Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Great Scratch Pad Caper

Of all the stories that came out of StarText, the one that never fails to make me smile is the one about scratch pads.

To say StarText was a "low budget" operation could be the understatement of all time.

As proof of that, I offer up something I affectionately refer to as "The Scratch Pad Caper."

It started when StarText Editor Christine Russell asked if the staff could get some scratch pads to have at their workstations.

Typically that would have been handled by our in-house "Job Shop," which took care of internal printing orders. While jobs were done at cost, they still were charged to the department who submitted it. While normally scratch pads didn't merit a strict review and approval process, at the time StarTert was struggling to become profitable, so everything got close scrutiny.

When I spoke to my boss Joe about it, he mulled it over and offered up an alternative.

There really wasn't a need to buy our own scratch pads, Joe reasoned. Since virtually every other department had their own, why not just "borrow" a few of theirs when we were meeting with them?

Made sense to me. Besides, whatever suited Joe just tickled me to death.

So I passed that word back to Christine who in turn passed it on to her staff.

For all the past and present Star-Telegram executives and managers, you now know why you saw StarText memos and notes bearing "From the Desk of .... (fill in the blank)" circulating around the building.

But I have to admit Christine did Joe one better on the scratch pads. She came up with her own solution.

One day Christine popped her head in my office and said she was on the hunt for scrap printer paper. Sure, glad to help.

It turned out she had been gathering up printer paper from all over the building and arranging it oh-so-carefully in a very neat stack on a table. She then applied a thick layer of glue to one side. After it dried, she took it to the paper cutter and sliced it up into ... what else ... scratch pads.

Not necessarily part of her job description, but I had to marvel at her problem-solving skills!

And yes, StarText did become the only locally-run online service run by the newspaper to achieve profitability in the Eighties.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Discover StarText!

When StarText launched (May 3, 1982), we looked to our partner, Tandy, to trumpet the news via their dozens of Radio Shack locations throughout Tarrant County.

Pictured above is the flyer, possibly the only one still around, Tandy produced and distributed to promote StarText.

Note the wholesome family unit, happy, practically giddy, to get "The Next Step in News" at a lightning fast 300 baud.

Also worth noting was the colorful screen graphic. Of course in 1982 there was no graphical standard for PCs and graphics were never part of StarText at any point. This graphic was actually painstakingly assembled from ASCII characters by StarText Director Joe Donth.

Despite the flyer, word was slow to circulate. Several customers we sent to Radio Shack to learn more reported back the salesperson would respond, "StarText -- what's that?"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Japanese Mystery Solved

Taking a quick break from 1985's magical mystery tour ...

As previously blogged, StarText caught the attention of Japanese technology leaders early on. In fact, we had five different delegations make the trip from the Far East to Fort Worth to check us out.

Above is a copy of an interview with Joe Donth, StarText Director, published in Japan in 1985.

Thanks to -- who else -- a StarText subscriber (Seiichi Nomura, ID 7496), we were able to get a translated version.

It read:

Newspaper Service in Texas Starts Homebanking Service Using Videotex with Local Bank This Fall

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a newspaper published in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, starts Home-Banking service with InterFirst Bank of Fort Worth, starting this fall.

This is done using "StarText," a videotex service, in Dallas-Fort Worth Area, which started in May, 1982.

There are several home banking services already available in the U.S. such as Bank of America in California, Chemical Bank in New York. The most significant feature of the service using StarText is that it has the maximum 90-day floating period.

According to Mr. Joseph L. Donth, director in charge of StarText, a floating period from a few days to a week is common in the U.S. after the consumer makes payment by personal check. Consumers in the U.S. can still make purchases even though there is not sufficient fund in their banking accounts taking advantage of this system. However, since in most currently available home banking systems, a transaction is instantly processed at the same time the consumer makes payment, the above mentioned shopping has been impossible. He emphasized that now by introducing the "float," a service was possible that met the consumers need.

