It really wasn't too surprising when word got out last week that BAM—"California's Music Magazine," as it proclaimed itself—is dead at 23. The company announced it is folding its northern and Southern California editions.
According to founding publisher Dennis Erokan, the 55,000-circulation biweekly had been losing some serious money. "We had a cost structure that was based on [advertising] expectations that didn't happen," Erokan said.
That's putting it mildly. Sources in published reports two years ago estimated that BAM had been losing as much as $20,000 per issue.
But what BAM had really lost in recent years was its relevance after the 1996 departure of Bill Holdship, the magazine's last worthy editor; a cost-cutting gutting of the LA editorial staff by Erokan in 1997 that moved the heart of the operation to the Bay Area, guaranteeing that BAM would never be able to cover the LA/OC scene with the insight that it once displayed; and the rise of younger, scrappier competitors like Buena Park-based Mean Street. What had been a key info source for local musicians and fans, as well as a home to some of the finest music writing around (especially in the early '80s, when people like Cary Darling—now an Orange County Register staffer—could make someone such as Eddie Money or Huey Lewis seem interesting), had, by its last issue, devolved into a bland, ordinary rag weighed down with pointless interviews (Nancy Sinatra and Rick Springfield were recent subjects—no, I don't know why, either) and rewritten press-release fluff that passed as "news." By its last gasp, the best thing about BAM was Walker & Jones' bitingly funny X-Ray comic strip.
But there was a time when BAM mattered, when it ran superb, in-depth pieces that even the LA Times couldn't—or wouldn't—touch. There were special cover stories exploring racism and sexism in rock, the uneasy marriage of rock and advertising, and rock-lyric censorship. BAM also had the best coverage anywhere of Jello Biafra's 1986 obscenity prosecution over a poster included in the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album.
For local bands, making the cover of BAM was akin to making the cover of Rolling Stone—a sure sign you'd made it. But all that's history now. Rest in peace, BAM, though you really died a while back.
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