Sonny Ho-Ham Speaks: A Note From Metro Pulse's First Editor and Publisher

A brief history of Metro Pulse: the first five years

It's been 20 years since I was huddled with Ian Blackburn and Margaret Weston Blanchard in a stuffy, smoked-filled apartment in Fort Sanders, feverishly giving birth to first issue of Metro Pulse in one, sleepless 36-hour production marathon.

Because we were launching MP in partnership with AC Entertainment (at that time ellaGuru's) and a concert promotion was tied to its release, the deadlines were real, and missing the press date was not an option.

We were racked with wakeful fits of hysteria, including an hour-long session of uncontrollable laughter that led to tears and hallucinations.

Weird omens surrounded us: my car was towed (leaving distribution in serious doubt) and a dumpster was set ablaze outside Ian's apartment. At dawn, a bout of fear and paranoia set in. Was someone out to get us? Would we ever get this magazine out? What the hell were we thinking?

Looking back, it's a miracle, really, that MP came out at all. It was pure gonzo.

Little did we know, we were destined to repeat this cycle on and off for the next year; that is, until we got some money and a staff. The challenge in the early years was just mustering the courage and energy to stay awake for two-days-straight every other week.

As Ian pointed out to me recently, there are students at UT right now that have never known a world without MP. And these were the days before pagination and computer-to-plate technology.

The production cycle took 48 hours, because we had to print and paste copy and artwork onto blue-line boards, transfer those to film and transfer the film to plates. Today, that all seems so archaic. Twenty years is a BIG deal, indeed.

I think years of my life were lost to MP's formative stages, but I would gladly do it again. The experience taught me that passion and dedication could get you most things in life.

It took the team that we had and a little bit of divine timing (if not a lot) to get MP off the ground. The people involved in launching MP were not a haphazard occurrence, but a precise function of crossing paths.

Fresh out of college, I was walking the halls of Whittle Communications begging for a job. (The previous year, I was a mail room clerk at Whittle on a summer internship.) I was enamored by Whittle's size and scope and wanted in, but the doors were fast closing. A couple of years later, the whole ship sank.

This was no small matter of fate, for two reasons: 1) This meant I had few other choices, but to somehow start something on my own; 2) Whittle's demise meant that a very talented crop of journalists was set loose in Knoxville willing to work for restaurant vouchers.

Point two is critical, because without the likes of Coury Turczyn, Hillari Dowdle, Lee Gardner, Brooks Clark, art director Lisa Horstman, and so many others, Metro Pulse would have never blazed the journalistic trail that it did (and still does) in those early years.

Because what the hell did I know? I was 21 years-old, armed with little more than a journalism degree, though, I did have a vague idea about starting a lifestyle magazine for Knoxville and one-day becoming a publisher. But at that time, I could barely write—never mind edit a magazine.

Timing is everything. Jobless, I was looking for away to start my media career on my own terms, but I needed compatriots. To make ends meet, I worked for Ashley Capps as a stagehand for concerts at the Bijou (and a line chef at Cappuccino's). It's there I also met Ian.

Ashley was interested in starting an AC Entertainment newsletter, Ian was already in the publishing business with The Lame Monkey Manifesto, and I had an idea for a broader-reaching, urban publication.

Somehow we had tricked Ashley into getting into the publishing business, and thankfully he was willing to bankroll us in those early days. Today, you might call Ashley's roll as then ‘incubator'; certainly, without him, MP would not be alive today.

Let it be said on record, that Ian's spirit (we once dropped a TV set from the top of the Arnstein Building) was what drove MP and myself. If you know or have ever met Ian, then you'll know exactly what I am talking about. My other motivations at the time would appear to have been free access to concerts and pubs (namely the Mercury Theater) and meeting girls.

It was a perfect match at the perfect time. The rest is history.

Two other ingredients were critical to our success. To have a cutting edge newspaper, we needed cutting edge design. Enter Jared Coffin. His early cover and logo designs broke new ground locally and instilled the magazine with the coolness and attitude it needed to be considered a true ‘alternative'.

We were later voted into AAN unanimously on the merits of our collective publishing talents. And for some time, we were a darling newcomer to the industry.

Then there was Joe, in the same way there was Genesis: "Let there be light."

Maybe we would have made it for several years on our own—as a ragtag bunch of misfits sowing our oats at $200 a month salaries. But that wouldn't have lasted very long. In fact, you might say that the only way MP has made it for 20 years comes down to two things at a critical time in its history: 1) The Knoxville Journal had folded; 2) Joe Sullivan became an investor and majority owner of Metro Pulse in our second year.

Suddenly, we had a place in the sun, commercially speaking. Advertisers could take us seriously. We became weekly and took on the daily newspaper at its own game. It galvanized the team and made us a serious competitor.

Before Joe, we were still those misfits with vague ideas of grandeur. After Joe, we had a budget, a talented staff and a prestigious office. We had arrived and heads began to turn.

Other key players I have to thank are, the unmistakable Jack Neely, the infamous Betty Bean and the notorious Barry Henderson. Without Barry, I would have never learned to play shuffleboard or seen the inside of the VFW hall. And of course there was production manager Laura Atkinson. She was one of the first true pros on our staff.

If there is any lasting contribution I made in the first five years of MP's life, it would be to guide the talent and spirit we had at that time towards a common goal and vision. It was there that I cut my teeth on the media business.

Twenty years on I am doing the same thing I did back then—a little wiser and a lot older. Today, I co-own and operate (with my wife) a multi-media production company in Nairobi, Kenya. We produce magazines, television, digital and mobile content. (Thank you, Chris Whittle, for not giving me a job.)

The historic record at the Metro Pulse website has my involvement in the launch of the weekly newspaper down to two sentences. Perhaps now, I might get two paragraphs. After all, Metro Pulse still stands as one of my greatest achievements in life, and Knoxville will always be by home.

Long live MP!