Attack of the Moans 

New Spectator boss has big plans, but tough times, the Net, and a rival's lawsuit threaten to sink the local highbrow sex tabloid.

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She'd had enough of the stage anyhow. "I wasn't really enjoying stripping anymore," says the 5-foot-2 editrix. When you strip, "you think you have power but you don't control anything." After being fined $150 for refusing to shave her pelt onstage, she quit for good. As her next move, in 1998, Dahl scored a job working on the Nerve.com site for a company called LinkTank -- where she soon became a Web-coding whiz. When she heard the Spectator was looking for Web assistance, she jumped at the opportunity.

Before long, Dahl was both Spectator Web guru and advertising sales director. "Their ad director back then wasn't cutting it," she says, "and they were having a lot of trouble with the department, so I took over because they had no one else to do it. They were $30,000 in debt, and I managed to recover $23,000 of the debt within two months." After that, Dahl could do no wrong with her bosses. Within two years after taking over as Web mistress, the one couple bought out the other. "They were getting older," Dahl says with a girlish laugh. "In your 60s, your sex drive starts to go down. It becomes a lot less interesting than golfing and gardening."

Sunlove can live with that. "I'm thrilled that Dara and Vann took over," she says. "They understand what the Spectator is all about. I just hope they can make it through the hard times, because their heart is definitely in the right place."

Now that Dahl and Hall are in charge, they have begun to give the paper a makeover, and they plan to redo its Web site to match the new print version. This month, the tabloid is rolling out several new San Francisco distribution points in addition to all its East Bay racks. The Spectator, which has annual sales "just shy of a million," according to Hall, has never fully been able to crack the SF market, due in part to high rates of newsstand vandalism. But the couple is desperate to show San Franciscans their new look, which is aimed at young urbanites.

The planned redesign, they hope, will reveal a hipper, more stylized version of the old paper -- one recent cover, for instance, featured an illustration of a busty she-devil by renowned rock-poster artist Coop, and the paper's tagline has changed from "California's Original Adult Newsmagazine" to "The Voice of Erotic San Francisco." The redesign, Hall says, will have more coverage of the local scene and sex events, with a new look for calendar and news pages, and longer and more in-depth articles. "I'm really trying to change the focus," says Dahl. "It's been very porn-centric, and I'm trying to change that."

Don't expect to see articles on the Middle East conflict; the magazine will always be about sex, Dahl says, but perhaps a bit less "in your face." Consider the March issue, in which well-known Bay Area erotica photographer David Steinberg reviews Emily White's Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the High-School Slut with heartfelt aplomb. Another recent piece by Bay Area sex writer Carol Queen lightheartedly explored how the antics of attorneys in the notorious San Francisco dog-mauling case have hurt the image of perverts everywhere. "There are so many unique sexual events in the Bay Area that influence the world that are crying out to be covered, like an all-female strip club for women," Dahl says. "That's a pretty revolutionary thing, and that's the kind of topic we like to get into at the Spectator."If the new sexual revolution involves women taking over pornography and giving it a touch of class, Dahl is somewhere at the forefront. But that position could be threatened by Yank's recent lawsuit, which names the new owners, the old ones, and quite a few other folks to boot.

The considerably larger competitor has more than a hundred newsstands around San Francisco, while most of the Spectator's racks are in the East Bay. Vandalism of these racks, which has plagued both papers, has been central to a bitter longtime feud between them, with each side blaming the other for the destruction. "Yank has been working towards this day for years, since we came to realize it was Spectator who had been destroying our news racks with unbelievable viciousness throughout the Bay Area," Moreno proudly trumpets on Yank.com. "Agents" of the Spectator, he continues, have "added Los Angeles to the areas it is determined to destroy Yank in, taking their vandalism, theft, and obsession with Yank statewide."

Dahl and Hall say they are shaken by the suit -- the cost of fighting it, they admit, could threaten their survival. Still, they are confident they'll be cleared in court. "I have signed affidavits and a video showing him destroying our racks," sighs Dahl. "We have written conciliatory letters to him to no avail, and right now we are an East Bay paper primarily because of our ongoing feud with Yank. We have a 100 percent vandalism rate of our newsstands in San Francisco.

"I just want to run my business, and nothing is going to stop me from running my business and my right to commerce," she adds defiantly. "I wish he would just be man enough to compete in a professional manner."

Bob Miller, who co-owns the Bay Area adult escort-massage listings service Lovings.com, has advertised heavily in both papers. He sees them as having unique markets within the local porn industry and was surprised to hear about the suit. "I think the audiences that they are going after are completely different," he says. "I think Yank is a bit more hard-core and targets tourists near hotels, while the Spectator is more of a politically aware paper for locals."

Dahl agrees that the papers appeal to different elements. She looks forward to putting the suit behind her and get on with gettin' it on. "San Francisco and the East Bay are more than big enough for two adult newspapers -- especially two totally divergent papers," she says. "Let the best paper win at the newsstand level."

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