The Orange County Register

Local newspapers have always been an important part of our communities. And for more than 100 years now, Orange County’s local newspaper has been the Orange County Register.

In 1905, two San Diego printers, Frank Ormer and Fred Unholz came to Santa Ana to launch a new daily newspaper. They rounded up nearly a dozen local residents as investors and formed the Register Publishing Co. No one seems to have a copy of the first edition of the Register, so there’s a little question about just when it first appeared; but the best research suggests the actual date was November 27, 1905. It was called the Santa Ana Daily Evening Register.

Things were pretty rough for the first few months at the Register, and the list of stockholders kept changing all the time. Within four months they also brought in a new editor – a Santa Ana boy named Terry E. Stephenson. Near the end of the Register’s first year, a Riverside publisher named John P. Baumgartner came down and started buying up stock in the Register Publishing Co., and before long he was its majority shareholder and the publisher.

Baumgartner was a good businessman and Terry Stephenson was a good editor. Together they made a powerful combination. Within a decade, the Register had expanded its coverage and circulation and become Orange County’s leading newspaper.

In 1927, Baumgartner sold out to a former Ohio newspaperman named J. Frank Burke. (Stephenson didn’t want to sell, but he was only a minority shareholder and so had little choice.) Burke put a lot of money into adding new features, including color funny pages on Sundays. But without Terry Stephenson, the local coverage definitely suffered. Burke also raised the subscription price to cover the cost of all these new features – something not very popular as the Depression came on. It also became clear that he was politically out-of-step with much of Orange County.

Several other newspapers tried to move in on the Santa Ana market over the years. There was the Evening News and the Santa Ana Times in the 1920s, and the Santa Ana Journal in the 1930s. None of them succeeded.

In 1935, Burke decided to sell to another Ohio newspaperman – Raymond Cyrus Hoiles. Stephenson and Baumgartner had made the Register successful, but it was R.C. Hoiles that made it famous with his fire-breathing editorials. (For some examples, click here.)

It’s hard to sum up R.C. Hoiles’ beliefs in a few words, but he believed in maximum personal freedom and a minimum of government intrusion, that free competition and Christian morality would build a better world, that the majority did not have the right to impose its will on the minority, and that forced taxation was little better than stealing – especially if it was used for things like Social Security or supporting the United Nations.

But Hoiles took it step further, arguing against many government services – especially public schools. (Actually, in the old Register stylebook, you never said “public schools,” you said “tax-supported schools.”)

Today, some of these ideas have been picked up by the Libertarian Party, but the term “libertarian” (as we know it) didn’t exist in R.C. Hoiles’ day. He tended to use the term “voluntaryist.” In other words, his object was to the government forcing people to do things they did not agree with, not necessarily that particular thing.

Whatever people may think about Hoiles and his opinions, there’s no denying the impact he had on Orange County and its politics. He ruled the Register for more than 35 years, until his death in 1970 at age 91.

In 1939, Hoiles shortened the name of the paper to just the Santa Ana Register. In 1952 he chopped it again to simply The Register. Its circulation topped 30,000 around that time. By 1965 it had passed 100,000. In 1985, when it was re-named the Orange County Register, daily circulation was up over 300,000.

The Register became the flagship paper for the Freedom Newspapers chain, founded by Hoiles and his family in 1950. In the 1960s, Freedom began buying up competing Orange County newspapers, including the Orange Daily News, the Anaheim Bulletin, the Brea Progress, and the La Habra Star. By the 1980s it was publishing about two dozen weekly community editions in Orange County. Freedom also owned about two dozen newspapers across the United States and even branched out into television.

But as the years went on, the family-owned corporation began to splinter. In 2004, some of the family members sold their shares, bringing in the first outside investors, and a bankruptcy in 2009 ended family control of the chain. In July 2012 an outside investment group headed by Boston businessmen Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz bought Freedom Communications (as it was then known) and began selling off its remaining newspapers. They then bought the Riverside Press-Enterprise and launched the Long Beach Register (which lasted 15 months), and the Los Angeles Register (which lasted only five months). In 2015 the corporation again filed for bankruptcy which ended in an auction sale in 2016 when the Register was acquired by the owners of Digital First Media, which already owned a number of Southern California dailies. The Register continues today as part of their Southern California News Group.