What I Started
A tribute to Metroland from its founder
it seemed like a good idea at the time. What was I thinking?
I had recently grown disillusioned with the romantic notion
of playing some 25 sets a week of other people’s music while
living out of a suitcase. I fancied myself a potential entrepreneur—if
only because I was too headstrong to work for anyone else.
As a Troy native, it seemed like a good bet to go back to
my home region and start some kind of an interesting business.
My parents, Gertrude and Ralph Iselin, were entirely supportive.
So after intensive, um, research at local bars, clubs and
restaurants, it became clear to me what Albany needed. But
of course: a monthly disco magazine!
Thus was Metroland born. On June 29, 1978, I personally
walked the first box of magazines into Nick’s Sneaky Pete’s
(then, of course, in its original location at Latham Circle).
My formula was simple: Buy an ad and photographer Michael
Gallitelli comes to your establishment and takes pictures
of you, your staff and your patrons. We then run these photos
and feature your place in our “editorial” content. The magazine
is free to readers, with revenue derived solely from advertising.
(I had observed this business model employed successfully
by a magazine distributed to the New England clubs where
my band used to play.)
Remember, this was the tail end of the so-called Me Decade,
so my lightweight publication immediately captivated the
narcissistic night crawlers of the era—embarrassingly epitomized
by yours truly. The early issues of Metroland featured
my big collars and afro on nearly every other page. I figured
this would make me an instant celebrity—the Hugh Hefner
of the Capital District, if you will. After all, if I ran
pictures of myself with one pretty girl after another, then
surely before long I would actually be living this lifestyle!
And what girl wouldn’t do just about anything to be next
issue’s “Fox of the Month”? My dedication to groundbreaking
journalism was awe-inspiring.
Somehow this inauspicious launch turned into a 17-year run,
during which I watched Metroland the disco mag evolve
into a first-rate alternative newsweekly and a Capital Region
institution. If nothing else, I was smart enough to hire
great people, and it is they who truly deserve the credit
for Metroland’s success. Some of these folks are
still on board, and merit special mention:
As managing editor for the last eight and a half years of
my tenure, Stephen Leon gave Metroland the journalistic
integrity and editorial zeal it so sorely needed. Steve
purchased the paper and took over from me in 1995, allowing
me to open a new chapter in my life. Since then he has steered
Metroland to new heights editorially and has proved
to be a wiser publisher than I ever could have been.
Marshall Lucier has always dedicated himself to Metroland
with an entrepreneurial enthusiasm. From the moment he began
as an account executive in 1987, he displayed a deft touch
with clients and inspired intense loyalty from a highly
motivated sales staff. The result of Marshall’s hard work
is easily gauged by the sheer volume of advertising in a
typical issue of Metroland today.
old friend Ted Etoll joined Metroland as an account
executive in 1989, and the paper has not been the same since.
Who can resist Ted’s unlimited energy and indefatigable
optimism? He entertains, even as he closes the deal. To
be sure, Ted’s efforts have enriched Metroland quite
literally, but I believe he also adds an extraordinary spirit
to the mix that, while perhaps less measurable, is no less
The look of any publication is critically important, and
longtime art director John Bracchi is primarily responsible
for Metroland’s. In his own quiet way, John continues
to turn out great-looking covers and issues, week in and
Rock & roll bookkeeper and Metroland stalwart
Barbara Purcell hung in there with me through some really
tough times, and I will always be grateful to Barb for her
loyalty to me—and ultimately to Metroland, where
she continues to play an indispensable role. And uncommonly
loyal account executive Johna Herbinger (née Bonanni) has
defined dependability as a cornerstone of the Metroland
ad sales team.
Additionally, although they are no longer with Metroland,
there are certain people without whom the paper never would
have made it through its first decade. Megan Kuntze, Cheryl
Hendricks, John Hendricks, Frank Oliver, Doreen Walsh, Tracey
Leibach, Kevin Burt, Susan Mehalick and the unforgettable
Seth Kuntze come to mind, along with many, many others.
