Tracing Our Roots

Tracing Our Roots

A hundred or so issues into a research project on thirty-five years of Madison Magazine to bring you this month’s cover story, I stumbled on a 1988 column by historian Frank Custer. In it he described the “granddaddy” of this magazine, a publication called Select that first appeared in 1958.

Over the years I’d heard rumors about a man who started a city magazine here, then went on to a storied career with Working Woman, McCall’s, perhaps others. And every now and then I’d get a phone call from someone looking to track down an article from the ’50s or ’60s. I never thought much of it because the granddaddy magazine in our library only dates back to the early 1970s. It was titled Madison Select, and I just assumed it was among the earliest. But Custer’s piece confirmed it: “Publisher and founder was Dale W. Lang, a hustling graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Today he is recognized as a ‘magazine maverick’ who has reached the heights as publisher of women’s magazines on the national scene.”

Soon after I was gabbing about it to my friend Grant Frautschi, to which he replied, “I know Dale.”

“I went to Grant’s grandfather with my business plan,” Dale, now eighty and retired to Florida, told me after Grant put us in touch. Walter Frautschi owned Democrat Printing Co., now Webcrafters, and Walter’s son, Jerry, sold Dale printing for a local pump manufacturer’s catalog he was working on. “It can work if you give me printing credit—I need ninety days credit to do this,” Dale told Walter. “I thought I was very persuasive. When I look back I realize he just gave me a break … but I never missed a payment. Years later when I advanced in my career and ended up in New York and involved with all the major publishing companies, it paid off that Walter was kind to me because they got the business back in spades.”

Loyal to the man who gave him his first big break, Dale eventually purchased and housed two multi-million-dollar presses at Webcrafters to keep up with the booming business of local ad buys to national titles like Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. He essentially broke the monopolies the newspapers had on the local market by selling and packaging higher-end image ads in cost-effective, four-page increments in a hundred cities across the country, printing them at Webcrafters, and sending them off to be bound into Time, Forbes, Fortune, and the list goes on. In its heyday, Dale says his business provided the single-largest source of advertising income for these magazines.

A native of Superior, Wisconsin, clearly Dale was an advertising genius—think “Mad Men” without the tragic bravado. His first successful venture was as a student selling ads to State Street merchants for a poster called “The Spotlight.” It hung in phone booths and listed current events, movies and sports, and every week featured a female co-ed dubbed “Princess of the Week.”

“It really was a more effective advertising vehicle than The Daily Cardinal because where the kids spent their time was talking in phone booths with their girlfriends and boyfriends,” says Dale.

Those early and loyal advertisers served him well when he launched Select, an upscale magazine sent only to Madison’s most discrim-inating zip codes. “Of course it had a snob appeal that many people didn’t like,” says Dale. “Of course if you were selected you liked it.”

Tales of Dale’s life and career could fill every page in this magazine (someone should write a book), but my favorite is the one about saving Ms., the famously feminist magazine co-founded by Gloria Steinem, in the early 1990s. Dale’s company owned Working Woman, a glossy aimed at the liberated, career-minded professional. And then it acquired Ms., also liberated and career-minded but often at odds with advertisers over its activist editorial content. Working Woman was killing Ms. in revenues, so Dale helped Gloria hatch the plan to ask readers, “Does the world need Ms.?” The subscription campaign convinced them to vote with their wallets by paying three times more for the product, enabling its publisher to break even and Ms. to go ad-free.

Apparently the world did, and still does, need Ms. I have a subscription, and I can thank Dale for that—and for my dream job here at the former Select, which is celebrating its fifty-fifth year in business and its thirty-fifth as Madison Magazine.

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. 

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