Millennium Countdown: 1979 | NevadaAppeal.com

Millennium Countdown: 1979

by staff

Paper: Nevada Appeal – 20 days to the millennium – Sunday, May 11, 1979

Publisher: Donald W. Reynolds

General Manager: David A. Osborne

Editor: Steven R. Frady

Advertising Manager: Dale Wetenkamp

Circulation Manager: Don Helms

Production Manager: John “Jack” R. Gibson

Published each evening Sunday through Friday at 200 Bath St.

A Nevada owned member Donrey Media Group

Appeal fire didn’t stop the press

By Kelli Du Fresne

Though it infuriated his general manager, Editor Steve Frady thought the March 28, 1979, fire that gutted the Nevada Appeal was spectacular.

“From the standpoint of being trained to do something and actually getting to do it, it was great,” Frady said. “From the standpoint of losing my newsroom, it was a helluva bad deal.”

Frady, former chief of the Storey County Volunteer Firefighters and past editor of the Appeal, got a call at home in Virginia City late that Wednesday night from Carson City Fire Station No. 3 Capt. Jim Powell, who told him the Appeal building was on fire.

“I flew down there,” Frady said. “When I got there, Fire Chief Bernie Sease told me to go in on a hose crew and help the firefighters.

“Roy Koon, of Warren Engine Co., was working an aerial from the front side of the building. I was working a 2.5-inch line from the back.

“There was this stubborn hot spot in the ceiling. Every time we’d think we had it out, here it’d come back at us.

“We didn’t know it at the time, but we were pushing the fire back and forth.”

The fire gutted all but the press room and business offices of the Appeal’s then-new building at 200 Bath St.

The paper had been at its Bath Street address since 1973, having left the Carson Brewery at King and Division streets when the new building was finished.

Former Carson City sheriff’s detective Joe Curtis said the fire was definitely the work of an arsonist and, though they think they know who it was, they could not gather enough evidence for an arrest.

“We know where the accelerant was put down on the floor, how he trailed it all the way down the hallway, which door it went out of and where it was lit, but tying it to a person was an impossible task. There were no witnesses, nobody saw vehicles in the area.”

Frady was a suspect for a short time because of how quickly he arrived at the scene, but officials learned how Powell called him and removed him from the list.

News reports said the fire started near the center of the building in the circulation department, spreading to the editorial offices and then throughout the building.

The open attic and no sprinkler system gave the fire lots of room to spread. A steel door and fire walls kept the fire from the press room.

Curtis said the fire was the work of a disgruntled employee.

“I remember one individual we really keyed in on. From an investigative standpoint we thought we had him, but we could never prove it, for court purposes, to tie him to it,” Curtis said. “He was not a longtime employee as I recall, kind of a menial employee. I don’t remember him as a real player in the organization.”

Frady remembers hearing the fire was a retaliation fire, the result of a story written by an Appeal reporter.

Weeks later, Frady said, General Manager David Osborne squashed his investigative story on the fire.

“He found out I was working on the story and said, ‘We’re not going to do that anymore,'” Frady said.

As crews mopped up, Frady shed his fire gear, packed and jumped on a plane to Las Vegas.

Using the presses of the Las Vegas Review Journal, a suite at the Frontier Motel, Sue Morrow’s home, and offices at the South Lake Tahoe Tribune, the Appeal published its Thursday paper as usual with front page photos and a story on the fire.

Frady in his editorial for March 30 was passing out thank-yous to those who were helping the homeless newspaper.

From Las Vegas, he wrote: Your daily newspaper is being brought to you courtesy of a lot of nice people in a heck of a lot of different locations.

Disaster aside, humor was not lost on Frady. In the same column, he wrote that a firefighter had entered his water-soaked office during the fire and found his plaque that said “This desk has just been declared a disaster area.” Frady said the plaque was placed “prominently among the shreds of my office ceiling, debris from other areas and accumulation of charred materials in the center of my desk.”

On April 1, staff writer Connie Brashear wrote: There was a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of the bridal suite at the Frontier Motel Thursday. And the four double beds (in a bridal suite?) inside were covered with newspapers, manila envelopes and lunch debris from every fast food chain in town and jackets. Everything imaginable but sleeping people really.

As many as 30 or 40 people were in and out of the suite (and three regular rooms down the way) as the Appeal carried on that day, business as usual.

This was the introduction to Bashear’s society column in which she told readers that if they’ve sent something in, they’d better send it again if they wanted it in print.

In her “Just between us” column City Editor Sue Morrow was mourning the loss of the clippings, photos and negatives saved from years of work.

She wrote: The product of an eager and bright high school boy who comes to the Appeal daily and unfailingly after his last class to transfer the long-neglected “morgue” into an up-to-date, useful system, clipping pasting and dating all the news stories the paper might later need for reference.

Destroyed.

And on and on it goes.

These losses we in the newsroom have suffered in terms of these materials – our labor of love – have to and will be accepted with stoic finality.

New records and reminders of our work will now begin to be accumulated and occupy the baskets on our desks, drawers and file cabinets and will become depended upon and treasured as those we have lost.

The fire destroyed the building Wednesday night and by Monday the paper had rented offices at 420 Jeanelle St., where it operated for the year or so it took to rebuild the Appeal.

Frady, a fourth-generation newsman and fifth-generation firefighter, now works for the Nevada Division of Forestry, as the state’s senior law enforcement specialist.

After having another story on a Nevada politician held by Osborne, Frady quit the Appeal and began work with the Nevada Division of Investigation.

Frady’s work at the Appeal yielded him several death threats and and a visit from the FBI, who told him it might be a good idea for him to get a concealed weapons permit.

Frady said the threats were not related to the stories that sparked the fire but to an investigative series and several other unrelated stories done by Frady centering around Joe Conforte’s activities in Storey County.

“Those were exciting times,” he said.

Despite all that, he said all he’s ever wanted to be is an editor and that he’s often thought about returning to the news business.

John. R. Gibson, better known as Jack, Appeal production manager, said he had his hands full after the fire trying to gather up the goods to put out a paper.

Gibson led the production department of the Appeal from 1976 until 1982. After the fire, within a week, he had the paper back in Carson City and back in operation.

“I didn’t get home for a couple of days,” he said. “By 2 a.m. (March 29) they’d flown the plane up from Las Vegas with all the brass and everything. Across the street in the motel, they had what they called the bridal suite. We took over the suite – that was our working headquarters.

“Fortunately for us, the Legislature was in session. The Review Journal had a fax at the Legislature. They faxed their stories down, then the Appeal began faxing their stories to Vegas.

“They went to press with the Appeal at 10 a.m. and every day flew the papers back up here. So when the paperboys got out of school they had papers there ready to box and deliver.”

In the meantime, Gibson was frantically finding new equipment.

“There was a camera on display in Chicago,” he said. “But at the same time the Teamsters and United Airlines were on strike so we found a non-union moving company and the driver drove straight through from Chicago.”

Other equipment was diverted from Portland to Carson.

“I got the fire department to save the press room,” he said. “Within a week we were back in production in Carson City.

“That was some pretty good doing. You do what you have to. You know you can’t do it, but you get it done.”