In 1982, founder Lorna Wyckoff seized Dale during intermission at a Haymarket Theater performance and asked if he would be the television critic for her fledgling magazine. Despite his past experience as news director at Channel 6, he spent hours agonizing over each review, he says. "You think about every sentence, every comma, every period," all for $25 per review.
McCracken came to Style 18 years ago to apply for a job in distribution. Nervous and sweating in a heavy suit on a sultry day, she walked in to find the publisher sitting coolly in jeans. Instead of applying for distribution, McCracken pressed Wyckoff for a job selling ads and got it. She was shaking, she recalls, thinking, "What am I doing? I've never sold anything in my life."
She soon found it was hard to sell pages of a magazine no one had heard of. Many thought it was part of the daily newspaper, she says. Or, "You'd call people and they'd go 'Star? Star Weekly?' "
Sitting beside her in a booth at Joe's Inn, Dale laughs. "I would be so embarrassed by the name," he confesses.
Both remember those first few years at Style as chaotic and tenuous, punctuated by countless back-porch smoke breaks and a few wild parties.
"Everybody quit pretty quickly," McCracken says. She herself remembers nearly hitting bottom, standing outside "praying for a sale," wondering if she could hang on for two more years. Somehow, she and Dale stayed.
What's changed the most in 20 years? Dale doesn't hesitate. "The technology change is " and McCracken and Dale say in unison: "amazing."
Dale used to peck out his reviews with two fingers on a portable Smith-Corona typewriter and slide them under his editor's door. He marvels at the technological chasm between that machine and his current PC, but admits he's still a two-finger typist.
In the days before fax machines, McCracken had to hand-deliver or Fed-Ex copies of every ad to her clients before the magazine went to print, a process that took weeks. Now it takes only a few days.
The production team who put the magazine together routinely worked until 5 or 6 a.m. The combination of bleary eyes and the cut-and-paste method of assembling pages led to some interesting errors.
Dale once opened the magazine to find his laboriously written review of a 14-hour series on World War II printed in reverse order, beginning with the last paragraph. And a back page ad McCracken had triumphantly sold to a car dealership appeared with a wide blank space in the center where a full-color picture of the car was supposed to be.
Clients and editors forgave, however, and the magazine grew. "There's a big advantage to not knowing what you're doing," Dale observes, "because you'll try anything."
Style "ruffled feathers," McCracken says. "And pissed people off," Dale adds. McCracken nods. "We still do that."
But at least people don't call it "Star." -- Melissa Scott Sinclair
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
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