Then and now: “The Signal”

Then and now: “The Signal”

by Matt Huston ’12 and Jeffrey Roman ’11

For most of the past 125 years, The Signal has been the place that writers-in-training at TCNJ would go to cut their teeth.

first signal
The first issue of "The Signal," which was published in December 1885.

Founded as a literary magazine, now a weekly newspaper, The Signal has long stood as a training ground for students of journalism, an outlet for honing writing, reporting, and editing skills and engaging with the student body. For many, it affirmed a growing interest in the field of professional writing. For some, it served as an inspiration to tackle a career they may have never considered otherwise.

“I guess The Signal sort of changed my life, because I went from wanting to be a teacher to wanting to be in journalism,” said Lou Gaul ’72, a writer for Burlington County Times who worked as Signal managing editor and wrote film reviews.

At the time, he said, there was only one journalism course taught at TCNJ—but students were offered independent study credit for their time at The Signal. F. Gilman Spencer, the Pulitzer prize-winning editor of The Trentonian, advised the paper and convinced Gaul to consider becoming a journalist.

“I just feel blessed that The Signal was there,” he said. “It was sort of an oasis there, in a way. It was a wonderful place to learn.”

Established by the Thencanic Society of the Model School, the K–12 counterpart of the Normal School, The Signal began as a 22-page literary magazine with a circulation of 500. It started out with an all-male staff, but within a year the editorial staff was predominantly female. The style of the paper was essay-driven, focusing on school activities and personal stories, including tales of Thanksgiving and heading home to the family for the holidays.

The Signal shifted status many times throughout its history, growing and shrinking in size and disappearing between 1918 and 1929 due to lack of funds. When it returned on December 13, 1929, The Signal was morphed into a more traditional broadsheet newspaper.

It wasn’t until the national upheavals of the late ’60s and early ’70s that The Signal took on a more critical role in its reporting.

“The school newspapers were about who would be homecoming queen and what big dance happened,” said Tim Quinn ’81. “We tackled issues.”

signal website
Today, "The Signal" is published weekly during the academic year, and also reports news via its Web site.

By the late ’70s The Signal was reviewing teacher performance, covering teacher strikes, reporting on an embezzlement operation, and analyzing how student fees were spent.

“We were inspired by the people who came before us,” Quinn said. “It was Vietnam that really did it.”

The legacy of excellence that past editorial boards established has continued on through the decades, earning The Signal recognition by the New Jersey Press Association and other media organizations. The paper won the NJPA award for general excellence several times throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, and has received the award the last three years in a row.

And although the staff takes its work very seriously, there is another legacy that has continued on throughout the years—The Singal, previously The Langis, an April Fools’ tradition where editors get to flaunt their creative skills and poke a little fun at the College.

The Signal has proven as invaluable to many of its alumni as it has been to TCNJ. Former Signal staffers have gone on to work at The Times of Trenton, The Star-Ledger, and various professional writing and public relations careers.

Quinn, among others, considers The Signal an integral part of his college memory: “The Signal was a place where as long as you had an honest desire to do some work, there was a real fellowship there and a real special bond we maintain to this day.”

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