Q: As part of your duties with the Johnson family business, you had to divest some broadcast stations. You kept in touch with your future employer. Tell us about that.
TJ: The Federal Communications Commission said that the LBJ family could not continue to own both the cable television system in Austin, Texas and the CBS television affiliate. They considered that cross ownership. Even though in several markets, newspapers had been able to continue to hold television stations, they had been grandfathered in. They just felt that was too much of a concentration. The decision was to sell the CBS television station. I would have thought they would have sold the cable system, but they didn't. Then, Times Mirror Company of Los Angeles was one of those company owners of the Los Angeles Times and by then the Dallas Times Herald showed great interest in acquiring this property. It was the dominant station on Austin, Texas, the state capitol of Texas, owned by the Johnson family, but this strikingly handsome, Otis Chandler came in with a team of his very, very top executives to evaluate the property. I was asked basically as the gofer, although my title was Executive Vice President, to show them around the station, to show them around Austin and eventually they made the best offer to buy the TV station and the announcement was made. President and Mrs. Johnson invited all the community leaders from Austin they could get, political leaders, business leaders and others, too, to a reception for Otis Chandler in order to welcome him to Austin. M job was to stand behind President and Mrs. Johnson and Otis Chandler. There were three people in the receiving line, and I don't really say this to brag, I say it, I think, because it is a lost quality of mine. Everytime I try to answer this question it seems to come out wrong...there were probably 200 people in that receiving line, couples, and I introduced each one of them by name and with something about each of them. I always had this great capacity for names and identification. I have a technique that I have used that has helped me with that. In that case, I was flawless. I introduced, "Mr. Chandler, this is Roy Butler. Roy is the former mayor of Austin. He owns the largest car dealership here in Austin. He also own the Coors distributorship, both his automotive dealership, which is Lincoln Mercury and his Coors dealership are major advertisers of our station”...I just did that all the way through. Apparently on the plane that night, Otis said to all the guys, "Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?" They said, no, they had never seen anything like that in their life. They had never seen anybody not just able to introduce by name, usually husband and wife, because I had gotten to know them by all kind of connections there, but something about each one of them. Later I learned, they had later looked, the car that I was driving was the car that President Johnson had given to Edwina, but I had one of the tapes in that 8-Track and I can't remember if it was Tchaikovsky or one of the classical...Edwina loves classical music. This house just reeks with classical sounds of music almost, you know. She loves it. Anyway, gosh, they said, “He has great interest in classical music.” Well, the Chandlers had been the leaders in Los Angeles, Mrs. Chandler had built the music center and everything else. In any case, Otis, within two weeks said, "We want you to be the President of this television station for us until the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of the license, license transfer on our behalf. Then, we want to talk with you about your career.” I said, "Mr. Chandler, I want to get back to my profession. As much as I love television, I really want to get back to my career eventually, and I am planning to go back to Macon to Knight Ridder, seriously. I want to think about that." So he came back, and said, "We would like for you to stay here for the license transfer period to get us acclimated in Austin, and then we would like for you to go to Dallas as the editor of the Dallas paper. I'm thinking, I'm going back to Macon maybe as some junior assistant to the publisher maybe or maybe...I'm serious, I'm thinking, but I'm being offered the job of editor of the Dallas Times Herald, which was the tenth largest paper in America at that time. Very successful paper...the afternoon paper was successful at that time. Anyway, I didn't take long to decided, particular since Peyton had sold the Macon paper to Knight Ridder, and I was going back to a different environment. I accepted that offer.
Q: And things went well at the Dallas Times Herald.