StarText offers various information services as well as electronic mail services and has 1,650 subscribers. No sign-up fee is collected and the monthly charge is $9.95 including up to 100 free E-mails. Beyond 100 mails, each mail is charged 10 cents. Since the telephone system in Texas is flat, the usage is very high.

Not to beat a dead horse, but we probably got more coverage in Japan than in the pages of the Star-Telegram. Go figure.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

'Got a New Home Computer'?

Here we have one of StarText ads we ran in the Star-Telegram, no doubt in January.

Why? January was always a big month for StarText, especially in the early years, because so many people got home computers as Christmas presents. And any computer (as well as "dumb" terminal) that could connect to a modem was a candidate for StarText service.

Note also the line, "No time charges!"

Just about all our competitors -- CompuServe, The Source, Dow-Jones, etc. -- levied a charge for each minute you used the service, the dreaded "connect" fee. In Texas we enjoyed unlimited use of our local phone line for a flat monthly rate. As a result, you could use StarText as long as liked, whenever you liked.

As I recall, the average connect session was around 10 minutes, so there were usually no busy signals. Not to mention a busy signal meant your "newspaper" didn't get delivered. We couldn't have that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hello, StarText? Japan Calling

It was sometime in 1983 that I got a call from someone at the Technology Transfer Institute.

The woman who called explained there was a group of Japanese business leaders touring the U.S. who wanted to make a stop in Fort Worth to see StarText.

First, I wondered how they ever heard of us in Japan. Under Phil Meek's edict, no press releases had gone out. There had been mentions of us in trade publications, most notably Gary Arlen's videotex newsletter. But still, why would businessmen from Japan make a special trip to see our six-person operation in Cowtown?

It didn't exactly make sense but hey, it's their nickel. So we agreed on a date for their visit -- November 7.

As the day arrived, I had arranged for a terminal to be set up in a conference room. We brought in some extra chairs. I think we may have even put together a fact sheet and ran off some extra copies. Then we got the call from security -- our guests were in the lobby.

As I got there to retrieve them, I did a double take. Virtually filling the entire Star-Telegram lobby area were 25 or 30 Japanese businessmen, each with at least two cameras around their necks. None spoke English save for their guide and interpreter. We were going to need more chairs.

After we got the group settled, but before we started the demo, I just had to ask one question.

I wanted the interpreter to ask the group's leader, Kiyoshi Takahara, corporate advisor to the Mitsubishi Corporation, "Why have so many come so far to see our small online operation?"

His answer was one I'll never forget:

"Because we hear you are doing something right."

While we all felt the same way, hearing someone else say it, an important someone from a far-away country, gave us a whole new level of confidence.

In December I received a letter of gratitude from Mr. Takahara for their visit. It read in part:

"During our stay in the United States for two weeks, our party had a most interesting and rewarding experience at your place.

"Our purpose of understanding 'data base and videotex services in the United States' was fully answered by the excellent arrangement by you and your people.

"Especially, we were very much impressed by your Startext on November 7, because of its creative thinking and business-like concepts."

They weren't the last visitors from Japan that would come to see us. Three more delegations made the trip in the following months and years, as well as a delegation from Norway and numerous U.S. newspaper executives.

But I think I enjoyed our Japanese visitors the most. They always brought presents.

Monday, May 25, 2009

'News ... Hot Off Your Screen!'

"Extra, Extra, read all about it!"

This original sales flyer from Radio Shack touted the next step in news, which of course was StarText.

Sadly, Cowntown wasn't exactly clamoring for "hot off your screen" news in 1982. But by the same time the following year, they were starting to come around.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Seven Days of StarText

The Original Packaging ...

The Revised Package ...

If you've been following these posts one thing you probably already know:

StarText was never a big budget operation.

Most of the funding we did get paid for staff and computer equipment. There just wasn't a lot left over that we could throw at "marketing and promotion." A company like AOL spent more in one week giving away CDs than we would spend in, oh say, a thousand years -- give or take a hundred. The closest we came to that was The Big Modem Giveaway, which didn't deliver the results we hoped it would.

So for the most part, outside the "house" ads that ran in the Star-Telegram, we had to get creative if we wanted to get the word out to more people about StarText.

