45 years of Land Line

Land Line Magazine celebrates 45 years of providing the professional truck driver vital information.

October 2020

Wendy Parker

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Commercial trucking history didn’t begin in the early 1970s, but it was certainly one of the most notable decades for the profession. An OPEC oil embargo against the United States caused dramatic rises in the cost of diesel fuel – if you could get it at all.

Fuel rationing implemented by tone-deaf lawmakers and preferential treatment at the pumps for company fleets drove owner-operators to finally declare that enough was enough.

The boiling point was in late 1973. Protests and shutdown efforts of what was first looked at as no more than a bunch of rabble-rousers became a force for lawmakers to finally reckon with.

These truck drivers quickly figured out they would need to get organized. In December 1973, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was founded to represent truck drivers in Washington, D.C., who by all accounts at the time, were ignored.

Jim Johnston, a founding member and past president of OOIDA, wrote about the experience in the 40th anniversary edition of Land Line.

“We didn’t have a lot of members in 1974. In fact, we had only about 35 dues-paying members. The popular trucking magazines didn’t care what we were doing, and our efforts got no coverage. It wasn’t long before we knew we had to have our own publication.”

In 1975, Land Line was born. Unfortunately, there are no known remaining copies of the magazine’s first edition. One reason the first issue can’t be found is probably because the first few years of the publication were more like a newsletter instead of the slick, professional press-production magazine members are used to receiving today.

A newsletter-like format and list of truckers who had paid an initial fee to support the Association were used for a fledgling circulation base. In 1981, the Association realized it was time to take their newsletter to the next level, so they hired Todd Spencer to be Land Line’s editor.

Spencer, who after Johnston’s passing in January 2018 was voted by the OOIDA Board of Directors to a five-year term as president of the Association, was initially hired by Johnston to work for the Association as communication director and editor of Land Line.

‘Money has always been an issue, especially so in the beginning’

While the newsletter served as a method of communication, it wasn’t able to grow or develop into something that could support itself through advertising. Costs to produce and mail it ate into the Association’s small and sometimes nonexistent budget.

This didn’t deter the effort. It simply meant doing one of the things truckers do best – adapting to a learning curve and making it work. Spencer relied upon this trait heavily in the early years of the magazine.

“When I was hired as communication director and editor, it basically meant I was responsible for everything that had to do with any of it,” Spencer said. “We had to make sure everything we did was cost effective. At the time, we couldn’t even go to the bank (for a loan) to buy a copy machine, much less equipment to produce a magazine.”

One of his responsibilities included gathering all the materials to take over to page creators at an outside company for typesetting, plating and printing. After observing the paste-up and typesetting process, Spencer came to the conclusion that he could do the work himself if the Association could obtain a typesetting machine. It would cut one more corner in the cost process and eventually pay for itself.

“Of course, I reached this conclusion without consulting anyone who might actually have practical knowledge of the process,” Spencer said. “Like most things observed from the outside, it appeared much easier than it actually was.”

Nevertheless, with personal funds he had obtained from selling his truck, Spencer invested in a typesetting machine and Land Line marched toward the future, inching closer to the current version we all know today.

Growing pains and staff gains

In the years following, Spencer and his skeleton crew developed the roots of today’s magazine to the extent of their abilities.

“We had picked up enough to do what we could,” said Spencer, “but none of us knew how to grow a true trade magazine any further.”

Lack of funds always being an issue, Spencer found and reached out to Service Corps of Retired Executives, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that offered (and still does offer today) free mentoring for small businesses from retired professionals.

With guidance offered from SCORE, Spencer concluded that he needed to expand the magazine staff. Expense incurred by hiring on the first professionally trained journalist to work for the publication, Sandi Soendker, was justified by the expertise she brought to the still-fledgling newsroom.

By the time Soendker was hired in the fall of 1987, getting information to the members about what was happening in the industry had grown by leaps and bounds since the lil’ ol’ 1975 newsletter. Land Line had a professional journalist and things were on the move.

Although Soendker knew her way around a newsroom, she did not know much about trucking. And trucking is an odd bird to figure out, for sure.

Her 30-year tenure at Land Line began with a learning curve of her own that she related in a parting interview for her retirement in 2017 as editor-in-chief of Land Line Magazine.

“When I first went to work for Land Line, Todd assigned me to do a story on how a large carrier in the Midwest encouraged drivers to keep two log books.

“I called and asked for the president of the company,” Soendker recalled. “It was about 5 p.m., and the man who answered said, ‘that would be me.’ I proceeded to interview him and his answers were frank and very revealing. He said he was a former trucker and now the man who made all the decisions. I was so excited. I could not wait to show Todd. When I did, he did not recognize the ‘president’ and said, ‘who the hell did you talk to down there, because it was not the president.’

“As it turns out, the Mr. Smith I talked to had most certainly been a trucker and was retired, but he was not the president. He was the night janitor. I was humiliated, and Spencer got a big laugh at my expense. I’ll say one thing though – the guy gave one heck of an interview.”

What does the future of Land Line hold for its readers?

“You have to remember that we’re playing the long game,” Spencer said. “The overall mission (of Land Line) hasn’t really changed, but everything else has.

“When we began, it was a much more innocent time in America – everything was relatively new. People didn’t have cellphones and instant access to almost anything. We recognized the need for drivers to have a voice with policy makers then, and that need still exists.”

Today, the magazine is published nine times a year and read by more than 218,000 owner-operators, company drivers and others affiliated with the trucking industry.

That’s what Southern folks would call “come a fer piece” from a newsletter mailed out to a handwritten list of names and addresses tucked in the back of an empty file cabinet located in a trailer chained to a light post in the parking lot of a truck stop in Grain Valley, Mo.

(For those of you who are new here – welcome – and in case you didn’t know, the first office of OOIDA was actually a construction trailer chained to a light post in a truck stop parking lot. Things have definitely improved.)

Humble beginnings or not, the motivator and messaging in Land Line Magazine continues to carry along the same lines it began with more than four decades ago.

Jami Jones was hired in 2000. She took over as Land Line’s third managing editor following Soendker’s retirement in 2017.

“Coming to Land Line was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Jones said. “The reputation in the industry for spot-on reporting with an edge tailored for truck drivers was unparalleled. Following in Todd’s and Sandi’s footsteps to continue that legacy is like a dream come true.”

Jones credits a “top-shelf” team of writers and the unique structure of being “surrounded by hundreds of years of trucking experience” OOIDA employees represent.

“We don’t have to walk far to get the straight scoop on anything in the industry,” she said. “We are surrounded by extremely knowledgeable trucking professionals here at OOIDA.”

Truckers matter. They are the backbone of our economy. They deserve to know how the policies and decisions being made affect them directly. That has been and always will be core mission of Land Line. To educate and communicate to truckers what is important to them and why.

In a “normal” year, before a 100-year pandemic hit, that mission never fell to the side. And now, in these unprecedented times, it’s even more important to connect truckers with news they can trust and know that they are not forgotten in the chaos, Jones said.

“Bringing the news together in a time like none we have experienced before is even more important than ever before. It’s our duty and obligation to not fall for misinformation and to continue to deliver trusted news in all of our platforms.

“We, too, have persevered through good times and bad, just like the drivers we serve. It’s our sincere hope that the mission leads us to continued growth and support for truckers’ success in the next 45 years.” LL