Over the years, contributing writers, artists and photographers
(both staff and freelance) have been essential to Metroland’s
success. Appreciative readers will recognize their bylines:
Al Quaglieri, Carlo Wolff, David Allan, Mike Gallitelli,
C. Robie Booth, Eleanor Koblenz, Martin Benjamin, B.A. Nilsson,
Mike Goudreau, Jeff Jones, Kerry Lynch, Sarge Blotto, Paul
Rapp, Ann Morrow, Jo Page, Laura Leon, Tom Flynn, Tom Gogola,
Bruce Hallenbeck, Bill Demichele.
Some of the Metroland advertisers I did business
with remain good friends as well; Donald Metzner and Sal
DiCarlo are two of them. And I should have listened more
thoughtfully to the invaluable advice offered me by my father,
Ralph Iselin; my uncle Alan Iselin; and my dear friend Norman
So I must confess that as a naïve 23-year-old in 1978, I
had no grand plan to build a great newspaper. But somehow,
with the immeasurable contributions of many smart, hard-working,
dedicated people, that is exactly what Metroland
has become. And from the vantage point of this middle-aged
Southern Californian, it can only get better.
Take this job and love it
arrived at work early one Thursday morning to find a man
waiting by the locked double doors to our building. I opened
the doors with my key, and the man—who appeared to be in
a hurry—nudged ahead of me and skipped eagerly toward the
pile of freshly printed Metrolands in the rack halfway
down the hall. “Gotta get my Metroland,” he explained
as he pulled one from the pile. “I call it the truth.”
I can’t think of a higher compliment I have ever received
(and the man had no idea who I was) in all my time (18 years)
at Metroland. Not that I’m egotistical enough to
believe that we always succeed in uncovering the truth (and
never mind existential arguments as to whether “truth,”
with a capital T, is even knowable). The point is that the
spirit of his remark affirmed that readers do appreciate
our efforts to dig beneath hype and marketing and propaganda,
to look deeper into the nature and nuances of stories than
do our counterparts in the mainstream media, to give voice
to people and issues and art that otherwise would go underexposed.
This is the essence of what we try to achieve as an “alternative”
newsweekly, and while I have received plenty of compliments
over the years (plenty of criticisms too), I can think of
none as bluntly, and anonymously, day-brightening as that
When I came to Metroland in March 1986—hired to be
an associate editor and music writer for an entertainment
weekly, but full of passion for another kind of journalism
in which I had begun to dabble—we were small, kind of light
and fluffy, and not yet ready for membership in the Association
of Alternative Newsweeklies (my boss, Peter Iselin, applied
for membership that year and was turned down). I accepted
Peter’s job offer, in spite of a salary that would make
even my current lowest-paid employees gasp, on one condition:
that I be allowed to write a weekly column on politics and
issues and anything else I wanted. Thus began (longtime
readers, remember this bit of trivia?) “North by Southeast,”
the title of which was changed “Comment” in September of
that same year.
For something remarkable was brewing: Peter came back from
his failed bid for AAN membership not dejected, but determined
to get in the following year. And lo and behold, my boss—who
by his own admission started Metroland as an entertainment
paper to meet women and score backstage passes—was ready
to transform it into an alternative newsweekly. In September
1986, we rolled out the new format, and though our staff
was still small and our editorial product still inconsistent,
we were on our way. In 1987 I was promoted to managing editor,
and with the help of new staffers and freelance writers,
we started to pick up steam and look like a quality alternative
weekly. That summer, at the annual conference in Portland,
Maine, we were admitted to AAN.
One of the cool things that happened as we got bigger and
better was that more talented and interesting people started
coming out of the woodwork wanting to work for us. One of
these was Jeff Jones, who came with a track record that
spanned ’60s radicalism to high-quality progressive journalism.
I knew the second I saw his resume that he was supposed
to work here, and he did, for a several-year period that
took us from inexperienced upstart paper to respected (by
many, perhaps not all) alt-weekly that actually had some
clout (I’ll never forget the year the Times Union
appeared to take our lead and endorse all of the same reform
candidates for Albany Common Council as we had). During
that span, our staff was blessed with two other fine writers
who contributed hard-hitting news and features to the mix:
Mike Goudreau and Amy Poe. I consider it a privilege to
have worked with all three at the same time.
If the standards those writers set have perhaps never been
surpassed, they have certainly been equaled by a number
of writers who brought tremendous reporting talent and personality
to our pages over the years. Leaping immediately to mind
is Erin Sullivan, a terrific feature writer and thoughtful
editor whose evident talent finally convinced me to stop
playing managing editor and let her do it. Unfortunately,
she was able to serve in that capacity only a year and a
half before being lured away by the Baltimore City Paper.
