Pilot Proud: 3rd generation owner moves the Pilot forward with new technology
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When it came to business savvy, it might have been Chuck Leckenby, the third member of his family to take the helm of the Steamboat Pilot, who stood out when country weekly newspapers began to fight for their existence in the late 20th century.
Leckenby, the third, perhaps had more business savvy than his father and grandfather and created other businesses that could be leveraged to bring the newspaper into the modern age.
Chuck’s grandfather, Charles (Charlie) Leckenby, was a remarkable man who had only three years of formal education. He got his start in the business as a printer in Missouri and willed himself to become a facile writer and newsman. Perhaps most important of all, Charlie Leckenby grasped the vital role a small community weekly paper could play in the development of a frontier town.
It was Chuck’s father Maurice who had earned his journalism pedigree working as a reporter for the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press during a career in Denver. Consequently, Chuck grew up in Denver but had the experience of living with his grandparents in Steamboat for three consecutive summers.
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“I remember my grandfather (Charlie) coming home from work and drinking a pint of whiskey,” he said.
Chuck studied journalism at the University of Colorado and was also a valuable member of the Buffs ski team, competing in downhill, slalom, cross country and ski jumping. While at CU, Chuck was also enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program. When he graduated in 1955, he enlisted in the Air Force, went through pilot training and later became an information officer in Spokane, Washington.
Maurice, a two-pack-a-day smoker, was intrigued with politics, and in 1958, summoned his son to replace him. Chuck’s father had accepted a position with U.S. Sen. John Carroll, D-Colo., and he wanted Chuck to take over the newspaper.
And there was plenty to be accomplished at the family business. In the late 1970s, the newspaper staff of five worked in a historic brick building one door down from the corner of Lincoln Avenue and 10th Street. The Pilot’s four reporters shared one telephone, and a small office supply business was wedged in next to the front desk where two women greeted visitors and took classified ads.
The biggest challenge, however, was overcoming the antiquated linotype press. Chuck explained that the linotype required employees to literally type out the week’s stories on thin lead bars, column by column.
Longtime Steamboat Pilot Publisher Chuck Leckenby, the third in his family to assume that role, is 87 and living with his wife, Barbara, in Lake Forest, Florida, about 45 minutes from downtown Orlando and 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
Barbara Leckenby, who grew up in Louisville, formerly worked in the Routt County Treasurer’s Office and the offices of the Steamboat Springs School District.
Chuck reports that two bad knees have caused him to use a walker; however, he stays active photographing the abundant bird life attracted to the large lake 20 feet from his patio.
And it took a certain personality to want to work the heavy linotype machine, where mistakes couldn’t be erased.
“The last linotype operator we had was a practicing alcoholic,” Chuck wrote in 1985. “He would call me every night around midnight from the old Pioneer Bar and say, ‘If you’ll come down and buy me one more beer, I’ll come in and work tonight.’”
But the biggest problem the old linotype system posed was that it limited the paper to printing just 12 pages a week, which kept the Pilot’s from growing its advertising.
“We were printing four pages on Monday, four pages on Tuesday and four pages on Wednesday,” Chuck said. “That’s all you could get out of the linotype machine and hand composing.”
That’s where the publisher’s business acumen kicked in. He had previously made a wise land purchase that opened the door to a more efficient newspaper plant.
When 80 acres of cow pasture came up for sale on the south side of Steamboat along of U.S. 40 opposite where the Holiday Inn is now, he jumped at the chance to purchase it for $15,000. That would later become the key to the newspaper’s 12-page limitation.
“I sold it (the land) to Fred Bucci for $100,000 and that was enough money to buy a modern offset press and a computer system that printed news stories in long, narrow strips on paper,” Chuck said. “Right away, we could print 24 pages a week and pretty soon 48.”
And Chuck continued to modernize the business. He purchased a competitor in the office supply business, Tip Top Type, and added an early Apple computer dealership to the soon-to-be irrelevant typewriter store.
It wasn’t long before the reporters at the Pilot were writing their stories on the Apple IIE. The newsroom wasn’t networked, but the ability to share 5–inch floppies with the copy editor and composing staff was a big step forward.
Still, Chuck is quick to agree that the smartest move he made during his tenure at the Pilot was hiring Steamboat resident Dee Richards off the street to become his editor. Dee, a graduate of Oberlin College, did not have a newspaper background, but she approached the job and her ongoing journalism education with devotion.
Dee could vex Chuck with her stubborn nature, but together, they moved the newspaper into a new era.
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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