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Pavitt started a fanzine entitled Subterranean Pop in Olympia, Washington in 1980, about American independent rock bands. A total of three cassette compilations were released through the fanzine. In 1983 Pavitt moved to Seattle and started a record store, Fallout, as well as write a Sub Pop column for The Rocket, and host an independent-label specialty show on KCMU. The year 1986 saw the release of Sub Pop's (the "-terranean" was dropped earlier from the name) first LP: the Sub Pop 100. Green River's Dry As a Bone EP followed in 1987.
Pavitt first met Jonathan Poneman in 1986, when Poneman invited Pavitt for an on-air interview on KCMU, to promote Sub Pop 100. In 1987, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, said that the two should join forces. Pavitt and Thayil had attended Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois together in the mid-1970s. Subsequently Soundgarden's Screaming Life EP was released and the grunge phenomenon quickly followed.
In 1996, Bruce Pavitt resigned from Sub Pop to raise a family.