And there was Nancy Guerin, who never missed a change to
humorously mangle a word in editorial meetings, and also
wrote some of the best features we have ever printed: one
of them, the story of Schenectady’s improbable quest to
better its fortunes by luring Guyanese immigrants, won our
first-ever first-place editorial award from AAN. Last and
by no means least—in fact, combined, they make up the best
overall writing staff I’ve ever had—are the current editorial
department: newshounds Miriam Axel-Lute, Travis Durfee and
Ashley Hahn, and the somewhat more arts-oriented (but still
quite versatile) side of the room, encompassing John Rodat,
Shawn Stone, Kathryn Lurie and John Brodeur. Besides being
good, lively writers, they’re all pretty fun people to be
Obviously, my first passion in this business is for editorial,
but since 1995, when Lou Communications. Inc., bought the
name and assets of Metroland from Peter Iselin’s
Metroland Magazine Inc., I’ve also been part owner and publisher.
And I have nothing but gratitude for the people who have
helped me make this often-fickle business successful: Marshall
Lucier, a force of nature as advertising director, and Ted
Etoll and Johna Herbinger, whose consistent sales success
is a thing to behold; general manager Lisa Whalen and bookkeeper
Barb Purcell, who run a tight ship on the business side
and because of whom I can sleep at night. John Bracchi,
whose art direction has matured with the paper these past
16 years and who can “save” a cover in half an afternoon;
and Doreen Walsh, production manager of 14 years (now in
New York City), for whom I have some of my fondest memories
of working here—even though we often fought on production
day. And Trevor Paul, production artist since 1995 and the
author of our only award-winning illustration.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of our clients and all of
our readers, along with freelance writers and photographers
too numerous to mention (OK, I’ll mention one: Laura Leon,
who, in addition to being a top-notch film critic and fashion
director, makes a kickass herb-crusted pork tenderloin),
whose support, of course, makes this whole adventure in
alternative journalism possible. Yes, we do aim for deeper
truths, and perhaps sometimes we succeed; but the only truth
I can share with you right now is that it’s a hell of a
lot of fun when you can make a living doing something you
truly love and believe in.
Are They Now?
Keeping up with some of our favorite former
employees and contributors
Editor and publisher, 1978-95
Living in Los Angeles; independent personal manager
representing composers for film, television, advertising
and electronic games.
Art director/associate publisher/production consultant,
Living in Colonie; self-employed in desktop publishing
and graphic design.
Administrative assistant/classified sales/business manager,
Living in Colonie; self-employed as an independent marketing
Account executive/advertising director/associate publisher,
Living in North Adams, Mass.; marketing manager, Crane
& Co., Dalton, Mass.
Editor 1980 and 1986, freelance writer 1987-present
Living in South Euclid, Ohio; features editor, Lodging
Hospitality; freelance writer, many publications.
Production artist/production manager, 1985-99
Living in New York City; art director for Scholastic
Staff writer and “Open Mike” columnist, 1990-97
Living in New York City; senior writer and producer,
Staff writer and “Capitol Intensive” columnist, 1988-93
Living in Albany; communications director, Environmental
Office coordinator/associate editor/senior editor, 1987-2001
Living in Albany; freelance writer and stay-at-home
Assistant editor/associate editor, 1994-98
Living in Somerville, Mass.; senior copywriter, Arnold
Worldwide, Boston, Mass.
Staff writer/news editor/managing editor, 1998-2002
Living in Baltimore; news editor, Baltimore City
Receptionist/classified sales, 1995
Living in New York City; actor; cast member, Saturday
Staff writer-editor/associate editor, 1995-2000
Living in Chicago; substitute teacher; working toward
a Master of Education degree at University of Illinois-Chicago.
Associate editor/arts editor, 1998-2002
Living in Los Angeles; working for Warner Bros.
Music writer, 1984-91
Living in Castleton-on-Hudson; arts and entertainment
writer (as Greg Haymes), Albany Times Union.
Associate editor/freelance writer, 1987-91
Living in Albany; arts writer, Albany Times Union.
Sales assistant/administrative assistant, 1989-92
Living in Albany; day job with the New York State Health
Deptartment; bassist, the Day Jobs.
