by Betty Dravis
Betty Dravis: Welcome to our growing slate of Dream Reachers, Stan. It’s a pleasure to have such a talented man from the California Central Valley with us today. I moved from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley two years ago. While I live in the smaller town of Manteca and you live in the booming metropolis of Modesto (laughs), we’re in the same “neck of the woods.” I met you on Facebook and you drew my interest because you promote local merchants, have a background in publishing, TV show production and are a prolific poet and wordsmith. When I saw the quality of your full-color Valley Views Magazine, I knew you were a man of vision…a man I wanted to interview.
Before we get to know “Stan the adult,” I’d like to give our readers a peek at “Stan the child.” Where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid? What were your first ambitions?
Stan C. Countz: Thanks, Betty, I’m happy to be here. To start at the beginning, my parents met and married in the Central Valley city of Turlock during the fabulous fifties. My mom, Myrna Louise Wymar, was an avid horse enthusiast and barrel rider and a member of the Turlock Cavaliers. My dad, Charles Alvin Countz, was like the original “Fonzie.” He wore his hair in a duck-tail and was a member of a car club, like most guys in those days. They fell for each other and, before you know it, I was on my way. They got married and moved to the Bay Area where my two brothers and I were born and raised. I lived in Martinez, Walnut Creek, Danville and Alamo before moving back to the Turlock area in 1967. From the sixth grade through high school, I lived there; my parents built a countertop manufacturing and installation business (Countz Counter Tops).
In high school, I was a member of the track team and during this time I was confronted with the claims of Christ and decided to accept Him into my life. This decision was to have tremendous impact on the course of my life and the lives of my family and friends. This was at the height of the “Jesus Movement” of the early 70’s. After receiving Christ, I was walking on “Cloud Nine” from about the middle of my freshman year through my senior year in high school.
I was one of those guys that brought my Bible to school and actually read it. I was involved with the early days of contemporary Christian music and enjoyed listening to early Christian rock artists such as Barry McGuire, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Chuck Girard and other pioneers of that genre. During this time, I had a voracious appetite for Bible Study, prayer, evangelism and Christian fellowship. I wrote a weekly column in The Turlock Journal, entitled “For Real.” Several articles were picked up by national publications. I took a class taught by Margaret J. Anderson, author of The Christian Writer’s Handbook, who happened to live in Turlock at the time.
Betty Dravis: Your parents sound “Fifties Cool,” Stan. Thanks for painting a vivid picture of that era; your description brings back pleasant memories for me. It’s also interesting to hear about your accepting Jesus into your life.
Your interest in singing may have been sparked by those Christian singers and your interest in writing must have gotten a big boost when a few of your articles made it national. I find it interesting how everything in our lives tends to blend together to form who we become as adults. Using myself as an example, I started writing poetry at about age eleven, took private elocution lessons, favored English, journalism and creative writing throughout my school years. It didn’t surprise anyone when those skills followed me throughout my working life.
Stan C. Countz: You’re right, Betty; that’s how it was for me too. After graduating from Turlock High School in 1974, I majored in English and minored in Journalism at Modesto Junior College. I wrote for the college newspaper and was inspired to continue writing when I won an award for an investigative journalism piece from the California Community College Association.
Unfortunately, writing jobs were not too plentiful, so after graduating, I took a few minimum wage general laborer jobs before I discovered I could sell. My first sales job was working for Fuller Brush, selling degreasers, germicidal cleaners and brushes door to door. I met my wife Teresa at Modesto Junior College and hired her to deliver and collect on all the products I was selling. I went from selling brushes to selling freezer food plans.
When I made enough money so I didn’t need to take just anything that came along, I interviewed with media companies–including TV stations, radio stations and newspapers–and was hired by a new FM radio station in the Modesto area. K102 (today referred to as Sunny 102.3) was the first contemporary station on the FM dial in the Modesto area. I was given ninety days to “sink or swim.” Luckily, I excelled at radio-advertising sales and subsequently started a Christian radio show, The Right On Rock, which eventually aired on three rock stations in the Modesto area over an eight-year period.