One idea that proved more successful was the "Seven Days of StarText" program.

It really evolved from our earliest marketing effort, the "Free Trial Password." The genesis of that was our conviction that if we could get someone to give StarText a try, there was a fairly good chance we could turn them into a subscriber. The free trial allowed someone to use StarText five times at no charge.

What we came to realize was a person could burn four sessions just trying to get their computer and modem configured for using StarText. Others would deliberately hold back logging on, trying to stretch the free trial for as long as possible.

So we hatched the idea of "Seven Days." For $4.95, someone could use StarText all they wanted for a week, giving them plenty of opportunity to try all the features. The package, containing a user ID/password, a User Guide and later, a custom communications program we authored called StarComm, was available directly from us or participating retail locations.

The latter was my challenge: Enlist stores who would display and sell the product. That also meant I was about to learn more retail selling than I ever wanted. Such as working out wholesale/retail pricing; affixing a bar code; tracking inventory; maintaining adequate supplies.

Just another "hat" among the many the staff wore on a regular basis.

Actually it was exciting as we signed up the first locations, for the most part "mom and pop" computer stores. But as we went along, we started getting traction in the bigger "chain" stores that had multiple locations. We found bookstores also receptive.

At $4.95, it made a great stocking stuffer as well.

At its height, we had "Seven Days of StarText" in over 70 locations around the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. For a grass roots marketing effort, that seemed pretty respectable.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Proud to be a 'StarTexan'

A recent email from a faithful follower included this:

"I really like the StarText memories. . .but did you have a chance to mention StarTexans? I loved that term."

As a matter of fact, so do I.

"StarTexan" was coined to describe a subscriber to StarText. Credit for the idea goes to Bev Kurtin, a prolific columnist and contributor in her own right. It soon became a mainstay of our marketing programs and even graced a number of T-shirts.

While the word itself was good, it really needed a picture to go with it. A mascot, if you will. And so was born ... the Starmadillo! I ask you, what could be more Texan?

The assignment to create the Starmadillo was handed to J.D. Crowe, who arrived at the Star-Telegram in 1982 fresh out of Eastern Kentucky University. J.D. had his own unique style and what he created fit perfectly with what we had in mind. So much so we prevailed on J.D. to create a whole series of images featuring the Starmadillo in a variety of poses. Who knew an armadillo could be so loveable and appealing?

In the years since, J.D. has become a celebrated editorial cartoonist, going from the Star-Telegram to the West Coast and the San Diego Union-Tribune. J.D. currently toils for the Press-Register in Mobile, Alabama, where according to the bio he posted on his website -- "J.D. lives high on the feral hog in Fairhope, Alabama with his wife Lori, their daughter Bronwen, dogs Barkley and Chocolate, and Corduroy the cat."

Learn more about J.D. and his most recent book, Smell the Love, at his website:

And here's a pix of the artist hismelf, who I'm happy to report hasn't changed a bit, including his unique slant on life and world affairs. By the way J.D., whatever happened to the little mouse who always made the scene in your drawings?

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Without StarText, My Life Would Be Different"

StarText subscriber Stephen Benoit's recent contribution:

StarText People: Stephen Benoit

... elicted this comment, which I thought bears repeating:

thegourmetgirls said...

"I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog. My Dad was the actual user/subscriber in our house but I connected with Stephen through StarText as a 14-year-old girl in late 1984. Today, 25 years later, he remains my closest friend. It's safe to say that without StarText, my life would be different - and not nearly as good. It's fun to read about the people and history of something that so positively impacted my life. Keep up the good work... and I'll continue to read."

Gourmetgirls -- I loved your comment. Your StarText experience reminded me of a favorite movie -- "Mr. Destiny," with James Bulushi. You just never know what the Fates have in mind.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two StarText 'Groupies' Check In

The email arrived with the subject line, "Two of the Original StarText Groupies." It was from Dixie and Ed Crawford.

