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25th Anniversary Issue

Current 25: After a wild start, lean years, the ‘Current’ grows up ... but not too much

(and a guide to all our 25th Anniversary stories)

Photo: , License: N/A

The very first issue of the Current, starring C.A. Stubbs

By the time the fourth issue hit the streets, the Current was unveiling its cutting-edge bulletin board system, sort of like a pre-internet website. To submit a press release to the paper, contributors were asked to dial the paper’s seven-digit number “with parameters on 8 data bits, one stop bit, no parity, at 300 or 1200 baud.” We can only assume this meant something at the time. Readers could even log on to read Current stories ahead of the print version, though if more than one reader dialed in at a time they’d get a busy signal, said former staffer Dwight Silverman, who set up the service.

Now a tech columnist, blogger, and blog editor at the Houston Chronicle, Silverman had left the San Antonio Light to work for the Current. The O’Connells “waved a lot of cash” in those start-up days, he recalled. Unfortunately, it was money that evaporated quickly, with most investors, some of whom came in for as much as $25,000, losing their shirts.

When staff found the doors of the office padlocked by creditors, it was Silverman that broke in to grab the accounts receivable files for the O’Connells.

Despite Silverman’s early contributions, by the time the paper was purchased by its current owners in late 1999, the paper had no website (much less any baud to speak of) and was losing money by the year. The Current had been through its paces under various owners, at times struggling to fill 12 pages and looking more like a hungry neighborhood shopper than the opinionated agitator it had started out as.

“We were kind of like the third owner in a very short period of time,” said Don Farley, family-owned Times-Shamrock’s group publisher over alternative media. “What we came into was a paper that was not structured very well, was not financially healthy, and then it just needed a kick in the ass.”

Consider our ass kicked.

Though the paper had done a Best Of issue for years, it had never held a Best Of party until after former publisher Chris Sexson arrived in 2003. Ale Fest started during his Sexson’s tenure. As did Very Vodka. “I knew it was something that they needed,” Sexson said. “The Current was a great product and a great paper, but it was kind of … I’d introduce myself, ‘Hi. I’m Chris from the Current,’ and they’d be like ‘From what? From where?’ We were swinging a big stick, but it just wasn’t loud enough.”

During Sexson’s tenure, the Current started to gain broader notice … and finally quit bleeding. “We were losing money for a number of years,” Farley said, “and then we started to make money and we went into the black and continued to improve performance and the paper has been in the black since that point.”

And while the paper has had to grunt through at times (including belly-crawling through the fall and winter of 2010 with no dedicated staff writers), the first quarter of 2011 was even more profitable than the same period in 2010. “It took us a few years to evolve, evolve, evolve — to kind of get the right people in the paper that had the passion for the paper, had the passion for the alternative industry,” Farley said. “The advantage the Current has had is it did eventually evolve into good people and Times-Shamrock has supported it along the way.”

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