In 1979 I left the radio station as an account executive and was hired by a local advertising agency where I had the opportunity to produce TV shows, direct mail-coupon mailers, bus-bench advertising and other innovative local advertising programs. In 1979 I launched Advertising Alternatives and began publishing specialty tabloids and publications. In March of 1980, I founded Valley Views magazine.
Betty Dravis: Well, you earned your way to the top, Stan, through diligence and hard work, the old-fashioned way. (laughs) It’s great that your wife worked with you to help you get started. That’s impressive and says a lot for both of you.
My research shows that Valley Views magazine was the first city/regional magazine ever published in the Central Valley. Before telling us about your current projects and your ambitious plans, please tell us what happened to the original publication and what you did in the interim…before starting up again.
Stan C. Countz: I put out thirty consecutive issues of the original Valley Views between 1980 and 1983. The magazine was a victim of its own success. After approximately twenty-eight issues of the magazine, I convinced myself that I needed investment capital to take it to the next level. I spent hundreds of man-hours with my business consultant, Brad Schuber, putting together a complete business plan. The first person I showed it to, a CPA, jumped at it and brought in his printer business associate.
They offered to set up a new corporation and issue me 40% of the stock in the new entity. I had always told myself that I would never give up controlling interest in any of my businesses, but I had convinced myself of the need for this capital. Well, in a nutshell, I was left holding the liabilities of the sole-proprietorship and all the assets were transferred to the new corporation. Once this was done, these investors surprised me by asking me to step down from my role as publisher. Once I did that, there was no one to assume my responsibilities and so they put a couple of issues out without me, but, basically, there was no one who could generate the ad sales so the magazine took one last breath and “gave up the ghost” after I stepped down.
Remember, I did all of this while I was in my early 20’s way before anyone else even thought of producing a magazine for the Central Valley.
Betty Dravis: That’s really something for someone so young to build a magazine like that, only to have it “snatched” from beneath you by unscrupulous businessmen. I bet you learned valuable life lessons from that, though. Seems like they “cut off their noses to spite their faces,” though, so you must have had the last laugh. So, what happened next, Stan? Where did you go from there?
Stan C. Countz: I was disheartened by that setback, of course, Betty, but I carried on and stayed in the advertising field for another twelve years. I produced direct mail coupon books and published Modesto Lifestyles and Stanislaus Business, special-interest newsprint publications. In 1990, I was the top ad-sales rep for the Valley Yellow Pages for Stanislaus County and Sacramento County. In 1993, I decided to pursue other business interests…
All that time, I missed the publishing business; it gets in your blood, as you must know. So in 2003, I decided to go back into the publishing and advertising business.
In the previous twenty years, publishing technology had changed drastically, so I was in for a steep learning curve. I hooked up with graphic designers, freelance writers and photographers and a heat-set web printer and put out a forty-page magazine. This was followed by a fifty-six-page magazine. Once I changed the name back to Valley Views, it jumped up to eighty pages and then a hundred. The success of Valley Views magazine spawned and inspired other magazines as well. For example, as soon as I changed the name of the magazine from Modesto Homes & Lifestyles to Valley Views, almost every paper in the Valley changed their names.
Tony Zoccoli, who published two Valley magazines, confided in me over the phone years later that he had watched for every new issue of Valley Views to see if he could match the quality of the content and the design. He changed his distribution strategy and format of his publications to mirror Valley Views and today is still publishing a successful magazine covering the San Joaquin County area.
