NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE WHEN THE FIRST ISSUE of Public Utilities Fortnightly went to press. Choose any of several dates - 1915, 1921, 1928 or 1929 - and you wouldn't be far off the mark.
The ancestor of the Fortnightly, known as Public Utilities Reports, began printing in 1915 - not as a magazine per se, but as a compilation of the text of early rate orders from public utility commissions. Annotations and commentary first appeared in 1921. Only in 1929 did the Fortnightly begin to look like a traditional journal, with a table of contents, news stories, a welcoming page from the editors and - most important of all - contributions from outside writers on matters of law, engineering, finance and regulation.
But it was in January 1928, by all accounts, that our hallowed nameplate - "Fortnightly" - was first attached to a periodical promising news, analysis and commentary. In that first issue (Public Utilities Reports Fortnightly, Jan. 12, 1928), the editorial staff issued its "Special Announcement" inaugurating a magazine section for a "more extended treatment of regulatory problems¼ through an entirely impartial medium."
History buffs can inquire further, of course, thanks to Cheryl Romo, editor from 1990 to 1992. She wrote the Fortnightly's definitive history, tracking down the story from the Roaring '20s to the eve of World War II, including the stock market crash, the Depression and the New Deal, with the passage of the Federal Power and Holding Company Acts, and creation of the Federal Power Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority, not to mention the phenomena of Samuel Insull, David Lilienthal, Wendell Willkie, Father Ryan and all the rest. (See "To Furnish Our Readers with the Facts," March 16, 1989, p. 35.)
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History, however, is more than dates. It's a story to be told. And the story here is of a name - Fortnightly - a name that for 70 years has stood for dedication to craft. Dedication to public service - as symbolized by the term "public utilities," and personified by the writers and editors who through the years have infused Public Utilities Fortnightly with their energy, skill and effort.
Speaking of writers and editors, any list must surely begin with Francis X. Welch, a utility industry icon for more than a half-century. Welch, who rose from associate editor (1933-49) to take over the helm as managing editor (1950-53), editor (1954-65), and finally editor-in-chief (1966-75), captivated readers with his wit and charm. Not one to be pigeonholed, Welch contributed to the Fortnightly for some 50 years. He won notice and raves for his annual "Washington Outlook for Utilities," a blend of information and fearless prediction that ran each January from 1940 to 1977. A member of the staff from the very beginning, Welch shared some of his personal recollections of the early years in his Golden Anniversary piece, "Fifty Years of Fortnightlies," (March 1, 1979, p. 33).
But no simple description can capture the spirit that Francis Welch brought to the printed page. Whether musing on the future of utility regulation or the future of Niagara Falls ("Suicide of a Waterfall," Feb. 9, 1928, p. 11), the Welch style was unmistakable. Consider this report of a 1927 order settling a dispute over a utility trade name. Though it appears without byline, its author cannot be doubted, at least in the mind of anyone who knew Francis Welch:
The Albatross of the "Ancient Mariner," which "every day for food or play, came to the mariner's hollo" met an untimely death, according to the poet Coleridge, but its name has been preserved to lend its good will to the operations of the "Albatross Coach Line," which Messrs. Combs and McCartney operated not as a partnership but as separate individuals under the same name. When certificates for such operation were granted by the Missouri commission, however¼ ("Under the Sign of the Albatross," Feb. 9, 1928, p. 22.)
Or this account of Halloween vandalism aimed at street lights in the city of Providence, R.I.:
The mortality rate among the electric light bulbs of the city of Providence, R.I., is increasing at such a rate that it is causing grave concern to Ralph W. Eaton, who, as the city's public service engineer, is the man to become gravely concerned.
The year 1934 wasn't a particularly good year for light breaking. True, there were 4,498 lamps and 1,239 globes broken but that was hardly a drop in the bucket compared to what the folks did in 1936¼ Whether this was due to increased interest in the matter or to improved marksmanship Mr. Eaton doesn't say. ("Electric Bulbs Destroyed by Acts of Providence," June 4, 1936, p. 724.)
Even on the eve of World War II, Welch never flinched in the task of providing knowledge and insight for his readers:
The year 1940 is bound to bring headaches to everybody in all lines of business and all walks of life. The reasons are obvious: There is the war in Europe with its unavoidable impact upon our national economy and public psychology. Next, there is the general election which even at this early date has all the politicians tearing their hair trying to figure out the various angles. These are going to be disturbing factors - to put the matter mildly. But disturbing factors are nothing new to the utility industries. ("The Washington Outlook for Utilities - 1940," Jan. 4, 1940, p. 3.)
By 1975, Lucien E. Smartt had taken up where Francis Welch left off. Cognizant of the Fortnightly's special mandate to educate and inform, Smartt (managing editor, 1975-1980; editor, 1981; editor-in-chief, 1982-89) carried on the tradition of professionalism. To his credit, he openly questioned what he came to see as overzealous regulation in the 1970s and 1980s, such as the Fuel Use Act (barring natural gas fuel for electric generation) and the unnatural excitement over "negawatts" and demand-side management. Writing in 1979, Lucien Smartt reiterated the challenge that we gladly accept today:
Public Utilities Fortnightly is still an open forum for the free expression of opinions - and dissemination of information
- which are germane to the conditions of public utilities¼ Its editors and publishers do, of course, hold certain convictions. They believe in basic fairness and courtesy in the presentation and discussion of any position. But they also know that the content of these concepts must be constantly tested¼ The concept of "public interest" must always loom large in our consciousness.
Today, with 70 years under its belt, Public Utilities Fortnightly continues that tradition of basic fairness and courtesy, examining ideas and beliefs on the eve of California's electric restructuring. Are the utilities prepared? Did the regulators get it right? How will consumers react?
For the answer, see "Electricity's Big Bang," beginning on page 26.
Bruce W. Radford is the editor of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
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