I miss a lot about working in the Reader offices: bantering with my colleagues, learning about their current projects, even watching music editor Philip Montoro assemble his complicated and presumably delicious lunches. I especially liked combing through the paper’s print archives, which reach back to its first issue on October 1, 1971, and whose heavy blue bound volumes filled shelf after shelf in our front hallway. I was always looking for something particular when I started–such as a 1984 piece on Wesley Willis, believed to be the first story anywhere on the cultishly beloved Chicago artist and musician–and I always got derailed by the ads.
As much as the Reader‘s old stories say about the character of Chicago–much of it missing from the daily papers of the era–the ads alongside them add even more detail and context. In 2011 Reader typesetter and archivist Vera Videnovich compiled an online series called Ads From the Past that reproduced a choice selection, among them spots for a 1972 gig by the Fred Anderson Quartet and a 1974 staging of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago directed by Stuart Gordon (later of Re-Animator fame). A 1976 plug for a “concert pipe” promised a new way to smoke clandestinely: “Fool your friends, enemies, and most of all, the Chicago P.D.” I’d often get completely lost in the music advertisements. Pick a venue concert calendar from the mid-1990s at random, and its dense typographical sprawl of bands will reliably include so many that have since been canonized that you’d swear you were looking at a Riot Fest lineup.
The Reader has its 50th birthday in October 2021, but because newspapers (unlike people) are born at one, not at zero, this is already the first issue of its 50th yearly volume. To begin the Reader‘s protracted commemoration of this golden anniversary, the music staff looked back at the very earliest issues–specifically the ads.
Chicago folkie Bonnie Koloc took out a free classified on the back page of the inaugural Reader, advertising an album-signing party at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and my colleague Salem Collo-Julin used that as a jumping-off point for an online essay. I looked at the first few months of the paper, when it was slim and music ads were in short supply–but I still managed to find some interesting stuff, including ads for Evanston instrument retailer Sound Post, a concert featuring prog-rock misfits and Secret History of Chicago Music subjects McLuhan, and a head shop selling eight-track tapes. You’ll find scans of those and other treasures from my expedition to 1971 here. v