The Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News has been serving as the voice of the state’s rural electric cooperatives since it was first published as the Wisconsin REA News in July 1940. Then a tabloid newspaper, the Wisconsin REA News was the first publication of its kind, laying the groundwork for all the other rural electric cooperative publications that would follow in other states.
In the years leading up to the Wisconsin REA News’ first printing, rural America was largely left in the dark by for-profit utilities that didn’t find service to farms in remote areas profitable. While townspeople and city dwellers had long been enjoying the conveniences of electricity, rural homes were still mostly relying on kerosene lanterns for meager light, wells and hand-hauled buckets for water, and wood- or coal-fired stoves for cooking and heating.
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order setting up the Rural Electrification Administration, providing federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve rural areas. Farmers took advantage of these funds and formed electric cooperatives. By 1936, the year the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association was formed to help coordinate these efforts, at least six electric cooperatives were formed in Wisconsin, with 30 more in various stages of development.
The young electric co-ops faced public-relations challenges presented by investor-owned utilities that suddenly realized they’d severely underestimated rural residents’ resolve to bring electricity to their homes and farms. The for-profit utilities built “spite lines” that blocked co-op systems and unleashed negative propaganda to turn area residents away from co-op membership.
Leaders of Wisconsin’s new statewide agency determined a coordinated communications effort was needed to combat the negative propaganda, which lead to the formation of a monthly newspaper that would educate members about their cooperatives and provide a united voice in communicating co-op issues with legislators and other policymakers.
The publication has evolved into a 32-page magazine with individualized local co-op sections that’s delivered to more than 304,000 readers. Readers receive the magazine because they are member–owners of one of Wisconsin’s 24 electric cooperatives. Many live in rural areas, but thousands of urban dwellers who own seasonal homes and other property served by electric co-ops also get the magazine.
The Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News is a reliable, people-oriented publication focusing on statewide issues that affect electric cooperatives. The magazine’s priority is to promote the general welfare of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives, their member–owners, and the areas they serve.