Over 30 years, Dallas Voice has transformed with the times
Robert Moore, the co-founder of Dallas Voice, has told the story countless times — how, in May of 1984, he, Don Ritz and William Marberry all put in $250 to start a new publication, one to replace the Dallas Gay News and provide a voice to the gay community in Dallas. Appropriately, they called it Dallas Voice.
In the early days, Moore says, they survived for two reasons: (1) their printer (located in Houston) gave them a “float,” a week’s grace period during which they could pay last week’s print bill after they distributed the current week’s issue. That kept cash flow going. (2) That cash flow was generated, as Moore related, from “the three Bs — bars, bookstores and bathhouses,” the main advertisers at the time.
In the 30 years and some-odd days since then, a lot — a lot — has changed, from the advertising base (although the Club Dallas bathhouse remains the sole company to advertise in every single issue of Dallas Voice — that’s 1561 issues, including this one; see the story on Page 30) to the look of the paper (check out the glossy stitch-and-trim cover, compared to the gray newsletter-like initial issue) to our market (in 1984, virtually no straight people — and some gay people — would be caught dead seen reading a gay newspaper; now, straight readers warmly embrace us).
Marberry sold out his interest within the first year, and for the next 15 years or so, it was Ritz and Moore who steered the paper — through the growing AIDS crisis, through the growth of Dallas as an international city, through 9/11 and DOMA and the first black president and so much more.
MORE DALLAS VOICE 30th ANNIVERSARY:
Things continue to change, often for the better. There have been several office moves (our next, after 11 years in the same location, is set to take place this summer), countless staff changes, new printers (no longer in Houston!), new advertisers, new readers, new platforms.
In the early days, Moore (as advertising director) and Ritz (as controller) were the business side of things; the editorial side was run by Dennis Vercher, Rex Ackerman (aka Heda Quote) and, starting in 1988, Tammye Nash. There were salesmen and a small production department getting it out, as well.
“Don was the quiet one — the one who kept all the finances on track, and he was the only one who had a computer on his desk,” Nash wrote back in 2009, reminiscing on the 25th anniversary of Dallas Voice.
Ritz retired from his day-to-day duties at Dallas Voice in 1998, but retained his ownership stake in the company until his death in January 2001. That’s when Moore became the sole owner and, for the first time, took the title “publisher.”
Although not on the editorial side, Moore had a vision for Dallas Voice to reach a more mainstream audience, to push outside of niche advertisers and readers, and to grow the Voice. In 2000, Moore launch Qtexas, a statewide glossy publication that most would call a “bar rag,” with stories about DJs and singers, drag shows and circuit parties, gossip and pictures of pretty boys. In 2004, when the long-running statewide competitor Texas Triangle went on the sales block, he bought it, merged it with Qtexas and created TXT Newsmagazine, which published throughout 2005.
The Triangle purchase also came with the acquisition of the Lambda Pages, an LGBT business and organizational directory. Moore and the rest of the staff retooled that in 2005 and launched an online version; then in 2008, it was renamed the Dallas Voice Yellow Pages. In 2014, it was rebranded again, this time as OUT North Texas, a full-sized glossy.
Moore surprised a lot of people in early 2013 when, immediately after publication of the Readers Voice Awards edition (which was started in 2006), he announced that he was selling his ownership and retiring as publisher. The staff sat stunned … all except two folks: The promotions manager, Terry Thompson, and the advertising director, Leo Cusimano, who together bought the publication, with Thompson becoming president of Voice Publishing and Cusimano replacing Moore as publisher.
Both had long-standing involvement with the Voice. Cusimano — a New Orleans native who loves to say he only moved to Texas on the condition he would not have to work — nevertheless eventually hunkered down to a job, joining the staff as a part-time graphic artist in 1993 (he eventually moved into sales, and ultimately settled in as advertising director). Thompson came on in 2001, working the front desk and keeping everything humming.
When you think about it, that’s a tremendous history and amazing record of continuity for any business, especially the volatile publishing industry. Only two publishers, five owners, two advertising directors, four senior editors, two Life+Style editors in three decades. Overall, Dallas Voice has employed fewer than 100 staffers over that time, including the present staff of 14 (including Moore as founder and our distribution manager, Linda Depriter). But longevity doesn’t mean permanence. By our count, 12 former employees have passed away, for causes ranging from HIV to a house fire. All are missed.
