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  • Writer's pictureAurore Sibley

The Bugle-American: A Pulsing Heart of 1970's Milwaukee

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

On This Day, (September 16) in 1970, a formative alternative newspaper launched its first issue in Madison, Wisconsin. The Bugle-American was a Milwaukee/Madison alternative newspaper that ran from 1970-1978 and was famous for its left-leaning political commentary and coverage of the vibrant Milwaukee music scene. In February 1975 six people almost lost their lives when the offices of The Bugle-American, as well as the home to its editors, was firebombed by unknown assailants. Though the building was destroyed and the assault never solved, (there were theories about neo-Nazis and theories about the police force having a hand), the paper survived, and staff even managed to publish the following week’s edition with the help of the community, who came together in support of the paper. There was a lot of talent that blossomed during these years. Wanting to provide readers with an intelligent alternative to both mainstream and underground newspapers, The Bugle aimed for balance, (with a healthy dose of humor), covering politics, community events and culture, and music and the arts, with excellently written features by journalists who went on to have exceptional careers. Covers were contributed by cartoonists Denis Kitchen, (who was one of the founders), as well as Jim Booras, Don Glassford, Jim Mitchell, and others. Robert Crumb contributed early cartoons and covers to The Bugle as well. The Bugle is saturated with photographs of iconic musicians from the vibrant 1970’s Milwaukee music scene and festivals, and features and interviews with artists such as Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Zappa were frequent. Randy McElrath, an ad salesman for The Bugle who was also a music producer, helped bring big names to Milwaukee concert venues, and the music and arts section of the paper thrived under the helm of musicophile Gary Peterson. Behind the scenes, The Bugle might have been a bit of a soap opera. There were love triangles, changing partners, rivalries, quarrels, slights, and contentions, but also marriages, partnerships, and deep, lifelong friendships. Ultimately, the Bugle helped to shape, influence, and contribute to Milwaukee’s political and artistic culture and community throughout the 1970’s and beyond.

The author is pictured above in her father's arms, A & E Editor Gary Peterson,, in this Dec. 1976 edition of The Bugle-American.

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