Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happy 30th to Bird Watcher's Digest!

The very first issue of Bird Watcher's Digest.

This month is the 30th anniversary of the first issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. My parents started the magazine in our living room after a family meeting at which all five of us Thompsons agreed we'd sink every cent of our money into this magazine idea. I was heading into 10th grade which meant that all my college savings was going to be spent on this new venture. I was already enough of a bird watcher to know that this was a really cool thing my parents were trying.

Things evolved quickly thereafter.

My dad quit his job as director of development at Marietta College. We turned the front parlor of our house on Warren Street in Marietta into the magazine's office. We subscribed to a newspaper clipping service to help us find out who was writing about birds. Every time we'd find a regular newspaper column about birds and nature, we'd put a pin in the wall map in the office to indicate it. Within three months we'd found 500 regular bird and nature columnists and we knew there was enough interest and enough content out there that this magazine just might fly.
Elsa Thompson and Bill Thompson, Jr., founding publishers of Bird Watcher's Digest.

For the launch, we mailed out sample issues to possible subscribers and to the newspaper columnists and got a surprisingly encouraging return. Going through the reader mail a few months later, my dad was astonished to find a three-page, single spaced letter from Roger Tory Peterson in Old Lyme, Connecticut offering compliments about the magazine's content and advice about its direction. Also enclosed was his check for $7 for a year's subscription.

You can't imagine how this bit of good fortune buoyed our spirits.

Soon the office expanded like The Blob into the adjoining rooms and the kitchen, where my mom kept the subscription records, hand-written on 3x5 cards, next to the counter where she cooked. Early BWD subscribers were kind enough not to complain when their renewal notices arrived with a smear of butter or ketchup on them.

We've come a LONG way since then. Dad (BT2) is retired now but still stops by to rattle our cages every week. Mom (Elsa) still answers the phones and handles subscriber issues. Brother Andy is the publisher and handles much of the business end of things. My sister Laura is BWD's circulation director. And I am the edytur, a job which I've managed to keep for more than two decades now (ain't nepotism a wonderful thing?).

I'll post a bit more about BWD's history in the coming weeks. Right now I've got to go—the Marietta Chamber of Commerce is having a reception here at our offices tonight and I've got to return the rental backhoe I used to clean my office.

Tomorrow night we're hosting an open house for all BWD subscribers living within 100 miles or so. If you'd like to stop by for a chin wag and a glass of sangria, please do. Or if you can't make it, but you're nostalgic for the old days of the magazine, just say the word and I'll have Mom smear some mayo on your next renewal notice.

15 Comments:

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Juli said...

Your folks haven't changed a bit in the last 30 years and neither have you! Happy Anniversary!!

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Kyle said...

Happy 30th anniversary, BWD! Here's to another 30!

 
At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations to all on a unique success in magazine publishing!

 
At 10:03 PM, Anonymous Scott Weidensaul said...

As one of the original writers included in that inaugural issue, I couldn't be happier that BWD has grown into the amazing publication it is today. (And it's a pleasure to call the extended Thompson clan friends and colleagues.)

Happy 30th, BWD!

 
At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Jayne said...

Happy, happy anniversary to all of you at BWD!

 
At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy 30th, BWD and everyone associated with the mag! Seeing that cover of the inaugural issue brought back nostalgic memories. I was one of the original subscribers and still have my copy of the first issue. And have gotten BWD ever since. Now, I find myself writing for the magazine occasionally, which still dumbfounds me when I think back to those early teen days when I eagerly lapped up all the words in each issue of BWD.

It's been great getting to know everyone associated with the magazine, which has brought lots of birding joy into many lives. Keep up the great work, and here's to many more productive years!

Jim McCormac

 
At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Rondeau Ric said...

How did you get the backhoe up the stairs?

We would like to drop by but it just doesn't work.

Here's to another 30 years.

Ric

 
At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Rondeau Ric said...

Gasp!! McCormick posted!? The sky is falling, the sky is falling...

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Rondow, "McCormac" posted! Hope all is well up there in the Great White North and things are cozy in the igloo! Good day, eh?

Jim "McCormick" (in Canadian-speak)

 
At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Mata H said...

Happy Anniversary from Thalia Cady, former church intern from pre-magazine days. I still recall Elsa singing and Bill playing piano to "Here Comes That Rainy Day Again..." Congratulations!!!

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Butmonky said...

Happy anniversary. 5 years ago for the 25th anniversary, your magazine offered copies of the inaugural issue for sale. I snapped one up and will keep it forever.

Both you and Julie are friends to be treasured.

Thank you (and your family) for such a wonderful magazine.

Sandy Brown

 
At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

Happy Anniversary to BWD! I enjoyed reading about the history of your magazine and look forward to more! I admire your family's courage and creativity. I'd stop in for a chin wag if I could. Have fun!

 
At 6:55 PM, Anonymous KatDoc said...

Happy Anniversary to the whole BWD family!

Oh, that reminds me - I need to renew my subscription. Will Mom make me a sandwich to go?

~kathi

 
At 8:58 AM, Anonymous RuthieJ said...

Congratulations! I look forward to many more issues.

 
At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

What an accomplishment! Congratulations on making such a successful publication still feel like a family affair. When will Chet Baker be taking the reins?

 

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