He bought the then two-year-old American Iron Magazine from a West Coast motorcycle parts company in 1991, knowing he had to turn it around financially in three months or risk losing his entire investment. "We tightened up the editorial focus and slashed expenses," Kanter said. "In the first month, we made a profit."
He did so as one of the few – if not the only – Harley-oriented magazine publishers to focus "on the tin, not the skin." American Iron Magazine is a monthly publication for true aficionados of the motorcycle market, unlike other motorcycle magazines that look suspiciously like men's magazines featuring plenty of scantily clad women, with a couple of bikes thrown in for good measure. Not that Kanter isn't a romantic. He's just more fascinated with the actual motorcycle than with the buxom stranger sitting atop it.
"All the experts in publishing and the motorcycle business said 'You're crazy Buzz! No one will buy a Harley magazine without naked women'," Kanter remembered. His focus, however, won him a legion of fans, building American Iron Magazine into the world's best selling motorcycle magazine on the newsstand today.
His Stamford, Conn. based TAM Communications now publishes American Iron Magazine, American Iron Buyers Guide, RoadBike and a number of annual and "one-shot" magazines as well as various motorcycle-oriented websites like Classic American Iron (www.caimag.com). The back story, however, for a successful motorcycle magazine publisher – the 'what did he do to succeed" piece of the puzzle – is not so easily dissected.
As a teenager, his parents allowed him to buy a Honda QA50 minibike with his brothers, but insisted that was it for two-wheeled transportation. The motorcycle bug bit two of the four Kanter boys, and Buzz bought a Honda 305 Superhawk while at the University of Connecticut without his parents' knowledge. Once he was finished with school, he took up motorcycle roadracing until he was involved in a serious accident at the old Bridgehampton race track in New York.
"I thought I was hot stuff, with incredible talent on and off the track," he said. "But once the accident happened, I realized I had advanced as much as I was willing to go in racing." He quit the racing circuit and turned his passion to vintage motorcycles instead.
Over the years, he has collected so much information on old cycles that he often ruminates on the sociology and history of motorcycling, taking momentary detours only to describe a motorcycle leaning against one of the walls of his magazine office suite.
Kanter collects motorcycles – he has more than a dozen, all with a story – including a small paratrooper's World War II motorcycle, and a 1931 Harley-Davidson flathead that, after sitting for 21 years Buzz and some friends brought back to life and set a land speed record in the same week. He also collects the attendant memorabilia: a poster of "The Wild Angels" with Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, a photo of fellow bike collector and pal Jay Leno, a Jeff Decker bronze racing statue from the early 1920s, Indian motorcycle motors and antique helmets. Many of his treasures sit in stately disorder on a wall of bookshelves in his office.
Somehow, everything in his life seems to connect to either motorcycles or publishing. His grandfather, Albert Kanter, founded Classic Comics, a series featuring adaptations of famous literary works in comic book form. Buzz remembers going door to door as a child, pulling his shiny little red wagon filled with Classic Comics and selling them to his friends and neighbors.
Buzz's parents, Bill & Penny Kanter, founded Penny Press, the largest publisher of puzzle magazines. And not just any puzzle magazines. Will Shortz, the author of the The New York Times puzzles and perhaps the most famous puzzle maker in the world, got his start at Penny Press.
And, to complete the motorcycle/magazine connection, Kanter's wife, Gail, a senior vice president and co-founder of the company, worked as a motorcycle courier in Washington, D.C., before the two met.
Kanter started his publishing career at Penny Press in 1979, traveling the United States and Canada to expand the company's reach. He entered graduate school at the University of New Haven almost a decade later.
"At UNH, I learned how to be more analytical, and how to accomplish more in my limited schedule," he said. "It also forced me to get serious, and in retrospect, it gave me the impetus to start my own business, something I’m proud of."
From his E.M.B.A. thesis, which included launching his first motorcycle magazine Old Bike Journal, to his ownership of TAM, his authoring of "Indian Motorcycles," (a book on America's first motorcycles) and his inclusion in the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame, he continues to build on an already amazing career.
His advice to those who want to pursue their passions for a living: "You have to be committed to work harder for yourself than you ever have in your life for anyone else, and do what it takes to overcome more obstacles than you could ever have imagined," he said. "The few people who are willing and able to do what it takes to see it through to success can earn a wonderful reward."
Posted Winter 2009