Few are missed more than two early leaders. Rex Ackerman was Dallas Voice’s first media star, a part-timer who wrote a weekly column under the nom de snarque Heda Quote, who tracked the week’s gossip. But Ackerman, who pulled no punches, was beloved even by those he dished about, largely because of his tireless efforts at AIDS fundraising. His health declined, and he eventually retired Heda before succumbing to AIDS in May 1998.
Dennis Vercher led the editorial side of things for about 20 years, before passing away from AIDS-related causes in the fall of 2006.
“He also had a dry wit and dark humor that could catch you off-guard and leave you laughing at the most inopportune of times over the most not-funny topics, like the fact that he had AIDS,” Nash wrote in 2009. Vercher was wiry and grumpy, and kept weird hours and could have worked on his social skills more, but he was devoted to Dallas Voice and adamant about producing an excellent product with meticulous care.
Everyone who works here — or at least, if they want to work here long — has the same drive. In the days when a weekly gay pub was the community’s only access to the news and entertainment that affected them, Dallas Voice was the gay paper of record. As LGBT issues became more mainstream, and as the Internet changed the way people access their news and information, the format has changed, but the mission has stayed the same.
It’s the kind of place that keeps pulling you in. Nash, who left in 2001, returned in 2004, and stayed on until early 2012. Current staff writer David Taffet wrote his first column (a travel story) as a freelancer in March 1989, and wrote about travel continuously for 10 years, but also expanded his duties as an editorial assistant. After leaving in 2005, he returned full-time in 2009. Arnold Wayne Jones started as a freelancer in late 2001, and was hired as the paper’s first staff writer tasked specifically with writing for the Life+Style department in 2003; he has been the editor of his department since 2009. Art director Michael Stephens joined the Voice staff in late 2004 when
Moore purchased the Texas Triangle, where he’d been for three years. Depriter first began working distribution in 1997, and became manager in 2010.
Even the comparatively newer folks have added immeasurably to the development of the Voice: The current Senior Editor, Steve Ramos, started in October of last year.
News Editor Anna Waugh started in February 2012. Assistant Advertising Director Chad Mantooth and Account Manager David Liddle were both hired in 2012. The newest member of the staff is Classified Sales Manager Chase Overstreet.
Graphic Artist Kevin Thomas came here in 2010, the same year as Office Manager Jesse Arnold. You’ll find photos of the staff, as well as their reminiscences about watershed moments in their lives in Dallas Voice Staff: Watershed monents.
The editorial focus has evolved as well. We continue covering the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Stonewall Democrats and the Resource Center and AIDS (unfortunately, still an issue in many lives) to City Hall, but we do so much more. We’ve interviewed the head of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. We’ve covered national political campaigns, and the politicians return our calls (including folks like Hillary Clinton). We’ve had the privilege to be at the forefront covering the repeal of Don’t ask, Don’t tell, the overturning of DOMA, the national debate on anti-gay bullying. We’ve written the definitive coverage about the gay bar raid in Fort Worth on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and interviewed celebrities from Kathy Griffin to Cyndi Lauper to John Waters.
Not only have the kinds of stories changed, so have the ways we deliver them. Dallas Voice has a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a website. Our blog, InstantTea (updated multiple times daily), is a popular way to communicate with our readers about everything from amusing videos to breaking news to the personal passions of our staff.
As with any deadline-oriented job, there’s not much downtime — you’re always working on the next story, the next cover, the next interview, the next issue. And after more than 1,500 of them, it would be easy to feel, collectively, exhausted. But that’s not the case. Because we believe in what we do, and we believe in you for supporting us. It’s a symbiotic relationship, the bond between reader and publication. We’ve weathered a lot (the economic downturn of 2008 and beyond), and we hope to keep weathering even more.
“What’s past is prelude,” Shakespeare said in The Tempest. Well, the last 30 years have been a prelude for us as well as you. There’s more to come — so more than we can even imagine — and we can’t wait to bring it to you. Just watch.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 16, 2014.