The cover price was a dime, a year's subscription available for $2 – or $3 for 2 copies, one to distribute to a "favorite bartender, girlfriend or wife ... For a dollar more per year you can send them a copy. If you're selfish or just plain hungry for our brand of potatoes," went the marketing copy on p. 21 of the very first issue of Overdrive this very month in 1961, "send us $3 and we will send you two subscriptions. ... Normal subscription rate for this abnormal magazine is less than the price of a carton of cigarettes per year." ...
John F. Kennedy was President, rates of smoking among the U.S. population were orders of magnitude higher than what they are today, and Overdrive founder and editor Mike Parkhurst was busy establishing an irreverent voice through a publication he hoped the burgeoning number of over-the-road owner-operators of those days would read.
That first issue is chock-full of reports from roads that are perennially rough, backed-up by traffic or expensive by toll; truck stop recommendations and radar-detector news; lampoons aimed at railroads that don't pay their fair share of taxes – and receive preferential treatment by the then-rate-regulating Interstate Commerce Commission – and so much more.
Most in Overdrive's audience today no doubt have never seen this issue, and in truth I had only perused its contents a time or two myself before several years ago. Reading it offers a window on what a magazine at the time could be. Not only a news and information apparatus – but a culture unto itself.
The youthful exuberance of the sometimes cloyingly sarcastic self-deprecation, too, reminds me of many an upstart publication I've encountered in my years (including one I was involved in as a very young man). The magazine's editors were clearly just as intent on making a loud splash as being what Overdrive would eventually become, an indispensable publication for working truck owners and drivers. (Just what we hope it is today.)
The editor's note at the beginning of the issue is a case in point. It takes the royal we as its point of view, and invites readers to come along for what will surely be a wild ride:
Overdrive ... is a magazine for the trucking industry, primarily the drivers who are the muscle and sweat and heart of trucking.
Special introductory price of this issue is one thin or thick dime. Future issues will be jacked up to 25 cents, but we'll reduce that if we get enough fore-sighted advertisers who realize, though we may jest here, our mission is in earnest and our circulation national.
Articles and material are not jealously guarded, and may be copied or quoted at any time with or without permission of our staff (who are too busy copying everyone else to bother with what is being copied from us!).
To get a little more serious, for the benefit of politicians and business executives who might find a copy somewhere, let us state that the editorial opinions in this magazine are the opinions of the staff, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of our advertisers.
Only our advertising rates are lower than our humor, but the readers believe in us and what we are trying to do, and what we will do. (Yes, we're trying to make money, like everyone else!) But obviously we're not trying very hard or we wouldn't write this kind of trash.
Actually, the main difference between us and most periodicals is that we take the contents seriously, and loosen our ties here in the masthead, whereas other editors take themselves very seriously in the masthead, and laugh at their articles and the public that swallows them.
So we're not trying to wear a false coat of dignity and we won't write all kinds of slop about the "publishing rights" this and the "associate editor" that, the foreign office this and the circulation manager that. Ho and hum. You, the reader, are our circulation manager ...
In that, at least, nothing has changed a whit. Enjoy the look back when you find some time.