Beacon. That’s how I started the Coast Press, which was more or less a survival move, but it really took off.

It was paid circulation because back then, a real newspaper had to have a paid circulation. If you wanted to do a free newspaper, it couldn’t be a real newspaper. Why that was, I don’t know. If it was free, it had to be a piece of [expletive deleted]. So I put out the Coast Press and it had a paid circulation. I got all the legal ads and it was quite successful. That went on until my divorce. The judge thought it was a good idea to give my ex-wife half of the newspaper.

 

Q. Weren’t you sort of a maverick in the free newspaper business later on?

A. The Maryland Coast Press was a real newspaper – a good newspaper with some great writers. But I decided why can’t I bring out a newspaper with free circulation that’s a real newspaper? Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it has to be the history of the hard crab. So I brought out a real hard-core, first-class newspaper with free circulation after selling my interest in the Coast Press. It was unheard of at the time. People were suspicious because anything that is free can’t be any good right? But they found out they could pick up a free newspaper and it was the best newspaper down here.

 

Q. What became of the Coast Press after you sold your interest and started the Maryland Coast Dispatch?

A guy down in Virginia owned the Eastern Shore Times, which was the first real newspaper down here. He bought the Coast Press, but he couldn’t make it because I was running him out of business, so he merged it with the Times and formed the Maryland Times-Press.  This was after I started The Dispatch. I had sold my interest in the Coast Press, but I didn’t give up my right to start another paper.

 

Q. You landed here with the job at the Ocean City Post, and that began a career in journalism and publishing. Is that what you anticipated?

A. Not really. I just liked Ocean City and thought I’d stay. I went to the Chamber of Commerce looking for a job, and they knew the guy that owned the Post needed help. They might have steered me in another direction and I could have ended up in the hotel business or something else. I ended up at the Post and later started the Resorter. I was the editor at the Democratic Messenger in Snow Hill for a few years because the Resorter was just a summer publication.

It just gets in your blood. At the Post, I learned lessons from doing it in the field. I can still small that office – those lead molds and the linotype clacking away – all of those sounds and smells.

 

Q. Any regrets?

A. No. The storm of ’62 was the best thing that ever happened to me. That gave me the means to do other things. Even the divorce, I don’t regret. Because of the divorce, I sold my interest in the Coast Press and started The Dispatch. That’s what it took. It’s like giving birth – it was painful, but I wouldn’t change that. Out of the chaos came The Dispatch, and as traumatic as everything was, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

Q. What was the media landscape like at the time? Was it a one- paper town?

A. It was a no-paper town. The only paper of record really was the Eastern Shore Times, and the rest were free give-aways. Nobody took Ocean City seriously from news perspective. Of course, The Daily Times was available if you were interested in Salisbury, but I was the first to give people here a real solid newspaper.

 

Q. On The Dispatch’s 20th birthday, is it what you envisioned?

A. I honestly didn’t have any vision for it. I was a young guy trying to make my way and it seemed like I had to force my way in anywhere I wanted to go. All I was out to do was make a name for myself and make some money. That’s all it was in the beginning.

I was proud of the paper, but most of the paper I owe to guys like [current Publisher/Editor] Steve [Green], and [former News Editor] Ben [Mook] and you. I’ve got some great writers and some great news guys over the years. I has this one guy, Frank something, I can’t remember his last name right now – and it was when Harry Kelley was the mayor and everybody loved him, but he was tyrant. Well, this guy Frank has an ongoing feud with the mayor – a lovely ongoing feud you guys could appreciate. Well, Kelley called our advertisers and told them not to advertise with us, but none of them dropped their ads.

He’d try to do something and we’d find out about it. One time, the mayor fixed a parking ticket, and because we knew people, we got ahold of the ticket he fixed and ran it on the front page with a cutline. That really endeared the mayor.

