By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Three years later, the small family immigrated to Paterson, New Jersey. "The first year was very hard for us," Blanche continues. "I was working in a sewing factory for 65 cents an hour. My husband also worked in the factory."
The family lived on the fourth floor of a brownstone apartment building for about a year and a half. "I remember little Jerry wanted a bicycle," she recalls. "I didn't get it for him because we didn't have an elevator."
Those early years helped shape the ethos that would drive Powers to South Beach and succeed-at-all-costs fame. "I only spoke German," he says. "And back then, kids calling you an immigrant wasn't a pretty thing. I remember several times walking home and getting the shit kicked out of me."
In 1954, Blanche and Henry (who died in 2005) used money paid to Holocaust survivors to buy a two-bedroom house in Fair Lawn, about a half-hour from Manhattan, and opened a diner-style restaurant in nearby Passaic. "I finally got him the bike he wanted," Blanche recalls. Five years later, she gave birth to Jerry's only sibling, his sister Roz.
At first, Jerry didn't have many friends, but during adolescence, things changed. "I'd go over to people's houses, play pick-up basketball games in driveways, go to dances," he says. "My mother had one rule: I couldn't go out until after Shabbat dinner on Friday night."
His entrepreneurial ways emerged during these years. He made money DJing at local parties and dances in church basements. "I picked up $70, $80 on the weekends," he remembers fondly. "I saved up enough money to buy two turntables, an amp, and a reel-to-reel recorder, the closest thing you could get to an iPod Shuffle in those days."
When he turned 18 in 1964, Jerry graduated from Fair Lawn High School. He took a job as a DJ for a New York radio station, working the weekend graveyard shift. A friend suggested he change his last name. "I settled on Powers," he says, "and legally changed it in the '70s."
He had another passion: writing. He enrolled at Fairleigh Dickinson University, but quit two years later to take a job as a copy boy at the Paterson Record. His duties included contacting relatives of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War and obtaining photographs of the dead men. And, he says, "I was on a team of ten reporters covering the arrest of boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, who had been charged with a triple murder."
Soon Powers was promoted to general assignment reporter, and in July 1967, he covered race riots in Newark and Paterson. "I was with a New York Daily News reporter when we started getting shit thrown at us," he says. "We both crammed into a phone booth and called WPIX... We were live on the radio, reporting what was happening, and the cops came back and got us out."
About a month later, he visited Miami. "I fell in love with the place," he says. So he quit his job, loaded up his stuff, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Tigertail Avenue in Coconut Grove, then Miami's hippie central.
"I participated in love-ins and peace rallies at Greynolds and Peacock parks," he remembers. "I smoked a lot of pot and did a lot of acid, peyote, and mushrooms."
He landed a gig as a DJ at a station called the Magic Bus, today's Love 94. It was headquartered on First Street in Miami Beach, where he would get his first taste of the turf he would come to dominate. "I played rock music, and I had some celebrity guests come on like Tommy Smothers and Bill Cosby," he notes.
Soon he wanted to return to print journalism. "I didn't see myself writing for the Miami Herald," he says. "I wanted my freedom, so I started my own newspaper."
So in April 1969, Powers launched the Daily Planet and Miami Free Press, a tabloid he labeled "the Bible of Sadomasochism." The first issue's cover included a sketch of a naked woman with her legs spread. The second one featured an illustration of a marijuana cigarette with the headline "What Miami Needs Now Is a Good 5 Cent Joint."
A crew of free-thinking writers, editors, and photographers produced essays about pop music and social commentary with four-letter words. It was anti-war, anti-police, anti-establishment. "Half the time, I didn't have money to pay the staff," Powers laments.
Mark Diamond was a 15-year-old kid when Powers hired him to shoot photos for the Daily Planet. "I didn't make any money," Diamond says. "But through the Daily Planet, I shot photos of Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and all these cool people... Through the paper, I was also able to get freelance work with Rolling Stone. It was a bitchin' time."
On August 30, 1969, six days after the arrest in Coral Gables, a judge convicted Powers of distributing obscene literature and sentenced him to 60 days in jail, but he served only one day after winning an appeal. However, the ruling applied only to the August issue of the Daily Planet. Powers continued to distribute and sell his underground newspaper for another five years.