Mike Klingaman is an enterprise reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He was one of the founding members of The Retriever.
It wasn’t much to look at, a skinny, four-page tabloid filled with fuzzy photos, cockeyed headlines and a mundane style of writing that wouldn’t pass muster today. But, 50 years later, looking at that yellowed, dog-eared keepsake gives me pause to smile. Because on Sept. 19, 1966 – Opening Day for UMBC – a handful of well-meaning, if naive freshmen published the college’s first newspaper.
That morning, more than 700 first-year students arrived on the campus-in-progress to find the school’s two buildings (one unfinished), a sea of mud and stacks of the UMBC News, Vol. 1, No. 1, piled by every door. The paper featured everything from a greeting by the Chancellor, Dr. Albin Kuhn, to talk of the first school dance, with music by a band called, The Marauders. There were mini-bios of faculty members (the best thing about UMBC was that freshmen were taught by full professors), news of coming student elections and word of a contest to name both the newspaper and the school mascot. Who’d have thought they’d be one and the same?
That summer, six of us, mostly from Catonsville High, had floated the idea of a campus paper during college orientation. The Director of Student Life, Arthur Libby, approved and even gave us an office – a ramshackle, two-story, 19th century building set on a desolate hill down Walker Avenue. We called it “The Grey House”. The place could have passed as a set for “Halloween 3”, but we thought it idyllic. We added a bunch of scarred desks and beat-up typewriters and set to work. We laid out each edition of the paper in the basement of the Arbutus Times, a community weekly whose office was just a mile away.
Our paper, a bi-weekly, grew. So did the staff. On Oct. 30 – dedication day for the campus – the UMBC News published an eight-page issue; our ranks had swelled to 20. That edition trumpeted the selection of the Retriever as the school mascot. The following issue adopted the same name.
Gradually, the paper sharpened its attitude. In a March, 1967 column, editorial editor Bruce Weal said, “I’m no Ag major, but it struck me as rather unusual that the university should wait through a week of beautiful weather to plant a large tree in the midst of a snowfall.” Another column ranted, “UMBC is turning into a regular high school teen center with mixers every other Friday night. Instead of wasting the students’ money on pre-college sock hops, let’s try to invest in at least ONE worthwhile “class” musical group.” Tame, certainly, by today’s standards, but we were emboldened to strut our stuff.
The following year, I became editor, then transferred to a four-year college. Though I’ve spent my life as a reporter, rarely have I felt such satisfaction as having been a part of a newspaper’s inception.