A small headline appearing in the Times Leader Evening News on Feb. 10, 1947 read “New Weekly Paper Makes its Appearance.”
The article went on to state, “The first issue of the Sunday Dispatch, a Pittston weekly newspaper, was printed and distributed yesterday. The edition contained 20 pages of news, advertising and features with eight pages of color comics. The advertising consisted almost wholly of congratulatory messages.”
The newspaper’s editorial page masthead listed John C. Kehoe, Sr. as publisher; William A. Watson, editor; and E.J. Cefalo, advertising manager. The article did not give a hint to the behind-the-scenes problems experienced by the Dispatch staff in getting the paper on to the streets at the late hour of 10 a.m. Feb. 9, 1947.
Residents did not seem to mind as most paid a dime to see what the new paper had to offer. In fact, they were pleasantly surprised to find, along with world news, were stories about people in their community.
Now 70 years later, the delivery of the Dispatch is still eagerly anticipated every Sunday morning not only by residents in the communities that make up Greater Pittston, but to people across the country who receive it by mail.
A Pittston business magnate and political powerhouse, Kehoe started the Sunday Dispatch knowing it would afford him a vehicle in which he could share his strong opinions and wage political battles. Kehoe was not a popular soul among some, but when it came time for the annual clambake he hosted at his estate in Harding, the who’s who and politicians of Greater Pittston and beyond would attend in great numbers.
In order to make his pet project a reality, Kehoe enlisted the help of local newsman Watson Sr. to manage the business end of the paper and serve as editor. Watson agreed to sign on with one caveat — that Kehoe’s column not be the primary reason for the paper. Watson’s vision was to carry news important to the community. He knew that would insure the longevity of the paper.
The first editions of the newspaper were printed at George Zorgo’s Print Shop on North Main Street in Pittston.
The arduous production process printed four pages at a time on a sheet, which were then inserted into the press for a second printing on the back. Pages were then folded and trimmed by hand. The Dispatch staff worked around the clock to produce the first issue. The lateness of its delivery caused some naysayers to predict the new paper would not survive.
Survive it did, though, by documenting everything from births to deaths, engagements to political platforms, events to focus on stories of the people of Pittston, West Pittston, Pittston Township, Wyoming, West Wyoming, Exeter, Duryea, Dupont, Avoca and Hughestown.
In 1961, the Sunday Dispatch kept up with the technology of the day by installing the latest model engraving machine at its plant. The engraver produced reverse and the Ben-Day dot printing process for advertising as well as for news photos. The process, invented by Benjamin Day, used celluloid for shading plates in the color printing of maps and illustrations.
In 1950, the paper celebrated the first anniversary of the popular “Inquiring Photographer” column which posed questions to local residents about their opinions on a variety of subjects of the day. An overwhelming reaction by the female population of Greater Pittston showed the most controversial questions at the time, asked to the person on the street, were “How many nights a week should a married man be allowed to go out alone?” and “Do you think a man should help with the housework?” to which one gentlemen answered, “Husbands don’t have to do housework.” Due to the popularity of the column, the man was besieged with adverse telephone calls and letters.
After returning home from serving in the U.S. Army, Watson Sr.’s son, William Watson Jr., worked at the Dispatch as a production supervisor. In 1968, Watson Jr. was instrumental in enabling the Dispatch to be the only newspaper in Northeast PA to begin printing on an offset press. He eventually became editor and publisher.
In 1989, after the paper was sold to Capital Cities, which also owned the Times Leader at the time, Watson Jr.’s son, the late John “Chick” Watson, took over the helm as editor and publisher until the late 90s or early 2000s. John Watson’s younger brother, William A. “Cowboy” Watson III, was also involved in the production of the Dispatch. Watson III resides in Colorado and is still involved in the newspaper business.
Many people fondly remember the Watsons as newspaper royalty.
The Sunday Dispatch changed ownership a few times over the last few years and is currently a part of the Times Leader Media Group owned by Civitas Media. The original intent of the paper, however, remains the same, serving the needs of Greater Pittston and documenting historical events such as the Knox Mine Disaster, the devastation resulting from the Agnes Flood of 1972 and the flood of 2011.The paper also chronicled the economic effect of the loss of the coal mining industry, the consolidation of seven school systems into the Greater Pittston School District and many other issues that affected residents throughout the years.
It has been a testament of generations of Greater Pittston residents through its publication of birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, family and class reunions. Sports events are covered extensively and the team rivalry between the Pittston Area and Wyoming Area school districts is tracked from year to year with great anticipation.
The Peeking into the Past column, initiated in the early issues of the Dispatch, still receives inquiries from people across the country looking for articles that contain an event or the name of a loved one from past issues. Additionally, the Local Chatter column has kept readers abreast of the achievements of residents of Greater Pittston.
Upon the 25th anniversary of the Dispatch in 1972, editor Watson Sr. related a story that, early on, John Hourigan, publisher of the Times Leader Evening News, told him the continuation of the Dispatch “could not be done.” Conceding he did like Local Chatter, Hourigan added, “But it’s almost impossible to maintain a column like that for any length of time.”
In an effort to honor those who work diligently for the benefit of Greater Pittston, the Dispatch initiated the Person of the Year award, presenting the first to then-Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo in 2000. The next year, the Joseph F. Saporito Lifetime of Service Award was implemented and presented posthumously to its namesake. Thereafter, it has been presented to those who, over their lifetimes, have worked to improve the conditions of their fellow man. Now, 17 years later, the Dispatch will again present the awards to 2016 recipients Ron Faraday and Keith Moss at an event in April.
The Sunday Dispatch has been a vital part of Greater Pittston and will continue to be a touchstone for past, current and future generations, not only of those who reside here, but for families who have relocated to areas throughout the country.