Years in print:
Taps For Bugle
By Don Corrigan
After more than 51 years of publication, the weekly St. Louis Bugle hit the streets with its last edition on July 3, 1996. Touting itself as “The World’s Softest Newspaper,” the Bugle shunned hard news and was perpetually the joker in newsprint.
One of the Bugle’s many mottos was: “We’re not reformers– We’ve found it easier to put up with the world than to reform it.”
But this summer the “funny little paper out of South St. Louis” found that it was no longer easy to put up with the tough world of publishing. The Bugle made no mention of its demise in the final issue.
“We just thought it was time to put her to bed,” says Nick Geraci, vice president of the Bugle, who ran the paper along with his wife, Dale Fanetti.
“It just got too difficult, putting it out week after week, and dealing with personnel, taxes and newsprint prices,” Geraci says. “It’s gotten to be a grind. Our newsprint prices went up three times in the past year.
“I’ve shut her down and I’m going on vacation for awhile after I get things squared away,” adds Geraci. “I’ve been asked to go to work for another South County weekly newspaper. I will sell some ads and shoot some photos.”
The Bugle had a long history of family ownership, and Geraci says that was one reason there were no attempts to sell it to another publisher. Geraci says he was afraid another publisher “might try to make it political and ruin its tradition.”
He says a number of registrations and trademarks will be maintained, such as the famous “River Des Peres Yacht Club logos which adorned shirts and coffee cups.
“There was a place for our kind of humor, and a lot of people have called to ask us why we have to go out of business,” says Geraci. “There are a lot of seniors who are especially upset. We’ve had second generation readers call and say ‘My dad is really upset.’ We were distributed in an area of about 35 square miles these past few years, from Carondelet on the Mississippi River all the way out to Kirkwood.”
After returning from military service in 1944, newspaper founder Donald Fanetti published the first copies of The Bugle. He and his wife, Mary June, came up with many of the humorous features of the paper, such as the “Joke of the Weak” and an advice column from a politically incorrect, battered husband.
“Donald Fanetti was probably one of the funniest guys in St. Louis history,” says Geraci. “He was always pulling stunts and he got away with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t go today. For example, he advertised that was going to jump off the JB Bridge. The cops weren’t happy with that at all. A crowd showed up, and he showed up and jumped from a part of the bridge that was about three feet from the ground. I’m told he went to the Illinois side to do it so the police on this side couldn’t grab him”
Stunts like the JB Bridge caper brought Fanetti and The Bugle to the attention of the late KMOX Radio personality Jack Carney. Carney would occasionally have Fanetti on his popular morning talk show, where the two would poke fun at each other.
Donald Fanetti died in 1977 and his wife ran the paper for several years. Geraci and his wife, Dale Fanetti, purchased the Bugle around 1986. They made changes to try to give the paper wider distribution and appeal.
“When we took over the paper in 1986, it had a press run of about 4,700,” notes Gerace. We increased the number printed to about 25,000. We changed it from The Bugle to The St. Louis Bugle on May 1, 1990, to try to increase its reach and appeal.”
Even with the expansion, the Bugle remained primarily a neighborhood newspaper with most of its content coming over the transom. The paper regularly ran press releases of local events and announcements of local organizations. Tongue-in-cheek opinion pieces and humor were a staple.
“I think there was a niche for our kind of humor, and people probably need it more than ever,” says Geraci. “But it was time for the Bugle to rest in peace.”
(Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 9/1996).