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American Journalism Review
Rock 'n' Roll Reporters  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   July/August 1992

Rock 'n' Roll Reporters   

By Katie Hickox
Katie Hickox is a reporter for the Orange County Register.      


They spend hours in cars and vans driving to public spectacles. They work nights. They long for that one hit, when their artistry will touch a larger audience. On the way, their fingers become calloused, their wrists hurt, and the people around them are often intoxicated.

This is one job description that covers two professions: journalism and rock 'n' roll. At the National Press Club these days, there are many people who thrive on both – reporters with a sax stashed in a closet or a pick battling a pen for that spot between their thumb and forefinger.

"I'm 36 years old and I listen to rock 'n' roll and I think it's time for the club to hear," says President Greg Spears, who plans to organize regular press club gigs. "It's not like I'm trying to drive people out with loud guitar riffs, but there's room at the club for everybody."

The Knight-Ridder Washington correspondent shouldn't have any trouble finding players. A sampling of reporter rock in Washington alone includes acts from Kevin Johnson and the Linemen, with members from the Washington Post and NBC News, to the Grassy Knolls, with members from Roll Call and Federal Filings, a financial news service. Elsewhere the scene includes Bluesday (Newsday), the Subheads (Boston Globe), the Bing Bell Band (Philadelphia Inquirer) and the Fabulous Nosecaps (St. Petersburg Times), among many others.

"A lot of people get into media because it's so dynamic and exciting and that's the closest you can get to rock 'n' roll," explains Eric Brace, 32, the Linemen's bass player and a Washington Post editorial aide. "A lot of media are pretty gonzo."

"[Rock 'n' roll] gets into your blood and never leaves," says Tim Woodward, 45, a columnist for the Idaho Statesman in Boise and a guitarist and keyboard player for the Mystics. "It's the most fun you can have with your pants on," says Tim Weiner, 36, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer who sat in on guitar during the Linemen's rendition of "Secret Agent Man" at Spears' inauguration.

Weiner says his own group, the Bing Bell Band, is "the greatest newspaper band in the industry." Among those sure to challenge that assertion is Peter Kelley, 34, print director of the National Security News Service, whose punk-jazz band, the Zimmermans, and rhythm and blues band, the Oxymorons, both recently earned a place in a compilation of Washington's best original rock.

Not every media band earns laurels, of course. It takes work, and breaking news can make it tough to keep appointments for practices or gigs.

"There have been a couple of times when I've had to juggle gig dates and trips for work, and generally work wins," says Peter Eisler, 28, a Gannett News Service reporter in Washington who plays guitar for Running with the Big Dogs. "With the Press Club gigs, they're more likely to understand reporter duties. But you can't go up to a club owner and say, 'I had to stay late to file a story.' "

Despite such obstacles, some bands last. Keyboardist Roy Peter Clark, 44, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and guitarist Mike "Mad Dog" Foley, 46, executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times, have played birthday parties and reunions for nearly a decade as members of the Fabulous Nosecaps. Clark recalls a few bad gigs (a pack of disgusted insurance agents once left en masse) but says the band has played on because its members have strong connections "to youthful images of ourselves as sexy rock 'n' rollers."

He says that his own research shows that most media bands dissolve because of outgrown youth, boyfriend or girlfriend trouble, fights over when and how long to practice, or money.

The Caps, on the other hand, have nothing to be concerned about, Clark says. "We're old, we're married for the most part, we never practice and we don't care about money."

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