 

Q. What’s the role of a newspaper like The Dispatch in the community?

A. The role is to just report the news. If ever my kids were picked up in a drug raid, my wife would disagree, but it has to go in the paper. The paper is like a religion to me. I don’t want to put it in the paper, but its news and it has to go in there. It’s a public trust, and if the trust is broken, you’re not worth the paper you’re printed on.

The one time I strayed from that was when an old friend got picked up for DWI and he called me. Now he didn’t want me to keep the story out of the paper, but he did ask me to leave out his age, and I obliged.

 

Q. You hear people from time to time imply newspapers pander to their advertisers, but you’ve proven otherwise over the years at the risk of losing business and alienating clients.

A. That’s true, and it has to be that way, but I have censored the news. If a guy gets murdered on the parking lot of Seacrets, for example, I might write the man got murdered on the parking lot of a mid-town restaurant. That I will do because it’s not altering the news. The name of the establishment is often irrelevant to the story. The murder is news.

The newspaper is like a religion. There are things you can do and things you can’t do. A lot of times, we’d just as soon not run this story or that one, but that is religion. I got to do it because I’m a newspaperman. It’s public trust and if you lose that trust, you don’t have anything. I take this business very seriously.

 

Q. We’ve talked at length about The Dispatch’s past. Now that its 20 years old, is it what you envisioned? What’s its future?

A. The Dispatch is what it was, and The Dispatch will be what it has always been. It’s never going to be a frivolous, puffy thing. It’s going to be a predictable, dependable companion that you can turn to every week and there are no shocks or anything. It’s a newspaper, and 20 years from now. It will probably look exactly like it does now. If you want to be a real newspaper, that’s it. The content will not change.

 

Q. After 40-plus years in the business here, is there one edition or story or front page that stands out in your mind?

A. We talked about the storm of ’62 but I remember a storm during Sunfest a few years back. The tents were up and everything was ready to go, but a big storm hit on Thursday and the tents went down and there was a big fire on the boardwalk. All this happened on a Thursday when we were putting the paper to bed and everything changed.

My wife, Patsy, went out to get the pictures. I sent her and one of our writers out to get pictures of the fire. Well, the writer wouldn’t get out of the car and Patsy grabs the camera and runs in with the firefighters. They said later. ‘Boy, she was really something,’ and I’m paying this guy and he won’t get out of the car. Anyway, we changed the whole paper at the last minute and ran pictures of the fire and tents coming down on the front page. That was one of the most memorable issues.

 

Q. How has the business changed in the 40-plus years you’ve been doing this?

A. I don’t think it has changed that much. The equipment is different. It’s easier to produce better-quality photos and print than it was back then – melting lead and making molds, running linotype machines. It’s much easier today. I think the reason we have so many newspapers now is a guy can sit at his kitchen table and produce one. But as far as I’m concerned, newspapers are the same as they’ve always been, I want to retain the traditional newspaper look. I don’t want a flashy, slick publication – a newspaper should look like a newspaper. That shows when you go into that hotel lobby. This one looks like a newspaper and that on looks like something to serve crabs on.

 

Q. This era of the Internet and 24- hour cable TV news, what’s the future of newspaper business?

A. The future is bright for the newspaper business. There will always be a need for newspapers because what you get from cable TV news is the 30-second version and not the whole story. People want more. Besides that, what would crab-eaters do. I never buy crabs without grabbing four or five Beachcombers, and I’m sure they’re grabbing Dispatches over there.

 

Q. You live in Berlin now, but you’re still an Ocean City guy?

A. I’ll always be an Ocean city guy. I live in Berlin because I appreciate a good night’s sleep. Ocean City is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It just isn’t the same anymore, just as Atlantic City isn’t that same anymore.

CUT IF NEEDED

Q. One final question. Do you want to set the record straight and let the reader know the identity of the insider?

A. The truth of the matter is, I don’t know who Insider is. I work with him because he doesn’t spell so good, so he tells me what he wants to say and I write it down. That’s all I know about the guy. He’s just some funny, old guy.

 

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