Having just two stories on the front page of the June 8, 1973, edition – Volume 1, Number 1 — of the Mid-Valley Weekly Observer didn’t necessarily mean it was a slow news week.
Proclaiming below its banner that the maiden issue was “Serving the middle Rio Grande Valley in Bernalillo and Sandoval Counties,” the precursor to the Rio Rancho (and sometimes, merely the Observer) – had a story penned by Jim Arnholz – later known as Jim Belshaw by his Albuquerque Journal readers – telling the newspaper’s audience “Condominiums Flourishing In West Side Area: Building Continues” and a story by Anita Black Mitchell, “Khanssons Opens Today.”
Arnholz’s piece mainly dealt with La Luz, “the best known and most publicized condominiums in Albuquerque … a 91-unit located on Coors Road North of I-40,” where there were three units, priced at $44,800, $51,500 and $59,000. Arnholz also spoke with AMREP Southwest’s Jim Colegrove, who told him about a condo village “being carried out near the Rio Rancho golf course.”
Khanssons was a Mongolian restaurant opening in Corrales.
Fifty years later, that golf course and Khanssons are long gone, but the Observer – in several versions over the past half-century – continues.
J.W. McCaffrey was the original publisher in ’73, when the newspaper came out on Fridays, and on page 2, the mission was literally spelled out: “delivered free to you each week at the courtesy of the advertisers,” with the “aim to cover what’s happening along the Middle Rio Grande Valley.”
It was an ambitious debut, with 20 pages worth of news and features, although much of the contest was from the Copley news service. Interestingly, there was news of the first Jimmy Durante-Dale Robertson Rio Rancho Golf Classic, to benefit the St. Joseph Cancer Therapy Unit, and featured football greats Deacon Jones and Don Maynard, plus Frank Cady, Bill Cosby, Mac Davis, Lee Majors and others from the entertainment world.
It also had a small TV section; “All in the Family” was Wednesday evening’s best show, while Thursday evening had a great lineup on ABC-TV: “Dragnet” at 6:30, “Streets of San Francisco” at 7 and “Kung Fu” at 9.
Then, as now, local news came on at 10 p.m.
In the newspaper’s second issue, Arnholz had a front-page story, “Gasoline Prices – Rumor or Fact,” and here is the lead paragraph: “There is a shortage of gasoline in the U.S., but there is no shortage of rumors of sky-high prices being charged for fuel on the nation’s interstate highways.”
Those “sky-high prices”? Arnholz revealed he’d learned about prices ranging from 50 to 90 cents a gallon, with the highest-priced gas on the West Coast.
Also in its first year of existence, publisher J.W. McCaffrey’s son Jim had a front-page story in the March 6, 1974, edition, “Many RR residents wary of incorporation.”
That topic lingered and even had a few votes by residents before the proverbial third time was the charm and the city incorporated seven years later.
The newspaper, which shortened its name to “the Observer” in December 1973, has been in tabloid form, as that debut issue was, and broadsheet form, and varied publication days. But figure if it had been published just once a week over its 51-week stint, that alone amounts to more than 1,300 issues.
Looking back at 1973, Richard Nixon was president, the Oakland A’s would go on to win their second of three straight World Series, “Angie” by the Rolling Stones was the top song, the Robert Redford-Paul Newman movie “The Sting” won seven Academy Awards and the average price of gas was 39 cents a gallon.
Rio Rancho was still eight years away from incorporation.
In November 1985, the McCaffrey family sold the Observer to Wick New Mexico Inc., a conglomerate based in Scottsdale with newspapers in several Southwestern states.
Wick burns out
In April 2009, David McCollum bought the Observer from Wick Communications and ran it for several years with his business partner, Rockford Hayes.
Back in 2003, McCollum and his wife, Jaki, decided to purchase the struggling Las Cruces Bulletin, a weekly newspaper. The couple formed FIG Publications LLC and turned the Bulletin into a well-respected community newspaper.
That paper’s success later led McCollum to try the same thing with the weekly newspaper in Rio Rancho.
The country was still in that economic depression, newspapers around the country were down-sizing or closing altogether and the Observer was on the brink of suffering a similar fate.
So, the McCollums bought the Observer and brought in Hayes to be the on-site publisher — he came here from the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
The Observer continued to exist, though the McCollums sold it to Hayes – fearing an out-of-state owner — in 2012. Out of financial necessity, Hayes soon sold it to the Albuquerque Journal, then explaining, “… forging our partnership with the Albuquerque Journal changed the newspaper game in the City of Vision fundamentally – to the benefit of all concerned.”
The newspaper moved from its longtime digs on Sara Road to its current site on NM 528 in spring 2015.
Hayes, who remained the publisher after the sale to the Journal, and his wife Darlene left the newspaper in July 2017, saying they wanted to be closer to their aging parents in Kansas.
McCollum was inducted into the New Mexico Press Association’s Hall of Fame in late 2021.
The Observer entered its 50th year of publication this month (June), still aiming to provide its readership – online and in print – with the latest in local government, education, business, sports and life in general around us.