Western Front News was a monthly print newspaper covering hard rock / heavy metal music, published from 1988–1992 in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. The newspaper covered both international and local artists, in two separate sections. Other features included an opinion section, comics, and special reports on subjects ranging from music censorship to concert violence.
Origin & Name
Western Front News originated as a year-end journalism project during my senior year at Saratoga High School. I decided to go beyond the requirements of the class project by soliciting legitimate advertisers to see if I could actually produce a real print run of a legitimate newspaper. The resulting first issue of the paper, called Front at the time, consisted of 12 black and white tabloid-sized pages (roughly 11×17″). Over its four-year run, the monthly publication grew to as many as 28 pages, and included four-color photography after only its fourth issue, a then-rare feat for a regional paper.
After a few issues, I changed the name to Western Front to emphasize our West Coast origin, and then to Western Front News in order to emphasize the newspaper format. Producing a newspaper was an unusual choice compared to the more popular magazine format preferred by most regional music publications in the United States, and I wanted to underline our emphasis on real journalism versus thinly-veiled fan fluff.
Western Front News was a free publication, primarily distributed at Bay Area concert venues and nightclubs, record and CD shops, music instrument stores, and other music-related locations. We also offered subscriptions by mail and counted subscribers as far away as Australia and Japan.
Primary distribution points centered around three large Northern California cities: San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, but distribution went as far south as Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill, as far north as Petaluma and Santa Rosa, and as far east as Concord and occasionally Sacramento. The paper was delivered by members of local bands in an arrangement where they received credits for advertising in the paper.
Over the four years of the newspaper’s run, we produced several benefit concerts featuring some of the Bay Area’s top local acts of the day. Some of them were organized in order to benefit charities, such as Rockin’ Relief in San Jose, CA, on May 15, 1991, which raised money to aid victims of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in San José, Costa Rica.
During the economic recession of the early 1990s, several of Western Front News’s benefits were actually organized to aid the publication itself, which saw severely decreased revenue as nightclubs and other advertisers cut back their ad budgets or closed altogether.
The national economic turmoil, shrinking ad revenue, closure of many local nightclubs, and a sea-change in the music industry’s artist rosters soon meant that Western Front News was no longer a viable publication, and I had to come to the very difficult decision to close the newspaper. The last edition was printed in June, 1992.
The newspaper was entirely staffed by volunteers writers, photographers, artists, and ad sales reps, including myself as editor and publisher. In fact I worked two part-time jobs (and went to college) to help sustain the newspaper, since ad sales typically only covered the printing costs alone. Ad reps earned a percent commission on ad sales (meaning they only got paid if they sold an ad).
I’m grateful to the writers and photographers and everyone who helped make Western Front News a success and helped make that time one of the most memorable and gratifying times of my life. I’ve kept in touch with many over the years, and lost touch with many too — if you’re one of them, please reach out and say hi.
In 2010 I decided to unarchive some of the content from aging floppy disks to see what I could salvage without having to retype everything by hand. I’ve only been able to post a few articles so far, and there’s a lot more work to do. Some files could not be saved due to file corruption, unreadable disks, and legacy file formats that are nearly impossible to open. Photos printed in the original newspapers were not stored on floppies back in the 1990s, as they were too large and computer storage was expensive then.
Regardless, one of my many “spare time” projects remains the building up of this site, to the point where every article published in Western Front News from 1988–1992 will be archived here. The history available to us online should include the pre-Web days, and small, independent publications are for the most part left out of the historical narrative because they can’t be sourced with a simple Google search. If you’d like to help, let me know.