In an attempt to diversify my brand and add depth to my coverage, I also launched a website and a TV show Valley Views Spotlight that featured “documercials” promoting life in the Valley, Bay and foothills. We produced four episodes of Valley Views Spotlight. A successful developer, who had bought up much of downtown Sutter Creek, saw the potential of doing some “destination marketing” and jumped on board prior to the building of the bypass that everyone knew was coming. Here is a link to the introduction to Episode IV of Valley Views Spotlight: http://www.vimeo.com/7962515
Betty Dravis: That’s interesting, Stan. I enjoy hearing about your publishing career because I relate to your struggles and your successes. For fifteen years before my retirement, I owned and published a 20,000-circulation newspaper in Silicon Valley. Construction Labor News was the “Official Voice of Labor in Silicon Valley and Beyond.” It was a highly political newspaper, as you might guess, because our subscribers were Unions affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council.
But, aside from my interest, I’m sure our readers will enjoy learning more about you and your ventures. You have an outstanding video on the internet wherein you speak of the original Valley Views Magazine and your plans for your new “baby.” You rekindled fond memories of my own publishing days when you spoke of the old-fashioned way of cutting-and-pasting with an X-Acto knife. I remember those days from when I edited the Gilroy News Herald. In fact, we always needed “filler” stories in various lengths to fill gaps in layout when the writers didn’t “guesstimate” length correctly. It was funny when the “paste-up man”—which is what we called our graphic artist in those days–stuck his head in the door, saying, “We need a three-inch story.” (laughs)
Since you openly discuss Valley Views Magazine in one segment of the video, while other segments feature great places to visit in the Central Valley, I’m sharing the internet link with our readers: http://www.valleyviews.biz/ It’s a fascinating video and I hope our readers take time to watch all the segments and surf the site. I couldn’t drag myself away from it; all that yummy food, breath-taking scenery, the news segments, etc. The Central Valley is, indeed, a lovely area with much to offer residents and visitors. I hear you have launched a big “Local First” campaign. Tell us about it, Stan.
Stan C. Countz: Well, I think many communities throughout the country could benefit from being in better touch with their local resources, local talent and local business and non-profit organizations. Also, I believe a community resource guide can inform and educate people about the importance of supporting locally-owned and locally grown companies, non-profits and talent. For the last three years, I have been working on ways of rewarding consumers who think and shop locally first. To this end, I believe I have found several creative ways to tap into the growing “Local First” movement by launching a local search portal and publishing local community resource guides and/or coupon directories that educate, inform and entertain their respective communities while rewarding local consumers with local shopping rewards, online, print and video coupons.
The community resource guide ought to profile successful local business leaders, non-profit organizations, artists, entertainers, authors, actors, models, etc. and ought to be a source of community pride and solidarity. It should cover the “Who’s Who & Who’s New” in the community. Due to the current economic downturn, however, we thought it prudent to format the publication in such a way that the break-even point is reached easier than was the break-even point for Valley Views. To this end, we have come up with a simple, duplicable print and online publishing platform and format that would work in nearly any cohesive community that wants to improve the economic climate of its local economy.
Betty Dravis: So it appears you’re no longer publishing Valley Views and are back into promoting again. I thought that Tim Tafolla, your ad designer and associate on VV, was quite talented. What’s he doing now that VV is no longer being published?
Stan C. Countz: Well, Betty, Valley Views is still a brand we want to keep and promote, but we are holding it for when an economic resurgence occurs. That’s why we’re doing smaller, less-ambitious community resource guides for ultra-local neighborhood target marketing. We organize a “school of little fish,” instead of trying to land a couple of “big fish.” Many of the big fish have moved to deeper waters.
Thanks for asking about my friend, Tim Tafolla, Betty. I’m sorry to report that his office building was gutted by a tragic fire about eight months ago. He had to start all over again from scratch, so he moved to North Modesto where he’s currently operating his photography and graphic-design business from his home. He is moving towards fashion photography and videography and is going forward in his business. I designed his website and his company Facebook fan page. His new company name is Maya Media Studio. I believe he is also managing another business as well.
Betty Dravis: It’s too bad the magazine is out of print, but the print industry has always been a hard, competitive business that’s prone to huge shifts in advertising revenue as the economy rises and falls.
