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Look What I Started
A tribute to Metroland from its founder

By Peter Iselin

Well, 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.

My 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 significant.

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 week out.

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 Massry.

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.

Happy anniversary, Metroland.



My Alternative Universe
Take this job and love it

By Stephen Leon

I 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 one.

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 around.

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.



Where Are They Now?
Keeping up with some of our favorite former employees and contributors

Peter Iselin
Editor and publisher, 1978-95
Living in Los Angeles; independent personal manager representing composers for film, television, advertising and electronic games.

John Hendricks
Art director/associate publisher/production consultant, 1979-85
Living in Colonie; self-employed in desktop publishing and graphic design.

Cheryl Hendricks
Administrative assistant/classified sales/business manager, 1979-89
Living in Colonie; self-employed as an independent marketing consultant.

Megan Kuntze
Account executive/advertising director/associate publisher, 1980-89
Living in North Adams, Mass.; marketing manager, Crane & Co., Dalton, Mass.

Carlo Wolff
Editor 1980 and 1986, freelance writer 1987-present
Living in South Euclid, Ohio; features editor, Lodging Hospitality; freelance writer, many publications.

Doreen Walsh
Production artist/production manager, 1985-99
Living in New York City; art director for Scholastic Publications.

Mike Goudreau
Staff writer and “Open Mike” columnist, 1990-97
Living in New York City; senior writer and producer, VH1.

Jeff Jones
Staff writer and “Capitol Intensive” columnist, 1988-93
Living in Albany; communications director, Environmental Advocates.

Susan Mehalick
Office coordinator/associate editor/senior editor, 1987-2001
Living in Albany; freelance writer and stay-at-home mom.

Kerry Lynch
Assistant editor/associate editor, 1994-98
Living in Somerville, Mass.; senior copywriter, Arnold Worldwide, Boston, Mass.

Erin Sullivan
Staff writer/news editor/managing editor, 1998-2002
Living in Baltimore; news editor, Baltimore City Paper.

Jimmy Fallon
Receptionist/classified sales, 1995
Living in New York City; actor; cast member, Saturday Night Live.

Keith Ammann
Staff writer-editor/associate editor, 1995-2000
Living in Chicago; substitute teacher; working toward a Master of Education degree at University of Illinois-Chicago.

Peter Hanson
Associate editor/arts editor, 1998-2002
Living in Los Angeles; working for Warner Bros.

Sarge Blotto
Music writer, 1984-91
Living in Castleton-on-Hudson; arts and entertainment writer (as Greg Haymes), Albany Times Union.

Timothy Cahill
Associate editor/freelance writer, 1987-91
Living in Albany; arts writer, Albany Times Union.

Mike Pauley
Sales assistant/administrative assistant, 1989-92
Living in Albany; day job with the New York State Health Deptartment; bassist, the Day Jobs.

Rekha Basu
Freelance writer/staff writer/“Heroines and Heretics” columnist, 1987-90
Living in Iowa; columnist for the Des Moines Register.

Scott Gries
Freelance photographer, 1996-present
Living in New York City; photographer for Getty Images

James Keepnews
Freelance writer, movie critic and “Mediagnosis” columnist, 1991-98
Living in Jersey City, N.J.; musician/writer/multimedia artist.

Tracey Leibach
Associate editor, 1986-92
Living in Troy; senior publications editor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Bruce Hallenbeck
Freelance writer and movie critic, 1983-92
Living in Kinderhook; Radioalbany.com entertainment critic, horror filmmaker.



Timeline

May 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 Ave., Colonie.

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 death.

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 editor.

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 of AAN.

July 1987: First annual Best Of issue of Metroland published.

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 primary.

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 Boston, Mass.

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 things.

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 published.

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, “Schenectady Calling.”

February 2004: Metroland celebrates 25 years as a weekly newspaper.


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