Remembering the 'Trib'
A look back at the colorful newsroom staff of the former Tulsa journalism institution the Tulsa Tribune.
This sign on U.S. Highway 75 points east to what was formerly known as Riverside Airport.
Zipping north on U.S. Highway 75, thousands of commuters pass the “RL Jones Jr Airport” sign with an arrow pointing east. Few know who Jones was, much less the company he headed.
For “RL Jones Jr” was Richard Lloyd Jones Jr., and Riverside Airport was renamed following his death in 1982 to honor his longtime aviation advocacy. More importantly, he served for many years as the publisher of the Tulsa Tribune, a Tulsa journalism institution that printed its last edition 21 years ago this September.
Jones’ reign encompassed the last days of an era when computers had not yet replaced the rat-a-tat-tat of typewriters and newspaper offices looked more like Hollywood sets from “Front Page” than bank loan departments. His colleagues, and Jones himself, could have been sent from Central Casting.
Jones, the son of the Trib’s original editor and publisher, was silver-haired, tall, distinguished and looked every inch a leader of industry. When his brother, the long-time editor of the paper, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, would stand beside him, “Super Jenk” (as he was known in the newsroom) looked positively dumpy. That is not a mean-spirited commentary on Jenk Jones. Cary Grant would have looked dumpy standing next to
Richard Lloyd Jones.
The newsroom denizens carried the kinds of names found in a pulp novel. Around the city desk were Lit Roper, Nev Black and Ernie Keen. They reported to Gordon Fallis, who, in contrast to the generally wrinkled attire of many in the newsroom, was always impeccably dressed.
Located on the fourth floor of the building on South Boulder Avenue between East Third and Fourth streets, the newsroom overlooked the Jefferson Hotel, which occasionally provided X-rated views. The sharp-eyed church editor, Nell Jean Boggs (one of two women in the newsroom — the “society” section had offices elsewhere in the building), was often the first to alert fellow reporters to amorous activity through open curtains at the Jefferson. The other female in the newsroom was the receptionist, Margaret Bailey — the first line of defense any visiting public relations person had to pass.
In the southwest corner was Managing Editor Harmon Phillips. “Phil” wore glasses as thick as the bottom of an old green Coke bottle through which he would scrutinize the final home edition of the paper.
Tom Birmingham was city hall reporter. Joe Looney (you can’t make up names like this) covered the county courthouse, and Robert
Henderson had the federal court beat. A man with a name more fitting of royalty, Windsor Ridenour, was police reporter, and David Lloyd Jones (son of Jenkin) was entertainment editor. (His brother, Jenk Jr., would later become managing editor.)
Legendary Crime and Politics (often one in the same in Oklahoma) Reporter Nolen Bulloch sat toward the back of the room. Nearby was “Oil Page” Editor Marion Cracraft, a dead ringer for Mr. Bluster from the old “Howdy Doody Show.”
Other reporters and editors included Dick Suagee, Jim Downing, Kyle Goddard, Jay Cross and many others who deserve to be remembered.
Reporters and editors wore ties each day — even the sports writers, Bob Cobb and Jimmie Menzies, and Sports Editor Mal Elliot. The exception was Jack Charvat — but he also smoked Fatima cigarettes and could wear anything he damned well pleased.
Then, most everyone smoked and a gray haze covered the newsroom by the late morning deadlines.
Those days came to an end with the move across the alley to a new newsroom in the building overlooking the Main Mall.
And, alas, it would all come to an end for a variety of reasons.
When you pass the “RL Jones Jr Airport” sign, think not only of aviation, but also of a great American newspaper and a remarkable time in Tulsa’s history.