I hear that you’re contemplating a different kind of TV production for the Central Valley, Stan, and I think this is a good place to give readers an impression of its size: As we Californians know, the Valley stretches approximately 500 miles (800 km) from north to south. It boggled my mind when I learned that it’s around 42,000 square miles, making it roughly the same size as the state of Tennessee. Its northern half is referred to as the Sacramento Valley and its southern half as the San Joaquin Valley. That said, is it too soon to talk about your new venture?
Stan C. Countz: As you may have noticed, there’s nothing I like better than talking business, Betty. (laughs) When the economy took a dump in the fall of 2006, I curtailed my plans for both the magazine and the TV show. However, through Tim Tafolla, I have recently been connected with a very talented video editor who is looking to co-produce a TV show for the Spanish-speaking Central California market and I am in discussions with him exploring the possibility of producing a show for both the Anglo and Hispanic markets. The show would air on a couple of English-language and a couple of Spanish-language broadcast channels out of Sacramento and would beam all over the Northern San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley. This program would give us an opportunity to promote local businesses, local artists and local events and destinations to an audience of millions of regional viewers.
Betty Dravis: That sounds fascinating, Stan, and is something I think the public would favor. If anyone can make it work, you can. Best of luck…
Stan, you send tempting Facebook invitations to the most fabulous places in the Valley, but you spoke about that above when telling about the “Shop Local” and “Who’s Who and Who’s New” campaigns. I can tell you’re proud of this area we call home. You certainly promote it well and belong to all the civic organizations. I saw some of your videos and am impressed with your on-camera persona and with the logos you created. The premise makes lots of sense to me and I understand it’s sweeping the country, with Chambers of Commerce and local leaders joining the national trend. And as seems to be your way, you’re on the cutting edge again.
Stan C. Countz: Yes, I am proud of this area, Betty; my heart, my home and my family are here. I’m sure you have seen, heard or read some of the sensational stories that have been produced or written about our area. If one is to believe all they have heard about our region, no one would want to live here, much less raise a family here. Our media outlets have become very adept at airing our “dirty laundry,” but, for some reason, they are reticent to cover any story that shows our region in a positive light. They can never be found when someone “does it right.”
I would like to try to rectify that. I think the local media should be there with our video cameras, our microphones and our notepads when someone does something noteworthy or worthy of praise, rather than following the scent of blood, like a bunch of crazed bloodhounds. I believe we can make a difference in our local communities by supporting locally-owned businesses, local talent and causes in which we believe.
Betty Dravis: You’re right about that, Stan, and I think that holds true of all the media: sensationalism is the name of the news game nowadays, it appears. I, personally, enjoy shopping and dining in my little corner of the Valley. I’ve found some amazing restaurants in Manteca, not to mention some fabulous clothing and shoe shops. (laughs)
Among many other things, Stan, you also sing, play guitar and compose lyrics. I’ve seen videos of you singing your own compositions and like them very much. I especially enjoy one entitled “Stand for Somethin’ or You’ll Fall for Anything.” That’s sound advice, Stan, and confirms that you are a true Dream Reacher, a man who believes in stretching to reach your dreams. But how and when did you start writing verse, Stan?
Stan C. Countz: In the spring of 2005, my mother, Myrna Louise (Wymar) Countz, passed away at the age of sixty-six. About a year after she passed away, out of the blue and unexpectedly, I started writing poetry and verse. Perhaps it was a “coping mechanism,” but I prefer to believe that it was a gift of God. All of a sudden, I started writing lyrics and verses and poems like a madman. Since that time–I think it was 2007–I have become quite prolific in my lyric-writing. Two of my poems have been featured in international poetry anthologies. Several of them have been re-tooled as songs, been recorded by bands and are being played on radio and on the internet all over the world. One song, Recipe for a Broken Heart, was recorded in Chet McCracken’s studio; Chet was the original drummer for The Doobie Brothers when they were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in their heyday. This song was recorded by the band Big Rain, out of Aptos, California, and played on radio stations all over the world. I wrote the lyrics and Bruce Guynn wrote the tune.
