By Kevin Slimp
Small town news is a bit different from what you might find in big city papers. Murders, bank robberies and other violent crimes weren’t to be found in The Valley, but that didn’t mean the local newspaper, The Lennox Valley Hometown News, was short on breaking stories. The editor, Iris Long, just had to be a little more creative than her metro newspaper comrades in sniffing out front page news.
In March 1998, the headline on page one read, “New John Deere spreader just arrived in The Valley.” While a new spreader might not be front page news in New York, or even 16 miles down the road in Springfield, farming equipment was big news in Lennox Valley.
When the local psychic, Madam Zorra, was arrested two weeks later, the headline read, “Local Psychic Arrested: She Didn’t See it Coming.” Iris got a good chuckle out of that one, even if it did get by many of her readers.
Fortunately, there are usually Friday night games of one type or another, letters to the editor, ads for the local hardware store and a back page ad for Honest Worley’s Used Autos to fill the pages. And if the news wasn’t always interesting, it was generally good for a laugh or two. Iris had a way with headlines and, on occasion, it was the wrong way. Like in 1996, when she penned: “Stolen Painting Found by Tree.” Most Valley residents still remember her front page headline from 1986: “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.”
Everyone in Lennox Valley understood the power of the press. It was a good idea to stay on Iris Long’s good side. At 76 years, Iris had been in the news game for a long time and she didn’t “put up with foolishness,” as she often reminded folks.
More than once since buying Talk Radio 88.3 in 1993, Raymond Cooper learned this lesson the hard way. As owner and host of the only radio station in town, Raymond found ways to butt heads with Iris Long with increasing regularity. This became more evident since his rantings concerning the Federal Reserve System began in 1997.
Iris, like most veteran journalists, saw right through Raymond’s “shenanigans,” as she like to call them. She wasn’t sure if Raymond’s Federal Reserve diatribe was just his way of gaining listeners or, as she suspected increasingly with each passing day, he had a more sinister ulterior motive.
Raymond, concerned that Iris’s snooping would hurt his secret plan to enter the upcoming mayoral race, waged his own misinformation war against The Hometown News. He liked to tell his listeners that Iris had it in with the federal government and that it was rumored that she had a relative on the Federal Reserve Board.
Temperatures were rising in Lennox Valley and, with the mayoral campaign getting ready to kick off, the Methodist district superintendent coming to town to announce the name of the new pastor and Claire Lapella’s plans to hold a protest at First Baptist Church, there would be no cool temperatures on the horizon as April 1998 came to an end in my hometown.