Distant Drummer

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The Distant Drummer was a 1960s counterculture underground newspaper published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from November 1967 to July 1979. It changed titles twice: from October 2, 1970 to August 12, 1971 (issues no. 105–151) it was Thursday's Drummer, and subsequently it was known simply as The Drummer until its demise in 1979, after a run of 568 issues. It was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate and also used material from the Liberation News Service.

Printed in a tabloid format, initially as a biweekly, it appeared on a weekly basis starting in January 1969.[1] It was founded and edited by Don DeMaio, a former Penn State journalism major and Newsday employee. Initial contributors included the young Cynthia Heimel and Mark B. Cohen. Published in tabloid newspaper format, it cost 15 cents, later raised to 25 cents. At one point, several Penn students were arrested for selling an issue which contained what the police considered an obscene cartoon about police officers.[2] But the animosity between the police and the publication was even deeper. In 1968, after articles in the paper which lambasted political corruptness and urged terrorist tactics to stop it, when it published critical information on the police department, then Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo urged that staff at the paper be charged with solicitation to commit murder, but the District Attorney declined to do so.[3] Paid circulation was reported in 1972 at 10,000 copies.

Initially, the paper's circulation grew quickly, as it reported on Philadelphia's radical/hippie community and served as a forum for commentary on local and national politics and provided detailed information on the city’s music and arts scene from a baby boomer perspective; there was a particular emphasis on rock and roll and coverage of ongoing battles between the hip and radical communities and the Philadelphia police. Its politics were less militant than its local competitor in the underground press, the Philadelphia Free Press.[4]

Bob Ingram, who identified himself as an editor of the paper,[5] which was published out of an office on South Street before it had any cachet (and later at 1609 Pine Street), said the weekly budget for all content was $125 at one point.

Jonathan Stern, who purchased the paper from the founder, Don DeMaio, was the publisher from the early 1970s until it closed and the final editor was Robert Cherry. A lawsuit filed against the paper resulted in a judgment of $75,000 against it and, according to Ingram, was a deciding factor in the decision to finally close the paper, even while the award was appealed (according to an "obituary" published in October 1979 in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student-run daily at the University of Pennsylvania).

By that point, the paper had metamorphosed from a radical politicized counter culture paper to one which promoted itself as having "the best weekly calendar," a listing of weekly events with cultural "aricles you can't find anywhere else!" (In fact, while the Drummer was being sold, the entertainment information in it was being extracted and given away free on college campuses, in a publication re-titled "The Daily Planet.")

Among some of the other notable contributors to the paper were Jonathan Takiff, who has been the longterm music critic at the Philadelphia Daily News, Len Lear, a later reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune and the Chestnut Hill Local, Clark DeLeon, who wrote a column for many years for the Inquirer and had a radio show on WPHT radio, and Art Carduner, an often-acerbic book reviewer in the paper, who later ran his own movie theater, the Band Box in Germantown, with movies he chose to suit his own tastes. Mike McGrath, who is the host of a local public radio program, You Bet Your Garden, was also a onetime entertainment editor of the Drummer.