Here’s a little something I wrote, entitled I Write a Lot, that describes my writing habits:
I write quite a bit, usually every night and sit in front of my computer composing megabits of verse and rhyme. How often do I do it? All the time…to my wife’s shock and dismay, I write around the clock and every day. I never stop or have writer’s block. But I’m still trying to make it pay. I’ve written hard rock, doo-wop, country and pop. It may seem silly, but I write non-stop for hillbillies, fillies, tikes and tots. Some say I’m crazy, some say I’m not. Some say I’m lazy. Some say I’m hot, but either way, I write a lot.
Betty Dravis: That’s sad your mother passed on so relatively young, Stan. My belated condolences…
And I must say, the end of your little ditty above is really funny, but the poem is a little hard to read in places. For better effect, I’d like to hear you sing it…or speak it as poetry. Do you still sing and play guitar? And do you have any albums or CDs recorded yet?
Stan C. Countz: Yes, I still sing and play—every chance I get. (laughs) I also play drums, Betty. I have recorded enough of my songs to produce an album, but I need to focus on pulling everything together, get everything tweaked and mastered and released. I did my first wedding last month and would love to do more weddings and events. It was great. I especially enjoy performing for “Baby Boomers,” since I write for them and they “get” my lyrics better than any other age group. But I will perform for any group or gathering, if given half a chance. I also enjoy discovering local talent and promoting it. I have been producing some local talent showcases lately and would like to expand the effort to a monthly. Check out http://localfirst.biz/local-talent.htm
Betty Dravis: As I said above, I’ve heard a few of your tapes and you have a definite talent, Stan, but I can understand how and why Local First is your main focus now. Since you also help plan many grand openings and special events, serving as master-of-ceremonies at many, do you ever perform at any of these events?
Stan C. Countz: Right again, Betty… My main focus right now is promoting the Local First message. Along with a huge media campaign, we are looking to organize Local First Local Talent Showcases and networking events to introduce the local business community to the non-profits and the local talent. We had our Local First kick-off in Turlock July 7th at Sweet River Grill and had a standing-room-only launch that pulled three times as many people as the venue expected. http://localfirst.biz/blog.htm
Betty Dravis: Congrats on the Turlock event, Stan; I hear it was a lot of fun. Best of luck with all your projects.
You have an impressive array of photos on Facebook; from cruise ship to playing guitar to weddings to your lovely family to magazine covers. These photos represent many facets of your life. I could comment on each of them, but I’m really curious about those awesome convertibles from back in the day. They are way beyond cool, reminding me of the movie American Graffiti. Tell us about that photo, Stan. And while on the subject, were parts of American Graffiti filmed in Modesto?
Stan C. Countz: Although American Graffiti was loosely based on George Lucas’s life growing up in the Modesto area, it is my understanding that the actual filming of American Graffiti was done in the Petaluma area. However, Modesto has had a love affair with cruising since I can remember. We used to have Graffiti Night in Modesto when people came from all over to cruise up and down McHenry Avenue. Several years ago it was outlawed, but now they have converted the entire month of June to Graffiti Summer. Check out this video produced by Valley Views Spotlight (my former TV show) that chronicles some of the 2006 activities in the Modesto area: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMva9uHXWK0
Betty Dravis: That is, indeed, a famous movie; we’re all enamored of that era. But moving on: Stan, how important is family to you? We would enjoy knowing a little about yours.
