It’s old news by now, but I couldn’t let it go by without saying a few words about an old friend who’s no longer with us.
PC Magazine began life as a print magazine in 1982. And what a magazine it was! In the early days of personal computing, which were like the wild west compared to today, PC users, hungry for information, eagerly devoured magazines such as PC Magazine and Byte. PC Magazine had advertisers standing in line to buy ad space at $40,000 a pop (the cost of a full-page, four-color ad). The magazine grew so thick that they ultimately increased the ads-to-editorial ratio just to accommodate all the advertisers. It was literally a machine for printing money.
I loved the fact that PC Magazine came out every two weeks (for 10 months of the year, anyway) and I used to rush to the local bookstore after work the day the magazine arrived. Then I’d read it cover to cover. I didn’t care much for the printer reviews unless I was shopping for a printer, but I loved the “back of the book”–the section where Charles Petzold and others wrote about programming and PC internals and other fun stuff.
PC Magazine is (and will always be) special to me because that’s where I got my big break. I blindly submitted an article to the magazine, never really expecting to hear back from them. I had submitted other articles to other magazines and been roundly rejected each time. If I couldn’t sell an article to a second-tier publication, what hope did I have of selling one to the biggest and baddest magazine on the block?
I was sitting at my desk one afternoon in early 1986–I was an engineer in those days, working in a design group at Martin Marietta–when the phone rang. It was John Dickinson from PC Magazine. He told me he wanted to buy the article (for $700, which was an amazing sum for a magazine article in those days, especially for an unknown author) and wondered if I had other articles to submit. Long story short, that was the beginning of a 10-year run with PC Magazine in which I gained valuable experience as an author and columnist and which ultimately led to my first book. There is no telling how different my life would be today if I hadn’t received that call from John.
Working for PC Magazine in those days was an experience for which words can’t do justice. When I’d travel to New York, they’d put me up in the nicest hotels and feed me in the most expensive restaurants. (I remember my very first trip to New York, where Paul Somerson took me and my wife to a restaurant with no prices on the menus. Paul asked me what appetizer I liked, and when I told him any of them would be fine with me, he told the waiter to bring us one of every appetizer on the menu. That was the first, and I believe the last, time I sampled caviar, by the way.) Every fall they’d send me and all the other contributing editors to Las Vegas for Fall Comdex, where we would often stay up all night at some of the most lavish parties I’ve ever been to. I remember going to a private concert by the Beach Boys and then getting into the hotel elevator and finding myself standing next to Wolfman Jack, who had emceed the event. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man sweat like the Wolfman! I also remember John Dvorak and other editors who wrote for what we called the “front of the book” ringing up some amazing dinner tabs.
John visited my home once when he was in Knoxville for a speaking gig. My wife and I had just bought our first house (bought and paid for with money I saved from writing articles in the evenings after work; after a year or two, PC Magazine was paying me generously for each piece I produced and was also getting me writing gigs with sister publications) and were very proud of it. John came in, looked around, and said “Now that you’ve hit the big time, when are you going to get out of this tract home and buy yourself a real place?”
Even though PC Magazine was the biggest-selling computer publication of its day, you couldn’t buy it in the magazine kiosks of New York City. We were told that you had to pay the local Mafia to get your magazine in the street kiosks, and that Bill Ziff, owner of PC Magazine, refused to pay graft money.
PC Magazine is now 100% digital, which is another way of saying that it’s no longer a print magazine. The January 2009 issue was the last. I still have more than 10 years of back issues from 1986 to 1996 and have at least one copy of every issue in which I had a column or article. Our industry was fun and informal back then, and sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and enjoy the early days of the PC revolution again. But at least I was there to witness it and even to play a small part. And I’ll be forever grateful to Bill Machrone, John Dickinson, Paul Somerson, and others at PC Magazine who took a chance on an unknown kid from Tennessee and literally transformed his life.
Bill, John, and Paul: It was a heckuva ride while it lasted. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and may you all be blessed with the success and happiness that I have enjoyed!