Download the Reader‘s first issue—October 1st, 1971. (PDF)

“Did I ask if you could type?”

It was my first day at the Reader as classifieds editor. I’d had a long interview; I took the required test to prove that I understood libel, could catch typos, and write a decent paragraph. I thought I’d passed. And no, he hadn’t asked me if I could type.

Tom Rehwaldt
was standing behind me, a little dismayed at my hunting and pecking on the old Royal typewriter I was supplied. I think I said something really clever, like, “No, and you hired me anyway!” He didn’t make a big deal. It was my problem—as were the crazy mounds of 3 x 5 cards that filled the classifieds basket, and eventually, my desk.

Lucky for me, we had rules. Free ads had to be typed. On a 3 x 5 card. Thirty words or less. Only one per week per person. Follow the rules or we will not run your ad. No exceptions! My job was to sort them, edit them (though we pretty much let anybody say anything they wanted in 1977), and catch those sneaky people trying to sneak in multiple free ads. But if you paid for your ad, we were here for you! You could submit anything scrawled on anything as long as you paid the $5. Yes, for $5 the classifieds editor would type your ad and get it ready for the typesetter. I got to be a pretty fast (but for some reason one-handed) typist pretty quickly.

If it sounds like I had the worst job one could get at a weekly like the Reader, you weren’t around in 1977. Sex therapists. Mystic healers. Chicago sexual lifestyles conferencers. Anarchists who picnic. Mr. Nude Trucker! These were my people. Along with regular folks—renting apartments, looking for drummers, teaching mime, typing manuscripts, selling everything in their house. And with all due respect (and I have lots) to all the great writers who shared my space in ’77, I got to produce some of the best reading in the Reader.

Mary Jo Madden was classifieds editor and then classifieds director at the
Reader from 1977 to 1989. In 1989, she was named classifieds and operations director, and in 2007, general manager.