No Cell Phones, Please
Do you use a cell phone?
No. They burn out brain cells.
But you could use one with a head set.
You say yourself that the cell phone is a successor to ham radio. Why haven't you embraced the technology with the same enthusiasm that you held for ham?
With ham radio, the only thing I was interested in was what was next. When we started sending pictures with slow-scan television, I got into that. And when single sideband came along, I pioneered that. [With cellular radio] there was nothing to pioneer. That's old technology. I'm always working on next week instead of last week.
Which leads us to BYTE magazine, the first publication for microcomputers. How did you make the leap from ham radio to microcomputers?
In January 1975, [Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems], a little outfit in Albuquerque, put out a computer kit for hobbyists, and I had been publishing a bunch of computer articles about it in 73. I got one of the kits and I put it together and I said, "Wow, I see a future in this."
The only way to have a technology develop rapidly is to have a publication. So I tried to think up a short name. I liked 73 for ham radio, which means "best regards" [in ham radio speak] and I came up with BYTE.
So the MITS Altair 8800 was your first computer?
Yes, the Altair 8800. I built it. It included a box and all of the parts and some switches on the front panel. There was an outfit, Southwest Technical Products, down in San Antonio that was putting out a keyboard, so I got one of those, and I got it to work with the computer.
I took the first issue of BYTE to a friend of mine, Ed Juge, who had been an advertiser in 73with his Juge Electronics for hams, and I said, "This is going to be big." He eventually folded up Juge Electronics and went to work for Radio Shack [which developed the TRS-80 microcomputer].
You famously lost control of BYTE in the early years. What happened?
I had a problem with the IRS. I hadn't done anything wrong, but that didn't make any difference. I ended up having to pay a $20,000 fine.
I had gotten back together with my first wife (we had been separated for 10 years or so). She brought in a lawyer, and he said, "Look, you'd better put things in her name until this IRS thing is totally out of sight." So we put the magazine in her name.
After the fifth issue, she and a boyfriend of hers moved everything out one night. I went out to give a talk to a ham radio club and I came back and the office was empty and the back issues were gone. I went to a lawyer and he said, "You have a choice. It's going to take several years of legal work or you can start a new magazine." So I started Microcomputing.
Then came the other magazines ...
Then I said well, the best selling computer out there by far, 40% of the market, was the Radio Shack TRS-80. Let's do a magazine on that. That was the first computer magazine for a specific computer. In two years, it was the third largest magazine in the country. By 1982, it was around 500 pages. One month, BYTE magazine was the largest, with 800 pages, 80-Micro was third and Vogue was in the middle.
Then I started inCider for the Apple II, RUN for the Commodore and Hot CoCo for the Radio Shack Color Computer.
And [I started] Instant Software, because there was very little out there for software for these things. I said to readers, "If you develop a program, send it in; we'll get it commercial and you'll get a royalty on it." So they kept coming in and we ended up with about 250 programs. Ed Juge's program was one of the first, the Lunar Lander program.