December 10, 2006 1:15 AM |
['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]
These days, the video-game and computer magazine industry is a lot more consolidated than it used to be -- not just in terms of number of publications, but also in location. Nearly every magazine in the field is based in San Francisco or its suburbs; there are only a few major exceptions, including PC Magazine (New York), Nintendo Power (Redmond, WA, for obvious reasons), and Game Informer (Minneapolis, former headquarters for Funco Inc).
Sendai Publishing was based around the Chicago area, and most of the magazines stayed there even after Ziff Davis bought the outfit in 1996. The offices weren't fully moved to San Francisco until 2002, when Electronic Gaming Monthly finally got around to the cross-country trip -- losing a chunk of the old-guard editorial staff in the process.
I'm going over all this because I want to introduce to you a very strange situation that existed in magazines during the early 80s -- nearly a dozen of the nation's top computer mags being published by two rival firms, both headquartered in a sleepy New Hampshire town with a population of about 5000.
How did this happen? It's all thanks to Wayne Green, who started up an amateur-radio magazine called 73 in 1960 and moved the operation up to beautiful Peterborough, NH in the summer of 1962. Green, a WWII Navy vet who's now retired and still lives in New Hampshire, is arguably one of the most outspoken magazine editors to ever work in the business -- each issue of 73 included up to five or six pages of editorial, which rambled from topic to topic and often had very little to do with ham radio at all. Starting in the early 1970s, Green's favorite topic in the editorials shifted to the IRS, as he was busy waging war with them over an extended period of time. The situation only got worse when 73 published plans for assorted phone-phreak technology (including the "blue box" that Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs would later sell for pocket money) in their June 1975 issue, which elicited an AT&T lawsuit and a later out-of-court settlement.
BYTE Magazine was founded by Green in early 1975 with Carl Helmers, a New York native who had self-published a hobbyist computer 'zine for two years previous, as editor-in-chief. The magazine premiered in September 1975 with a run of over 50,000 copies and was an immediate success, quickly becoming the definitive hardware magazine for the then-brand-spaning-new personal computer industry. Green didn't keep the magazine for long, though -- in later 1975, he lost BYTE and the magazine moved to a different house in Peterborough. The exact reasons for this schism are a little murky -- some sources suggest that diverging BYTE was part of Wayne's settlement with the phone company, while others say that Virginia, general manager of BYTE and Wayne's ex-wife at the time, just did it to spite Wayne. (The two Greens battled it out legally for most of the 1980s, but the matter was also ultimately settled out of court.)
Wayne, not the sort of person to take this sort of thing lying down, retaliated by launching Kilobaud, a "computer hobbyist magazine" that covered largely the same beat that BYTE did, albeit with just a dash more coverage of consumer-oriented products while BYTE stuck squarely with the tech stuff at this point. The two magazines shared a rivalry for the next seven years that was often anything but friendly. "For a while," BYTE executive editor Rich Malloy later wrote, "employees at one magazine would be afraid to mention that their spouses worked at a rival magazine. The competition was so intense that one Christmas, Green posted a large sign outside one of his buildings: 'Merry Christmas to all but one.'"
While BYTE didn't expand its magazine roster much (it was bought by McGraw-Hill in 1979 and stayed in Peterborough until its closure in 1998), the fledgling Wayne Green Publications aggressively grew as the 1980s came around. 80 Microcomputing, a magazine devoted to Tandy's TRS-80 series that launched January 1980, was billed as the first magazine devoted to any single model of computer. It was an enormous success, with issues going over 400 pages in 1982, and it lasted all the way to 1988 on the stands.
Other magazines launched directly by Green include inCider (an Apple II mag launched January 1983) and HOT CoCo (a Color Computer mag launched June of that year).
In 1984, just as Green had launched Commodore 64 publication RUN, the publisher decided to sell his operation to CW Communications, a division of IDG (which publishes PC World and GamePro nowadays). Green became a member of IDG's board, which allowed him to oversee the launch of AmigaWorld later in 1985. In addition to his IDG job, though, Green maintained an independent publisher in Peterborough, which he used to continue producing 73 as well as launch new mags in the fields of laptop computers, desktop publishing, and CD-ROM technology. (He kept on publishing 73 until 2003.)
The funny thing about all of Green/IDG's computer magazines of the era is that almost all of them were enormous successes, and all of them are still great reading today for classic computer nuts. They were almost all super long-lived, too -- RUN lasted until 1992, AmigaWorld until 1995, 80 Micro until 1988, and HOT CoCo until 1986 (when it was incorporated into 80 Micro). The only real laggard of the lot was the original Kilobaud -- unable to strike a balance between "hardcore" coverage and the emerging consumer market, the magazine was folded in 1984 without many people noticing.
I've never been up to Peterborough myself, but I bought my run of Kilobaud off eBay from a reseller based in that town, so I'd like to think that these issues were the ones kept in the Green Publishing offices. As far as I know, there are no magazines left in town, but I'd still like to take a trip... or a pilgrimage... up there someday, just for kicks.
Categories: Column: Game Mag Weaseling