Editors’ note: As we approach our fiftieth anniversary, in February 2023, we will, every week, highlight an important story from our past and offer some perspective on it.

By their own admission, the journalists who founded Texas Monthly pretty much created the magazine on the fly. “We figured we’d do this for a few months and then find real jobs,” says Bill Broyles. “We made it all up.” 

So it’s all the more impressive that in his editor’s letter in the debut issue, Broyles got so much right about the TM DNA that survives to this day. The emphasis on food, outdoor activities, and the rich stories that lie beneath a daily newspaper’s bare-bones reporting continue to distinguish the magazine.

But reading that letter nearly half a century later, we can, inevitably, spot places where his vision was a little blurry. Though Broyles suggested that politics wouldn’t be a major focus of the magazine, it became part of TM’s core mission; the Best and Worst Legislators list, which premiered five months later, remains a staple today. “I didn’t realize how deep our political coverage was going to be,” Broyles says. “When I wrote that, I was trying to distinguish us from the Texas Observer, which I grew up reading.” 

Broyles’s letter hits another note that may surprise latter-day readers of the magazine: the references to recommending plumbers, veterinarians, and landlords. Though TM delivered that sort of service journalism in its early years, it eventually faded away, in part because there wasn’t much distinctively Texan about it. 

Broyles also wrote about the magazine’s interest in covering culture, which in those early years often meant reviewing the latest Hollywood films, few of which had anything to do with Texas. In retrospect, this seems a bit odd—why would a Texas regional magazine critique the latest film by Ingmar Bergman? But Broyles says TM had its reasons. “Back in the seventies, Texas wasn’t nearly the cultural force it has become,” he notes. “There wasn’t the sort of music scene we have now, and virtually no movie culture.” In 1973 there were no Beyoncé songs, no Robert Rodriguez movies, and no SXSW, and Lonesome Dove and Urban Cowboy were years away from fruition. (As was Broyles’s own career as a Hollywood screenwriter. Apollo 13 and Cast Away are probably his best-known films.)

But what Broyles thinks he most underestimated in that initial letter was the sense of joy TM gave staffers and readers alike. “I hadn’t realized how much fun it would be to have a magazine,” he says. “We were like brash teens taking the family car out for a spin.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Story Behind the Story.” Subscribe today.