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POP EYE

Stirring Up The Radio Magazine Waters

July 20, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Roll over Billboard and tell Radio & Records the news.

Those two venerable pop music trade publications are going to have a new rival by the end of the month. That's when the record industry will get its first look at the debut issue of Hits magazine. Run by Lenny Beer and Dennis Lavinthal, two former heads of MusicVision, an album-rock promotion and marketing firm, the glossy new trade paper has set its sights on stealing some of the spotlight from the two older publications.

"This magazine fits in right between Billboard and Radio & Records (R&R)," explained Beer, who was also head of marketing in the late 1970s at Record World, a now-defunct rock trade paper. "We think we can compete with anyone because we'll have the best information in the marketplace. We're also going to put some fun and pizazz back in the business and try to capture the emotional response people have toward music.

"Most of us joined the industry for the glamour and the excitement, and we'd like to use this magazine to bring some of that back."

Unlike Billboard, which offers in-depth reporting and covers a wide range of industry topics, Hits' four-color format will be more irreverent and graphic oriented, concentrating on personality, image, gossip and new trends, Beer says. The magazine will also feature Top 50 album and singles charts that will be based on a combination of radio airplay and record sales.

"In a lot of ways, it'll be a USA Today version of an industry paper," he said. "We're going to have a big emphasis on graphics, with lots of charts and boxes so it's visually stimulating and simple to read. We'll also have a front-page column reporting on new trends--like the big sales success of rap music--as well as contests, a sports section ("Balls"), a 'Hits Hot Line' and a 'Dialogue' feature with an interview with a major industry figure." (Beer says the paper has an "exclusive" interview with Paul McCartney scheduled for its second issue.)

But don't expect Hits to scoop its competition with any hard-hitting reporting. "We think Billboard does a good job with that," Beer said. "We plan to be more of an upbeat paper. We'll report the news, but our immediate goal isn't to do any major investigative pieces."

Beer said that MusicVision, the promotion firm he and Lavinthal ran, is no longer in business and that they don't anticipate any industry backlash from their association with the much-investigated independent promotion business. "That business doesn't exist anymore," he said. "Anyway, this is something we'd been planning for years. We'd been publishing a record-sales tip-sheet and we were approached by several record companies with the idea of expanding it into a full-scale publication."

Beer claims the magazine has "verbal" advertising commitments from "virtually all" major record labels, as well as guarantees from major radio stations and retailers for airplay and sales reports. "We've made a multimillion-dollar commitment in this," he said. "We've invested nearly $250,000 in start-up costs alone, so we expect to be around for a while."

So far, the industry is taking a "wait and see" approach to the magazine. "It's run by some very savvy people and we'd love to see a fresh look at the business," said one top executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "But it's way too early to tell. If they can really carve out some new territory and capture everyone's imagination, then maybe this could work. But let's see how they're doing a year from now--I can't imagine this being a success overnight."

Beer said Hits will "probably" be available on newsstands in L.A. and New York, as well as via a yearly $200 mail subscription.

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