On the phone from New York, Wick Allison wanted to offer kind words about the June issue of D magazine, the monthly he founded in 1974 and plans to return to next month as publisher and editor-in-chief.
He wanted to be charitable because Chris Tucker, editor of the magazine, whom Allison says he intends to keep on board, had labored to produce the issue with only a handful of full-time staff members.
But Allison, best described by one of his own favorite adjectives, feisty, had trouble mustering even a lukewarm compliment for one of the last issues that would be produced without his personal stamp.
The painfully thin 108-page June issue took an obvious news-you-can-sell spin--illustrating its "How to Get More Time In Your Life" cover with a comical photo of a harried working mom. It's a cover that blends in with the women's magazines at supermarket checkout counters.
"It's a good regular issue of the old D in not-a-great month," was the best Allison could manage.
Charm like this has given Allison a reputation as a straight-shooting manager who doesn't suffer fools period. Still, grating as it might be, it's also an approach that could breathe some much-needed fire into the rapidly cooling ashes of the resurrected D.
Since he announced that he is returning to Dallas to save D, Allison has become a local media phenomenon, and he has his spiel down pat. He's coming back, he says, because Glenn Solomon, the 28-year-old Louisiana lawyer and real estate entrepreneur with no prior journalism experience who bought D's subscriber list and logo last year and restarted the magazine, has offered him some equity and all the say-so.
During his 13 years in New York, Allison achieved fame for turning Art & Antiques magazine into an international success and served a three-year stint as publisher of the National Review, the conservative monthly he takes credit for reviving financially.
Allison left the Review in 1991, he concedes, because of sharp differences over management issues with William F. Buckley, the Review's founder.
Buckley wanted to "run it like a church and my idea was that it preached free enterprise, so we should practice it," Allison says. (The new D publisher still considers Buckley a friend and meets him for lunch regularly. Allison also writes for the Review.)
Since leaving the Review, Allison has tended to his other ventures, including an investment banking sideline business and the editing of a book entitled The Bible Designed to Read as Living Literature.
When D owner Solomon started calling him last year, Allison says sentimental memories of the publication he started as a 20-something Southern Methodist University business student tugged at him.
"I would give him a little advice because I love my magazine," Allison says of his chats with Solomon.
Presumably Allison finally advised Solomon to announce last month that Allison would return as publisher and editor.
When he takes full control of D--starting with the September issue--Allison plans to narrowly define his audience, then write exclusively about those people and their interests. While his demographic target--Dallas' affluent--comes as no surprise, his bluntness in defining it does. You could say Wick Allison has a dream--one that is seldom discussed in public even in the Park Cities.
"I'm building a brick wall around Oak Lawn, Highland Park, University Park, Richardson...Those are my people," he says.
Obviously, John Wiley Price will find little of interest in Allison's D. And an obsessive focus on Dallas' well-heeled may even be somewhat hard for the staff to adapt to. The August issue, which Tucker already has in the works, will include a story concerning events that take place in Pleasant Grove. Allison says his D won't cover that part of town again. "Well, not for a long time," he says.
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Indeed, the separation between Dallas' northern and southern neighborhoods--a vast racial and cultural gulf with pronounced (and usually denounced) demarcations--apparently appeals to Allison.
Allison, who resides in the tony New York suburb of Larchmont, complains that he and his family have had to endure a lack of civility. He attributes the uncouth behavior to a steady flow of new immigrants into the Northeast. When he attends his children's sports events in a neighboring town, Allison says he hears "horrible language," obscene enough to make you "want to cover your daughter's ears."
His solution to the flow of immigrants: "Shut it off."
Apparently the folks who cross the Mexican border, enter Texas and provide cheap labor to clean the houses and mow the lawns of D's demographic niche don't rattle Allison as much. Of course they live in the neighborhoods his D won't cover and, with any luck, his kids won't see them on the playing fields of the Park Cities.
They probably won't read his magazine either--and that's apparently the way Allison wants it.