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Irreverent Hits Magazine Wants to Be Taken Seriously in Its Entirety

November 18, 1990|STEVE APPLEFORD

Music industry weasels might feel that they have suffered long enough at the hands of Hits magazine, the irreverent music trade publication that uses equal parts slapstick, insult humor and mutilated graphics in its weekly review of radio and recording business news. But now Hits is asking to be taken seriously.

It's not that the elements of Mad magazine and David Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks adopted by the Sherman Oaks-based glossy four years ago are on their way out. If anything, that influence has grown deeper. After all, it was only last year that Capitol Records' pear-shaped Promotion Director John Fagot posed for a nude centerfold in a shameless attempt at winning airplay for his artists. And one recent issue even included a crisp dollar bill as a bribe for more readers.

"It's quite possible for the record industry to be too solemn at times," said Chris Morris, an associate editor for competing Billboard magazine, still the undisputed bible of the industry. "They have managed to take the air out of those overly inflated tires. Besides, everybody needs something to read in the bathroom."

Morris and countless others involved in the music business, from record company presidents on down, have been regular targets of the Hits comedy writers.

Another target was Warner Bros. Records publicity chief Bob Merlis, once the subject of a feature article that intimated, to his wife's horror, that he was an insatiable consumer of hallucinogens.

Hits quickly found its own niche among a crowded field of music trade papers and radio tip sheets with a formula that strives to be equally hilarious and insulting to all willing to read it. And it uniquely reflects an industry in a way that Morris suggested would be unlikely for, say, investment bankers.

"Billboard is dry; Radio & Records is very dry," said Lenny Beer, Hits' editor in chief. "They have terrific statistics and have good hard news. But we all got in the entertainment business because it was fun. And we're the only magazine that conveys the fun factor."

But all along, Hits has offered its readership a collection of record sales charts that the magazine has always taken seriously.

Its editors are hoping that the Hits readership will subscribe to the magazine as much for its chart information as its humor. In spite of success with the irreverent news pages, lampooning all industry promotions and the haircuts of certain executives, Hits wants all its sections read equally, as does any newspaper, Beer said.

"I think at this point they pick it up to be entertained and for the gossip," said David Adelson, Hits' managing editor. "In time, hopefully, our numbers will become as respected. Humor is only skin-deep. That's our niche, we found it, but we're very proud of our charts. We believe it's important to put out a quality product."

Chart-topping bands are often featured on the cover.

Senior writer Roy Trakin, who with Adelson is responsible for writing most of the nonsense in the magazine, insisted that the charts and the pages devoted to serious analysis of developments on the music scene were what is most important.

"If the magazine was just a joke, I don't think it would have any value," Trakin said, noting that the chart department is in regular contact with industry insiders. "They know what's going on.

"Without that, it would be cute, but it wouldn't have the vitality."

Trakin said the magazine's chart makers help readers "decipher what's going on in radio. They're a resource."

Although Trakin said there have been some tentative discussions of broadening Hits' scope to reach more consumers, it is not about to give up on its nearly 7,000 industry circulation, loving and hating the magazine as it arrives late in the week in music centers spread from Los Angeles to New York to Nashville.

"I know when it shows up here, everybody stops to check out their favorite section," Merlis said. "You always want to check out the names in the rumor section. It's a great lift when it comes on Thursday or Friday. I don't know anybody who gets it that just puts it aside.

"It's one of my favorite music trade papers based in the Valley, let me put it that way."

SHOW STOPPER: The sudden closing last month of the Palace in Hollywood, after a May bankruptcy filing and a lawsuit levied by its landlord, has already been reported in legal terms. But how will the loss of one of the city's most famous rock venues affect the music scene here?

"The loss of a club is important to Los Angeles," said Larry Solters, owner of Scoop Marketing and spokesman for Ticketmaster, which sold tickets for Palace shows. "It's an outlet for new and emerging bands. The more entertainment showcases, the wider diversification of acts.

"It was a plush venue," he added. "And in the scheme of things, it was a nice evening out."

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