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Tom Dixon: Stint as copy boy was a great opportunity

In 1947, I was 18 years old and on my summer break when I was hired at The Buffalo Evening News as a copy boy.

I worked from Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. When I arrived, I would always find the sports editor, Bob Stedler, finishing his daily column. He told me he did his best work when alone and with the sound of the rattling machines as a backdrop.

Bob was mostly quiet and strictly business. I was a devout listener when he wanted to talk. Many times I got the inside scoop behind some high-profile sports story. Several times he gave me reporter event tickets.

One of the outstanding legends at The News was Bruce Shanks. Each time I saw him, he would ask about Buffalo State or about my family. At my request, he did a caricature of me in a quick sketch. Unfortunately it got lost over the years; what a treasure it would have been to me today.

My duties were mostly routine, but I was told that the important press time was noon and that breaking stories had to be at the city editor’s table before noon. If the item was deemed important, the editors would stop the presses, maybe change the headline and add some general information.

I learned the hard way just how important this time deadline was. One day I was inattentive and I returned to the teletype room at 12:05 to find all the machines were going crazy with bells, and all the copy had red lines. I immediately took it to the editorial desk and the staff stampeded it in.

The 11:55 a.m. news flash was that the federal government had just removed “price controls.” This story would have stopped the presses and allowed the noon edition to have included this item that was of such wide interest.

At 2:30 p.m., I received a written note to report to editor Alfred Kirchhofer’s office. He asked me why the “price control” copy got to the editor’s desk at 12:05 p.m. when it had been received at 11:55 a.m. I told him that between 11:30 and 12:30 I was very busy and just did not give the press time the priority that I should have.

He listened and then told me to return to my work. The next day I had another copy boy assist me from 11:30 to 12:30. This lasted for five days and then stopped.

After this disastrous experience, I was glued to the wire room during this crucial hour. I had learned my lesson the hard way, and I quietly appreciated the kindness that Kirchhofer had extended to me.

One of my most impressionable memories of that entire summer was meeting the recently discharged U.S. Marine, Merrill Matthews. He had been a copy boy at The News before he enlisted and was now back and given the choice of being a reporter or a photographer.

Over the years, Merrill earned many professional and newspaper industry awards for his outstanding photographic work. Merrill was a terrific role model and we became great buddies during that summer.

The wire room was a great place for staff to eat lunch and take their breaks. If I had recorded the many beefs, criticisms and ways to run a newspaper, it would have been a best-seller for Journalism 101.

It was a great summer for this Irish-Catholic lad from the Old First Ward who did a lot of positive growing.