Whatever Happened to Milwaukee's Alternative Newspaper, The Bugle?

Feb 9, 2018

An impressive collection of old Bugle American newspapers are spread out on a table at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. I'm here looking at these because a listener reached out to Bubbler Talk, wanting to know: “Why did the Bugle newspaper end and where are its employees now?” 

Before I get into the paper's demise, let's look at what it was. The Bugle American was a free paper that started in 1970. It was picked up just as another underground Milwaukee paper, Kaleidoscope, was ending its run.

The caption in this image reads: Hippie selling Kaleidoscopes at 3rd and Wisconsin, July 1 1970.
Credit IMAGE COMPLIMENTS OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The historical society's assistant archivist Steve Schaffer says while Kaleidoscope focused heavily on political commentary and was considered extremely radical, the Bugle - although left leaning - appealed more to the mainstream.

>> Thanks to UWM, you can read every volume of Kaleidoscope online.

Other alternative papers at the time included Art Muscle, Orbit and the Crazy Shepard, which eventually morphed into Shepherd Express and is still on newsstands today.

Steve says the Bugle catered to young people who were influenced by the Vietnam War. “There were a lot of articles about Vietnam veterans against the war, VA support for returning veterans, there was also a lot of content regarding drug dependency, there was a renter and eviction advocacy for the east side."

It also included political cartoons and promotion of music festivals, he adds. “The reason I think it was probably a little bit more successful is, it had balanced cultural and political content."

An article and photos about Brady Street by Mark Goff.
Credit IMAGE COMPLIMENTS OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The Bugle put out more than 300 issues between 1970 and 1978; it also called three different locations home.

I met Mark Goff at the Bugle’s first office. If you’re familiar with Milwaukee’s east side, it’s that tiny log cabin that sits in the parking lot of The Tracks tavern on Humboldt and Locust. Mark was a writer and photographer for the Bugle, part of a staff of about 20 people coming and going.

Bugle staff outside of their log cabin office.
Credit Mark Goff
The inside of the place was cramped, papers piled up on tables stocked with rotary phones and manual typewriters.
Credit Mark Goff

“We all thought up stuff to write and we all turned it in. Thursday was deadline day, so during the week people would come in and start turning in copy,” he shares. “We covered anti-war activities, marches, protests, things like that."

The Bugle distributed copies to newsstands, supermarkets and bars throughout Milwaukee County. As the paper grew, the staff moved into a bigger office in the Riverwest neighborhood. Mark says then one day, he got a call at 6 in the morning  – the offices had been firebombed. He grabbed his camera and ran over there.

Firefighters at the Bugle's second home after it had been firebombed.
Credit Mark Goff
The view from the inside of the building.
Credit Mark Goff
Picking through what survived the fire.
Credit Mark Goff

“So we spent the whole day cleaning up and salvaging it, and we didn’t miss a publication. We managed to slap the thing together and get the next week’s paper out on time,” Mark remembers.

Bugle staff meeting at UWM.
Credit Mark Goff

UWM came to the Bugle’s rescue, he says, allowing the paper to use university offices to crank out the next edition.

And, Marks says the fire starters were never caught, but theories continue to swirl. He says the Bugle did have a few enemies because some articles dealt with controversial subject matter. The building was declared a total loss, and the paper moved to a storefront on Burleigh and that’s where it ended.

Mark Goff today, standing by the log cabin on Milwaukee's east side.
Credit Marti Mikkelson

“Probably the ad sales dropped off to the point where it couldn’t be financially sustainable any longer. Usually, that’s what kills papers,” he says.

Though, Mark says some Bugle staff went on to write for the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel as well as other alternative weeklies. One even found fame and fortune as a Hollywood screenwriter - Michael Angeli.

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