Cheeky, Yet Fierce?

Radar, one of the newest magazines on the block, makes no bones about what it's up to. Right on the cover, it announces its philosophy: "Pop. Politics. Gossip. Glamour."

It's a formula that's worked before, so why not take it around the block again?

At the magazine's helm sits an enterprising Israeli with designs on moguldom. Maer Roshan is also highly determined, which he makes clear in his editor's note in the debut issue, christened summer 2005.

The editor in chief contends that the majority of magazines are born of focus groups. His, he noted, has been born of "pure, dumb faith." Three years ago, when he set out to start a magazine along with like-minded friends, the prognosis was not particularly positive. This was just after Sept. 11, 2001, and most magazine circulations were taking nose dives. But Roshan admitted that even if the economic picture had been robust, the idea of launching a general-interest, independent magazine might well have seemed "quixotic and kind of quaint." It was only "hubris brought on by ignorance" – and a small pool of funds donated by family and friends – that allowed him to charge forward.

The next two years were a trial. Failure loomed large, and many on the staff jumped ship. Roshan tried frantically to get backing; then, just at the point his friends thought he'd hit bottom, a savior appeared in a magazine- and real estate-savvy Jewish fellow named Mort Zuckerman, who forked up the bucks.

With ample backing, Roshan then started work on a totally different magazine, one firmly rooted in the present, as he put it.

"At a time when many publications serve up a saccharine diet of celebrities and luxury goods, we wanted to create a publication that reflects how our readers really live, to bring the same fresh intelligence to both high culture and low. Our goal is to make Radar broad enough to include both a cheeky exposé on Disney's demimonde and an incisive portrait of the everyday lives of American soldiers in Iraq – and brave enough to take on right-wing hypocrisy, as well as TV's dumbest anchors."

As Roshan sees it, Radar is "a colorful, fierce, complex reflection of our world."

All I can say is, not so fast. The magazine is cheeky and tries to summon up the outrageous, but what it reminds me of most is an extended, nearly endless "Dubious Achievements" awards article, the feature that Esquire magazine ran yearly in January. I always felt that the humor in those articles was fairly arch. Most of the time, I didn't seem to "get" the joke, while feeling that everyone else did.

There are also moments when Radar resembles the old Spy magazine, but without its outré charm and effortless ability to hit its targets accurately. Then there's the parts of Radar that seem to echo Vanity Fair, but without that magazine's polish and purpose.

Still, this is the premier issue, and since it sold for only $1.99, it didn't put a crimp in readers' pockets. That said, we're expecting miracles next time out. u



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