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Just Over The Dead Line

NH Profiles I collect dead magazines. Newspapers too. My favorites are the local ones, high flying periodicals that were going to make a difference. Call it a peccadillo, but I can't avert my eyes as they splat against the window like parakeets. They never see it coming.

Take Portsmouth Magazine. A lot of us loved that little free weekly. It defined the city in the early 80s -- scrappy, sometimes clever, feeling its oats. These were the early days of plays in Prescott Park, trees in Market Square, jazz at The Press Room. The city was reborn and a lot of people wanted to write about it.

Publisher Duke Richards who, I think, came from New Jersey and fell in love with the region, once called Portsmouth, "The town that thought it was a city." I heard him say it, probably at one of the great parties they held on Islington Street where there were so many bodies mashed into the office that they spilled out of the kitchen and into the law offices next door. We felt like a great big city, but underneath it, we still acted like a little old colonial town.

That's the secret behind the Seacoast window, the one all those parakeets keep trying to pass through at breakneck speed. It's a trick window, like the one in the police interrogation room or a psychology lab. One side is a mirror, a trick mirror no less. Spend too much time gazing at the looking glass and things seem bigger than they are. "Portsmouth Magazine" hit the window so hard that people are still talking about it -- and no one has quite filled that void since.

Portsmouth Magazine was actually born out of an earlier tabloid called "Women for Women Weekly." Duke and his wife Candice bought it from Donna Tremblay who had tapped into the city's emerging female side. I have copies of both in my collection.

More cherished are my yellowed copies of "Publick Occurrences," the tough-hearted Newmarket paper that some still say drove Aristotle Onassis away from the Isles of Shoals. He wanted to off-load his oil there and pipe it to the mainland. It was probably the worst idea that has ever been proposed in the NH Seacoast. But the editor Bob Levine and publisher Phyllis Bennett looked into that magic mirror, got all pumped up, and sent Aristotle packing. Then they turned their attention to other critical issues and quickly hit the window.

All the same, if you don't count the pay, it was a great time to be a local freelance writer. The two biggest players, "Foster's" and the "Portsmouth Herald" continued their century old tug of war for Seacoast dominance while the weeklies ran around their legs like kids under a Thanksgiving table.

Of course there was "Re:Ports", which started as a one-page weekly events calendar. The patchwork small-print freebie became so popular, that creators Bill Paarlberg and Phil Augusta were on their way to becoming retro-pop gods when they jumped from the cockpit just before the thing hit the window.

My collection isn't perfect, but I've got "Seacoast Sunday" which arrived later and limped longer than some. I've got the first 200 issues of the Rockingham Gazette, a Dow Jones attempt to split the fractured Portsmouth market even further. It morphed into the "Portsmouth Press" which hit the window with a sad wet thump.

You hear that sound all across the Seacoast as little publications have come and gone in Dover, Exeter, Durham. Rochester. People just seem to forget that, as gorgeous as we may appear in the magic mirror, from the window side, we're a shrimpy region at best. The last time I made a head count of the Seacoast, there were maybe 300,000 of us. Unfortunately half of those counted are fish. That's the downside of living on the edge of an ocean.

Radio stations come and go with equal rapidity, broadcasting to as many fish as people. Web sites will certainly do the same. But web sites and radio stations don't fit into a collector's album like all these pretty periodicals. I've got more little corpses, if you've got a moment. Some day they may be valuable:

  • NH Profiles
    This one survived for decades as the Granite State's only slick color magazine, but it moved to the Seacoast in the 80s and promptly died.

  • Rockingham Magazine
    A lovely attempt at a Seacoast regional magazine. I submitted an article for issue #2. It never arrived.

  • NH Times
    Evolved from the Flea Market, this represented statewide NH liberal journalism at its peak and championed many Seacoast causes.

  • Penumbra
    Representative of the dozens of exciting literary and arts publications that have hit the window early. Two, maybe three issues tops ever saw print.

  • Hampshire Life
    Designed by a chef and a printer, this one never got off the drawing board and is one of the jewels of my collection. I have the original prospectus.

  • Seacoast Life
    Slick, colorful, costly, this one hoped the region would attract subscribers like they do at "Yankee" and "Downeast". Great idea. Not.

  • Shoreliner
    This glossy Seacoast magazine pioneered the window splat back when the world was still in black and white.

  • Portsmouth Gazette
    There are at least three. The one in the 1700s, the one that croaked after a few issues in the 1980s, and the one we keep hearing is on the way. Splat, splat, splat?

But maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. Magazines and newspapers are supposed to be ephemeral. In time, their cheap pages grow as soft as moth wings. Already the pieces in my collection tear easily. The cat shredded half a boxful to make a nest. The ragged bits of paper cling to her fur.

And now we hear another Seacoast weekly is in the works, and a quarterly, and a monthly. A whole new crop of publishers are gazing in the mirror. A whole new pile of parakeet eggs are twitching with anticipation.

J. Dennis Robinson
© 1997 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

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