Testa says Jersey Beat grew out of a friendship from his college days at Rutgers.
"A friend of mine that I went to college with lived in D.C., and he was doing a fanzine down there," Testa recalls. "I had moved back from college and started hanging out at Maxwell's."
Eventually, Testa started writing about the bands he saw at the Hoboken hangout, filing reports for a "Jersey Beat" column in Discords - his friend's 'zine. Discords folded a short time later, and Jersey Beat took on a life of its own in 1982.
Testa graduated from college in the late '70s and found himself on the music scene at places like Maxwell's and CBGB at a time when the punk movement was percolating.
Do it yourself
"There was a spirit there of DIY - do it yourself," Testa says. "That's the part of punk that I've always kept with me - the idea that it's better to book your own shows than wait for a gig at Madison Square Garden."
In that sense, Jersey Beat, a do-it-yourself fanzine, was born out of the punk movement.
In May, Testa published his 75th edition of Jersey Beat. The latest issue includes a reflection on the "real Asbury Park" and a rundown on new releases from New Jersey and New York metro area bands by Jersey City musician Tris McCall. But Jersey Beat also ranges far from the Garden State, including Testa's account of this spring's South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
The 5,000 readers who peruse each issue of Jersey Beat hail from places as far away as England, Wales, Canada, California, Michigan, and Texas. But if you catch up with Testa at a show, he'll give you a copy for free.
"I give out hundreds of issues at local shows," Testa says. "If I can cut out the postage costs, it's cheaper - I just get the thing into people's hands."
Testa also mails copies to anyone who sends him a check for $3. It costs $2.10 for him to mail an issue, so Jersey Beat isn't exactly a money-making venture.
Share the love
"A lot of people don't understand that being in the arts isn't all about money," Testa says. "There are other reasons to do it" - including personal satisfaction. "Breaking even has always been a really good goal of mine. Sharing the love of music is what it's all about."
Testa also sells ads - mostly to independent record labels - to cover his expenses. But with the struggling economy and the troubled music industry, Jersey Beat's advertisers are under pressure.
"If Warner Bros. and Sony are crying, you can imagine what all the little labels are feeling," Testa says.
Testa and Jersey Beat have made a lot of friends on the music scene over the years, and many of them are banding together to ensure that the fanzine stays around.
Among the acts on the bill at this weekend's benefit are Jim Testa and the Charleston Chews. That's right - he's a musician too. In fact, Testa will be releasing his second CD, There Goes the Neighborhood, at the show.
In the spirit of punk, Testa says he's not much of a musician. But the disc - including tracks like "(I Need the) Queer Eye (for the Straight Guy)" - is clever, catchy, and irreverent. Testa and his crew know how to entertain.
Benefit for the music fanzine Jersey Beat
When: Saturday, July 3, at 9 p.m.
Where: Maxwell's, 1039 Washington St., Hoboken
On the bill: Ted Leo, Hero Pattern, Tris McCall and the New Jack Trippers, Jim Testa and the Charleston Chews
Other info: The show is open to fans age 18 and over. For more info, call (201) 653-1703.
Another benefit show will take place Saturday, July 24, at the Court Tavern, 124 Church St., New Brunswick. The lineup includes True Love, Sux, Teabag, and Chris Pierson. Admission is $6, and the show will begin at 10 p.m.