70th Anniversary Edition: Sunday Dispatch is 70 years old and still going strong

By Judy Minsavage - For Sunday Dispatch
James ‘Spot’ O’Donnell, Sr., a longtime pressman with the Sunday Dispatch, holds a copy of the very first edition of the Dispatch published on Feb. 9, 1947. Spot became a pressman not long after the Dispatch began operations. - Tony Callaio file photo | For Sunday Dispatch

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on Feb. 13, 2017.)

A small headline in the Feb. 10, 1947 edition of the Times Leader Evening News 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 lists John C. Kehoe, Jr., as publisher; William A. Watson, editor; and E.J. Cefalo, advertising manager.”

The distribution of Sunday Dispatch did not run smoothly on Feb. 9 of that year as the newspaper didn’t get to the streets until 10 a.m. It didn’t seem to matter to residents, though, who paid a dime to see what the new paper had to offer. They were pleasantly surprised to find, along with world news, were stories about people in their community.

Now, 70 years later, delivery of the Dispatch is still eagerly anticipated every Sunday morning, not only by residents in the communities that make up Greater Pittston, but by people across the country who receive it by mail.

Business magnate and political powerhouse John Kehoe, of Pittston, started the Sunday Dispatch, knowing it would afford him a vehicle in which he would be able to 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 Bill 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 that was important to the community, believing that would insure the longevity of the paper.

The first editions of the Sunday Dispatch were printed at George Zorgo’s Printery 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 that first issue.

The lateness of its delivery caused some naysayers to predict the new paper would not survive. But, survive it did, by documenting everything from births to deaths, wedding engagements to political platforms, events to focus stories on 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 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 opinion 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 telephone calls and letters.

After returning home from serving in the U.S. Army, Watson’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, Watson Jr.’s son, John, took over the helm as editor and publisher until the late 1990s or early 2000s. Many people still fondly remember the Watsons as newspaper royalty.

The Sunday Dispatch changed ownership a few times over the last few years and is currently owned by Civitas Media, The original intent of the paper, however, remains the same, serving the needs of Greater Pittston and documenting much of its history such as the Knox Mine Disaster, the economic effect of the loss of the coal mining industry, the consolidation of seven separate school systems into the Greater Pittston School District, the devastation witnessed by area residents after the Agnes Flood of 1972 and the flood of 2011.

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 rivalry between Pittston Area and Wyoming Area School District 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 name of a loved one from past issues. Additionally, Local Chatter has kept readers abreast of the achievements of residents of Greater Pittston.

Upon the 25th anniversary of the Dispatch in 1972, Editor Bill Watson Sr. related how John Hourigan, publisher of the Times Leader Evening News, told him the continuation of the Dispatch, “Could not be done.” However, he did like Local Chatter but commented, “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 Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo in 2000. The next year, the Joseph F. Saporito Lifetime of Service award was implemented and presented to its namesake posthumously. Thereafter, it was presented to those who, over their lifetimes, worked to improve the conditions of their fellow man. Now, 18 years later, the Dispatch will again present the awards at an event in April.

The Sunday Dispatch has been and will continue to be a touchstone for past, current and future generations, not only of those who reside in Greater Pittston, but for families who have relocated to areas throughout the country.

For other 70th Anniversary stories, click here.

James ‘Spot’ O’Donnell, Sr., a longtime pressman with the Sunday Dispatch, holds a copy of the very first edition of the Dispatch published on Feb. 9, 1947. Spot became a pressman not long after the Dispatch began operations.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_Spot1.jpgJames ‘Spot’ O’Donnell, Sr., a longtime pressman with the Sunday Dispatch, holds a copy of the very first edition of the Dispatch published on Feb. 9, 1947. Spot became a pressman not long after the Dispatch began operations. Tony Callaio file photo | For Sunday Dispatch

By Judy Minsavage

For Sunday Dispatch

When the Sunday Dispatch began its 15th year of publication, editor William Watson Sr. boasted 9,000 in circulation, stating, “It’s the largest of any previous Pittston publication.” Watson’s pledge to Greater Pittston was, “As long as there is a Sunday Dispatch, there will be a dependable, fighting newspaper serving and battling for all that is Pittston area’s birthright, and never bowing to the forces that desire to subjugate Pittston. There will be a newspaper that will not flinch in its battle for gains for the local region.”

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.