TJ: It was a boom time in Dallas. The market was booming, the paper was booming, Time magazine named us one of the five best papers in the south. For a short period of time, went ahead of the Dallas Morning News. First of all, Otis promoted me in two years from editor to publisher. In two years, we are really booming. I am liking it. He flies in to have dinner. Edwina has gone out to pick up a choice steak and cooked it and I can tell you Otis Chandler was like an Olympic shot puter. You talk about athlete in Olympic proportions, he could not cut the steak. It became like a joke! Edwin had already had overcooked what had already must have been a tough steak. It was just the three of us, here's the chairman of the board, this legendary man who's there to talk about...now this is not an exaggeration, Edwina will tell you...he was trying to cut this steak and it would not cut! It was tough as leather. It was like that leather couch almost! It didn't seem to affect Otis. He said, "I want you to come to Los Angeles as president of the L.A. Times." He said, "If you do as well as I think you will do, I don't ever want this known to anybody else, if you do as well as I think you'll do, you will be considered to succeed me as publisher!
Q: So off to Los Angeles!
TJ: 1977. We went to Dallas in '73, left in '77. Meanwhile we've got these children by now, we've got a son, Wyatt, and a daughter, Christa. Wyatt didn't want to leave, he had all his life there, he was twelve years old, soccer team and science club and all the things he liked. It was traumatic in a way, but I should tell you, every move we made, Edwina just loved it and made it. For Edwina, life is an adventure!
Q: She married you because she wanted to live in Georgia.
TJ: She did not want to date anybody who lived outside of Georgia. She said, "I won't date anybody who lives outside of Georgia." She won't even say to you now, as she looks back, she's wondered if she could have just stayed there and I could have commuted back to Athens. She loved every place we went. I tell you, for a girl who at one point was in a house up near Ellijay that had no inside plumbing. She said the only time she saw her mother really, really cry was when they got into this house...it had no indoor plumbing. It had outdoor plumbing. Now her father, Hoyt Chastain, who became a county district agent for the University of Georgia, he, of course, built them eventually on it. I remind her occasionally, as you look at the collection around this house or whatever I remind her occasionally, not to forget those early days. And she hasn't. I think she has enjoyed the ride and certainly she has made the ride work for me with both our son and our daughter. She has made all part of lives an adventure! She doesn't meet a stranger! We've had people stay in our homes that she has met, picked up somewhere, people that needed to come and stay temporarily with us. It's really been a fascinating relationship for 46 years.
Q: In Los Angeles, your climb continued. through the '80s.
TJ: Yes, I was named president of The Times in 1977. I was named publisher and the first non-Chandler in 1980 and served in that position until 1990. The winds of change had begun to blow though within the family. Otis and I were considered liberals by the family. The non-Otis branch of the family contained members of the John Birch Society. They were that far over. They did not like the very independent, and some would say, liberal editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times. They did not like it when Otis commissioned a major series on the John Birch Society. One of his first assignments was the impacts the John Birch Society. Remember they had the billboards "Impeach Earl Warren" and all this other stuff. That was his family members. Over time, the political forces of the non-Otis branches of the family eventually pushed Otis and me out.
Q: Thinking over those years in both Dallas and Los Angeles and what it was like to run a newspaper then. When you look at the newspaper business today, did you see any of that coming? The changes in the newspaper business?
TJ: I never saw the changes coming that exist today. I also believe that newpaper publishers and television station owners were so successful, highly profitable, barons in their own communities. Television stations, we had a TV station, KDFW in Dallas that had 70% profit margins. That meant that 70 cents out of every dollar went to operating profits. We weren't investing enough in new technology, although at the L.A. Times we had several experiments...we weren’t investing. At one point, the Times Mirror Company had the opportunity to buy for $300 million, 50% of Ted Turner's company, which at one point sold for over $12 billion. They thought Ted was crazy, including Otis and a man named Dall Carpenter. We had an opportunity, Ted was in deep trouble, he had over extended with a purchase of a film studio. I think the very success of those years, blinded the publishers and owners to the future. There were very few. Don Graham at the Washington Post, Don came to Atlanta and bought Kaplan, this very successful education training program. Some of the others invested in television and cable, but they weren't making the investment. They were investing in these huge printing presses and buying hundreds and thousands of news print and turning out print.
Q: Today you can't get the Atlanta paper in Athens.
TJ: Yeah. You get a very thin AJC even in Atlanta.