Stan C. Countz: I have been married to my saint of a wife, Teresa, for nearly thirty-three years. We have twin daughters who are eighteen years old and we are getting close to becoming “empty nesters.” My mom, both of my brothers and my dad have all preceded me in death. I’m the last of the Mohicans, so to speak. My daughters are working on getting their driver’s licenses and buying their first cars. We are very close with my wife’s family. She comes from a family of seven and has three sisters and a brother who all live in the Modesto area. Her mom and dad only live ten houses down from us. Her mom is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico and her father is originally from Mexico City. My wife and all her siblings were born and raised in Modesto. My wife is very close to her family. Her family members are some of her best friends and confidants. http://countzfamily.blogspot.com/
Betty Dravis: Nothing beats a close-knit family, Stan. You are surely blessed.
Okay, now for a lighter question: If it were possible to spend the day with anyone throughout history, who would you choose…and why?
Stan C. Countz: I would like to stay for a day with Jesus, son of Joseph, during his three-year ministry as he went about the Judean countryside. In fact, I wrote a lyric entitled “Carpenter’s Son.” It paints a scene that might take you back in time to when he was turning water into wine and giving sight to the blind and blowing the Pharisee’s minds. Internet link to read the poem: http://happyholidaysfromstan.blogspot.com/2008_11_23_archive.html
Betty Dravis: Jesus is the perfect choice, Stan; that would be a divine blessing, for sure. I hope to be able to hear you sing that song one day. That would be a real treat… But moving on, I know how important the Central Valley and home are to you, but everyone likes to get away from time to time. What are your favorite vacation spots? And what do you do for recreation?
Stan C. Countz: We like to get away to Pine Crest up in the Sierras or the Santa Cruz/Monterey area on the coast. We also enjoy the Morro Bay and Pismo/Avila Beach area. My wife enjoys scrapbooking and I enjoy writing poetry and songwriting. (laughs) I also enjoy jamming with other musicians and creating memorable songs that change the way people think.
Betty Dravis: I’m happy you get away with the family, Stan. My children and I take to water too. In fact, as I conduct this interview, it’s Labor Day weekend and my adult kids and some of the grandkids are headed to the beach home of friends in Santa Cruz. I’d be with them, but I have to work. (laughs)
There’s a lot of talk about “paying it forward” in recent times, so tell us, Stan, how do you show appreciation for your good fortune in life?
Stan C. Countz: I like to encourage talent in all forms where I find it. Talent comes in all shapes and sizes. I like to encourage people to dig in, set their goals and don’t let anyone steal their dreams. There is so much that is discouraging out there. I want to be that one bright light in the night that shines its beacon and warns of the rocks and shoals ahead, so the ship can make it safely into harbor. If I find a flower blooming in a desert place, I want to water it, fertilize it and see how big it will grow.
Betty Dravis: Good analogy, Stan… Encouraging talent is an admirable way to pay it forward. In a way you are doing what Chase Von and I do when creating our “Dream Reachers” books: inspiring people to dream big! I admire that about you, Stan. Keep up the great work.
But now we’re nearing the end of this interview, so before I tell our readers where they can contact you, is there anything I missed that you’d like to share today? And what advice do you have for young people just getting started in journalism or writing, in general?
Stan C. Countz: Read good writing and write good writing. The way you spot a counterfeit is to become so familiar with the real thing that when a fake comes along, you can spot it immediately. Become acquainted with good writing, so you can recognize it when you see it. And I encourage writers to keep a journal or online blog. If you do not know how to set up a blog, contact me. I’ll get you all set up.
Betty Dravis: I’m sure your advice will be welcome, Stan. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today. Thanks for sharing your dreams with us and for standing up for your convictions. That said, this is the perfect place to share more links where fans, friends and potential advertisers can reach you on the internet:
And now before leaving, thanks again, Stan. Best of luck with all your projects… And I’ll be seeing you on Facebook, Twitter and in the pages of Who’s Who & Who’s New, I’m sure. (laughs) Don’t forget to check back with us and keep us in the loop.
Stan C. Countz: It’s been fun, Betty. Thanks for including me with all these fascinating high-achievers. I’ll try to live up to your expectations and stretch to become a top-notch “Dream Reacher.” And don’t forget: Shop & Search Local First. (laughs)