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Credit Where Credit is Due

Columnist William Lobdell shares his role in Coast's history.

I’d like to take credit for the birth of Coast magazine – and for making its founder, Jim Wood, millions of dollars.

In 1990, as the new editor of the then-floundering Daily Pilot, I hired Jim Wood to be the newspaper’s featured columnist. He had deep local roots, cared passionately about the community and had original and provocative views about local issues.

I thought I had made a good hire. He quickly became the type of columnist the community talked about. Readers either loved Wood or hated him. There was no in-between, which I thought was perfect. Wood was never boring.

But a problem arose. The Pilot’s then-publisher, the mercurial Bob Page, took a dislike to Wood’s columns for reasons that have been lost to history. And the aversion seemed to grow with each passing week, culminating late one afternoon when Page called me down to his office.

He said he wouldn’t run another Wood column in his paper. I told him that Jim’s next column was in, edited and scheduled to run the next day. Page said to kill the column and fire Wood by the end of the day.

Page, who took Newport-Mesa by storm after stints as publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and Boston Herald, was one of my favorite bosses, but he had a few quirks. He could be moody, had a fierce temper and when his mind was made up, there was no more arguing.

I called Wood and arranged to stop by his home in Corona del Mar that evening. Drinking a glass of wine with him and his wife Nikki on their rooftop deck, I gave him the bad news. I can’t recall what I said, but I remember my heart wasn’t in it. I felt like the messenger. But I loved being editor of the Pilot, and if the publisher insisted that a columnist needed to be let go, well, it was his newspaper.

Being all of 30 at the time, I naively thought I had handled an awkward moment well, and that Jim and I would remain friends.

Not too long after I gave Jim’s column the axe, Page was forced out of the Pilot by his New York investment team and a new publisher, Jim Gressinger, was put into place. Soon enough, Wood sent Gressinger a multi-page letter detailing my failures as an editor and lobbying for the job himself. OK, I thought. Turnabout is fair play.

I kept my job, and Jim – a former owner of a real estate company – launched what he initially named The Coaster, an expression of his journalistic sensibilities that were rejected by the Pilot. I secretly marveled from day one. Jim had a great feel for the community – something the Pilot was still struggling with – and his creative mind whipped up one interesting feature after another. To this day, the kitschy “Secret Spot” remains my favorite.

I’ve never talked with Jim about this (or much of anything else since the breakup), but I always got a sense that some of his drive to make his publication successful came from having his talents rejected by the Pilot.

Whatever the case, Jim relentlessly improved each edition of The Coaster. He added hard-hitting stories and tough interviews with local leaders. He and his wife, Nikki, constantly tinkered with the product, changing its frequency and shape, and eventually its name, until the publication resembled the Coast magazine of today.

The Woods also had an eye for talent. On the content side, they brought in Justine Amodeo as the editor (she’s still rockin’ it 18 years later). On the business side, Nikki developed a first-class sales team.

Each month when I picked up a new issue – always thicker than the one before – I thought to myself, “Jim found his perfect second career. And it’s going to make him even richer” (he made his first fortune when he sold his real estate business). “He should send me a thank you note!”

Eventually, in 2000, Jim and Nikki did sell their well-nurtured and loved baby to Freedom Communications for a tidy sum, and the big corporation then did something unusual for big corporations: It preserved the magazine’s spirit by simply allowing editor Amodeo to continue in the editorial direction first charted by Jim Wood. If you don’t work in the publishing industry, you have no idea how rare a hands-off approach is when it comes to new owners.

So let’s review. Twenty years ago, I took an action that led directly to the launching of this magazine. To everyone who loves Coast, you’re welcome. And remember, the modern gift for a 20th anniversary is platinum. My ring size is 11.5.

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