Freelance writer/staff writer/“Heroines and Heretics”
Living in Iowa; columnist for the Des Moines Register.
Freelance photographer, 1996-present
Living in New York City; photographer for Getty Images
Freelance writer, movie critic and “Mediagnosis” columnist,
Living in Jersey City, N.J.; musician/writer/multimedia
Associate editor, 1986-92
Living in Troy; senior publications editor, Rensselaer
Freelance writer and movie critic, 1983-92
Living in Kinderhook; Radioalbany.com entertainment
critic, horror filmmaker.
1978: Founder Peter Iselin opens the first Metroland
office at 40 State St. in Albany.
June 1978: Debut issue of Metroland hits the streets,
featuring cover model Julie Zimmerman, spinner at the BBC
Videotheque in Albany.
July 1978: Metroland debuts the now-infamous Fox
of the Month, featuring a photo of a notable (as deemed
by the publisher) local hostess, barmaid or waitress.
April 1979: Metroland’s offices move to 1229 Central
October 1979: First weekly edition of Metroland published.
November 1979: Last monthly issue of Metroland published.
December 1980: Metroland scraps its originally planned
cover and replaces it with an illustration of John Lennon,
along with editorial memorializing the Beatle upon his untimely
July 1983: Metroland’s offices move to 12 Vatrano
Road in Albany.
November 1985: Doreen Walsh hired as production artist;
she then serves as production manager from 1986 to 1999.
1986: Current publisher Stephen Leon begins as associate
June 1987: Barbara Purcell hired as bookkeeper, a position
she holds today.
1987: Susan Mehalick is hired as office coordinator, she
goes on to serve as associate editor, then senior editor;
she now lives in Albany and works as a freelance writer
and stay-at-home mom.
1987: Marshall Lucier is hired.
July 1987: At the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
annual conference, Metroland is admitted as a member
July 1987: First annual Best Of issue of Metroland
February 1988: Metroland moves into new offices at
4 Central Ave. in Albany; John Bracchi hired as art director,
a position he holds today.
February 1988: Metroland first covers New Hampshire
1988: Ted Etoll is hired.
1988: Jeff Jones is hired as staff writer and Capitol Intensive
columnist; he lives in Albany, works as a communications
director for Environmental Advocates.
February 1992: New Hampshire primary issue features Bill
Clinton on cover, though story by Stephen Leon skeptical
of his, or any Democrats’, chances of winning against Bush.
November 1993: Metroland moves into new offices at
540 Broadway in Troy.
1994: Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum calls Metroland
to bitch to Stephen Leon about his review of Let Your
Dim Light Shine.
1994: Kerry Lynch is hired as assistant editor; later serves
as associate editor; currently lives in Somerville, Mass.;
and works as a senior copywriter for Arnold Worldwide in
1994: Nicole Lasher is hired as production artist.
June 1995: The name and assets of Metroland are sold
to Lou Communications, Inc.; Metroland managing editor
and LCI president Stephen Leon becomes editor and publisher.
August 1995: Metroland moves its offices back to
4 Central Ave. in Albany; Lisa Hoenig (later Lisa Whalen)
is hired as office manager, then becomes general manager,
her title today.
1995: Kate Sipher is hired; she serves as associate editor
until December 2003, when she leaves for bigger and better
1995: Jimmy Fallon is hired as receptionist; he goes on
to star on Saturday Night Live.
1995: Keith Ammann is hired as staff writer-editor; he also
serves as associate editor, he is now living in Chicago
working as a substitute teacher; working toward a Master
of Education degree at University of Illinois-Chicago.
February 1996: First annual sex issue of Metroland
January 1998: Erin Sullivan is hired as staff writer; she
goes on to serve as news editor, then managing editor—she
is now the news editor of the Baltimore City Paper.
September 2001: Metroland tears up planned issue
to devote cover, news and feature to the 9/11 attacks.
2002: Metroland is honored by NYCLU for coverage
of threats to civil liberties after 9/11.
March 2003: In its first year as a member of NYPA, Metroland
takes home eight awards in the Better Newspaper Contest.
June 2003: Metroland receives 1st Place award in
the AAN Editorial Competition for Nancy Guerin’s feature,
February 2004: Metroland celebrates 25 years as a