Radar Magazine: Lessons Learned

Paging through the second issue of Radar, it's impossible not to recall the glory days of Spy magazine under Kurt Andersen. Like Spy, Radar skewers the holier-than-thou and the not-quite-holy-enough. It covers politics, entertainment and the media in a way that taps the sensibilities of both The New York Times and The Onion. And it knows a good prank when it sees one - witness the current issue's "Celebrity Face-Off" between Gwyneth Paltrow and Melissa Rivers, in which alleged representatives for each celeb attempt to wangle free Yankee tickets and primo restaurant reservations.

The problem: as great as Spy may have been, it crashed and burned in the mid-1990s, losing an awful lot of money in the process. It may well have had one of the most loyal readerships of any title in its era, but by the end of its run it had become about as desirable to advertisers as a thrice-yearly grain industry pamphlet.

It's a lesson that's not lost on Radar editor and publisher Maer Roshan, a New York media veteran who founded the publication after his gig at Talk magazine went the way of the dodo bird. "Certainly Spy is in our DNA," he says. "But I think it's only one strand of our DNA. We have a little more focus on design and we're a little more accessible. The tone isn't so unremittingly negative. And we realize that we have to sell this thing nationally - it can't just be about the insular New York media world."



Given its borderline euphoric mainstream media coverage - "we were the first independent magazine launch that The New York Times wrote about in its history," Roshan chirps - one would think that Radar is well on its way to becoming the next publishing sensation. In reality, the magazine is experiencing its share of growing pains.

Radar lacks an established financial backer, meaning that Roshan has been scrambling to make ends meet. Yet despite stories in NY-area papers that the mag is in financial peril - the New York Post reported this week that its staff is on hiatus for the immediate future and suggested earlier that many freelancers have not been paid for their work - Roshan says that he is talking to "a wide range of institutional partners" about financial backing.

"It's going to happen soon, I think," he adds. "It will be nice not to have to go out and raise $50,000 to make sure everybody gets paid."

Though Roshan met with "a lot, but not all" of the global publishing behemoths, a deal to take the mag under somebody's corporate umbrella has not yet been reached, which both surprises and frustrates him. "We had the test issues and our numbers were good, but they're all doing celebrity weeklies now," he says. "Before that, it was laddie magazines. It's tough to break mainstream media executives away from whatever cliché they're chasing at the time."

Roshan can take consolation in the fact that advertisers seem to like what they've seen so far. Though Radar's second issue isn't exactly teeming with ads, prime companies like Target, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Comedy Central and Showtime are all on board. When asked who he considers his main competition for ad dollars, Roshan quickly snaps, "The world." He feels, however, that as a general-interest magazine Radar will prove a smart buy for advertisers across a range of categories.

"Fashion and entertainment are both naturals for us," he says. "I'd love to branch out into technology and automotive - a Volkswagen, a Microsoft. Where we've lucked out is that the people making those [advertising] decisions are in our target demographic."

Editorially, Radar is mature beyond its years, which Roshan credits in part to his time at Talk. "When the magazine closed, I'd put out five issues - six if you count the one they never published," he recalls. "In that period, we were up 17% [in readers]. We were on the right path." To the established Talk formula he added a dollop of irreverence and a more precise editorial focus. The result: a 50% sell-through rate for the mag's first issue, which is quite impressive for a newbie.

"Editorially, there's nobody who is head-on competition for us," he notes. "That was very important to me, to do something different. There's no use in being another Vanity Fair or Details."

Roshan plans to shed his publisher role as soon as he can find the right person for the job. "At the beginning, I wanted to be firmly guiding the destiny of the magazine," he says candidly. "But I'm an editor - that's what I do best." The challenge, it seems, is for Radar to endure the few months it will likely take to cement financial support. Not surprisingly, Roshan is unbowed.

"We're still working on a budget that is considerably less than just about anybody else, which is challenging," he says. "I mean, we literally put out the first issue from a single room with just a few people. Given what we've accomplished so far, things should get easier."

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