The surest way to reach folks

By Greg Grisolano, associate editor

The story of how Land Line got its name is a simple one. Every trucker who ever said "I'll catch you on the land line" on CB knows that it's always been the surest way to reach folks. And for the past 40 years, the official publication of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has done just that, sharing the news and views of small-business truckers from Carlsbad to Kennebunkport. From Aberdeen to West Palm Beach. And in statehouses and the nation's capitol.

In 1975, all OOIDA President Jim Johnston had to go on was a list of names - 10,000 strong - of drivers who paid an initial fee to support the Association. That list became the first circulation base.

The early incarnation was much thinner and less colorful than the one we have today. But it was one of the few places truckers could go for the news of the day that spoke specifically to their needs and challenges.

In 1981, Johnston hired a trucker named Todd Spencer as the magazine's first in-house editor-in-chief. He's since gone on to other positions in the Association, like executive vice president, but still serves as publisher.

Spencer - who had a high school journalism class under his belt and a stint doing a little bit of everything at his hometown newspaper in Oak Grove, Mo. - had been sending in the occasional dispatch or photo from the road.

"Bear in mind, the bar for qualifications wasn't real high," he joked.

The early days were rough, and the publication wasn't met with "gobs and gobs and gobs of encouragement." But as the Association began feeling its oats by challenging leasing regulations in the 1970s, and as the issues that affected owner-operators and small truckers came to light in front of Congress, the magazine played a critical role in carrying the need-to-know info to members and drivers.

The leasing regulations fight also had a direct effect on advertising decisions within the mag. While Spencer said there's never been an explicit position that the magazine would not take ads from large carriers, there has always been a stipulation that carriers advertising a lease arrangement couldn't do so without first submitting their lease to scrutiny.

"The lease had to be in compliance with the regs, and we didn't just take their word for it. We actually look at the leases," he said. "We've tried to do our absolute level-best to ensure that there was no advertising in Land Line that sold snake oil."

Fast-forward 40 years later, and the magazine is an award-winning publication known for its advocacy journalism. It reaches more than 541,000 people a month, in print, online and via "Land Line Now" on Sirius/XM radio.

When it comes to advocacy journalism, Spencer pointed to stories the magazine published about the Minnesota State Patrol's fatigue checklist - which was later found to be unconstitutional, via a legal challenge by OOIDA - or the takedown of Tennessee's Public Service Commission in the 1990s as just two of the many high points from the last four decades.

"In taking down the PSC, there wasn't another entity in America that would've stepped in to defend the people driving trucks in that particular instance, because what had gone on in Tennessee had gone on for years," Spencer said. "Most drivers were getting skinned. And we were determined to do our best to try and put a stop to that."

The magazine has always been the principal communication tool for the Association, and Spencer said "that's not going to change" because it remains the surest way to reach truckers.

"You have to credit Land Line with the growth of OOIDA," he said. "It's been the primary communications tool, just like its namesake." LL