Standing Tall

Local Billboard Company Is the Largest in the State

By Rodger Nichols

Chris Zukin, president and CEO of Meadow Outdoor Advertising, has watched his company grow to the 33rd largest of its kind in the nation. Photos Courtesy of Chris Zurkin

For many years, eastbound travelers on I-84 were greeted by a billboard for Ray Schultens Motors as they came around Crate’s Point and saw the city lights of The Dalles.

The billboard, which featured a picture of the latest model Ford car or truck, included a working pair of headlights, aimed so as not to interfere with drivers’ vision. It was a nice welcome home and illuminated how effective billboards can be.

Billboards are a big business nationally, generating more than $32 billion in annual revenue.

Local residents may be surprised to learn Billboard Insider’s 2023 list of 441 U.S. billboard and poster companies shows Meadow Outdoor Advertising, based in The Dalles, is the largest billboard company in Oregon and the 33rd largest in the nation.

The company has more than 1,000 faces installed. Faces is an industry term; a billboard visible from 2 directions is counted as 2 faces.

Meadow Outdoor Advertising is the blend of 2 previous businesses. The first is Honald Sign Co., formed in 1958 by Bernard Honald. The second is Frontier Village, an amusement park in San Jose, California, founded by Joseph Zukin Jr.

“My dad got into the billboard business in 1967,” says Chris Zukin, president and CEO of Meadow Outdoor Advertising. “He used all forms of advertising to promote Frontier Village—newspaper, radio, even a Saturday morning kids’ TV show. He bought billboard space from Foster & Kleiser, but after a couple of years, he decided to build his own billboards.”

Joseph built 10 or 15 billboards around the San Jose area.

“On 1 side, he put Frontier Village, and on the other side, he put the motel down the street,” Chris says. “On Saturday mornings when it rained and nobody came to the amusement park, the motel still paid their billboard bill.

“Slowly, over the years, Dad decided billboards are probably the way to go. The amusement park closed, and my father bought a little billboard company in Merced, California, by the name of Cleaveland Outdoor. Dad bought that little board company and grew it. He sold it in 1980, and we bought this billboard company from Gary Honald in 1981.”

Chris says Joseph chose the company’s name because he liked the idea of meadows.

“He said he visualized a meadow with deer grazing,” he says. “It was very calming.”

Chris and his wife, Judy, moved to The Dalles in 1981 to help with the business, which at that time consisted of 350 to 400 billboards. A few were on Highway 18 going to the coast, but most were between Hood River and Ontario.

“We still have that core along I-84, but we’ve expanded into Idaho,” Chris says. “We cover the entire state of Idaho, and we’ve expanded in Oregon. We are now up and down Highway 101, I-5, and Highway 97 all the way down to Grants Pass. We’re in Central and Eastern Washington, and we have about 20 billboards in Northern California.”

Chris’ father, Joseph, founded an amusement park before buying a small billboard company.

The company’s headquarters is at 1201 Bargeway Road in The Dalles, but there are other offices around the region.

“My younger brother, Mike, has an office in Los Gatos,” Chris says. “We have a salesperson in Eugene, a salesperson in Portland, and a salesperson and a real estate person in Boise. We have installation crews in La Grande, Salem, and this office.”

Chris says the technology has changed radically since he joined the business in 1981. In those days, Gary used outsized bread pans from Williams Bakery in Eugene. The flattened bread pans were 18 to 24 inches wide by 101/2 feet high.

“Barney Honald would hand-paint the signs on the bread pans,” Chris says. “We would take them out and nail them up on horizontal stringers on the billboard with double-headed nails. After Barney had painted 8 or 10 layers, the paint would start peeling off, especially in the winter when the metal would get cold.”

They got rid of the paint in a manner the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would blanch at today.

“We would turn the bread pans upside down, pour a coffee can full of gas on the back of the bread pan, and throw a match,” Chris says. “It would blow up, and we would flip the bread pan over and scrape off the melting paint as fast as we could. Jim Weeks, the installer, used to call it skinning the whale.”

It took a lot longer to install billboards in the early days.

“We would go to Eastern Oregon with maybe 4 or 5 billboards on the truck, and it would take us a week to put them up,” Chris says.

Around 2000, a new vinyl technology was developed. Now, a single sheet of vinyl covers the whole billboard and is stretched around the face.

“Each vinyl weighs about 35 to 40 pounds, and 1 guy in a pickup can put 5 or 10 of them up in about a day,” Chris says.

Meadow Outdoor Advertising used to give away its used vinyl to cover firewood or hay but has found a better use for it. Every year, it donates several truckloads of large sheets of vinyl to a Texas nonprofit that puts together 2 layers with the sign sides facing each other. The vinyl is stretched over PVC frames to create homes in Sudan and other countries.

“So many people have given to us over the years that we like to give back,” Chris says.