"We got the original StarText Classic on a machine we had built for us by a friend. When the paper started an ISP offering we joined up and had a ball. Sorry -- no online columns or pictures for us but I remember several of the group outings:

-- The old train trip from Fort Worth.
-- The trip to the science museum.
-- A barbque in Mansfield.
-- The ice cream social.
-- The trip to the now defunct horse racing track.
-- The excursion to the movie soundstages
-- The tour of the Star-Telegram plant.

"Most of this was put together by an energetic man by the name of Gerry (Did I miss anything??).

"Anyway it was nice knowing you --- I wish the old group was still active. Of course I was getting a free ISP out of the deal .

"Dixie ran across Dave Lieber and the talked a little about StarText --- so I started Googling for it."

Ed and Dixie Crawford

Dixie and Ed -- Great to hear from both of you and thanks for "Googling" your way here.

It's worth noting the StarText outings and get-togethers referenced in the email were more than just fun social events. They also provided a way for subscribers, staff and their families to interact in person; to see the faces and the people behind the bylines and email addresses.

I thought one of our marketing taglines captured it pretty well:

"StarText -- It's more than technology. It's personal."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Amon Carter -- The Texas Visionary in a Cowboy Hat

It's difficult to describe the late Amon Carter in a few words. As owner and publisher, he built the Fort Worth Star-Telegram into a dominating force whose circulation at one time stretched from Where the West Begins to the outer reaches of the Texas plains.

Consummate entrepreneur, flamboyant showman, brillant in business, friend to Presidents, no one who met Amon was ever likely to forget him.

Early in my Star-Telegram career I had the privilege of getting hired by Jerry Flemmons, S-T columnist and author, to edit his book "Amon: The Life of Amon Carter Sr. of Texas." It afforded me an up close and personal view of this extraordinary man.

Originally published in 1978, it was reissued and updated 20 years later as "Amon, The Texan Who Played Cowboy for America." The latter is available on Amazon; the former is out of print.

Recently, in preparation for a panel discussion at an online journalism symposium, I pulled "Amon" off the shelf and re-read it. With the current state of the newspaper industry being what it is, I asked myself, "What would Amon do if he were alive today?" I think I found the answer.

Quoting from the book:

"In 1921, radio was a gadget, a funny little black box that talked. Radio intrigued Amon, the consummate gadgeteer. He wanted one of his own."

Something else spurred his interest. A friend from New York warned Amon "the funny little box would kill newspapers."

That prompted him to assign Star-Telegram circulation manager Harold Hough to learn all about this thing called radio, saying "If this radio thing is going to be a menace to newspapers, maybe we better own the menace."

The result? On May 2, 1922, the first broadcast was aired from two, 70-foot-tall broadcast towers atop the roof of the Star-Telegram building. The station, whose call letters were assigned by Herbert Hoover, was WBAP, short for "We Bring a Program." The Star-Telegram was in the radio business.

By 1938, WBAP was one of only eight national stations broadcasting with 50,000 watts of power. In 1948, WBAP-TV went on the air, the first television station south of St. Louis and east of Los Angeles.

Risk taker, visionary -- I'm fairly confident Amon would have approached the Internet in much the same way he did radio and television. He would turn a "threat" into an opportunity.

While I never had the chance to meet Amon, I did know his son, Amon Carter Jr., who succeeded his father as publisher. Amon Jr. died suddenly of a heart attack in July, 1982, two months after StarText made its debut.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Newspapers Delivered by .... Radio?

In 1982 we all thought the idea of getting your hometown newspaper on your computer or TV screen was pretty darn revolutionary. Then you find out there were plans to deliver newspapers via radio over four decades earlier! Insert needle, burst bubble.

Larry Groebe, (StarText People: Larry Groebe), whose varied pursuits include media history, pulled the following article from his collection. Titled, "Home Newspapers by Radio" it is taken from the 1938 issue of "Scientific American."

Your Home a Silent "Press Room" ... Automatic Facsimile Reproduction ... Latest News by Breakfast Time ... Bulletins Are Now Being Broadcast

A private newspaper with any spot in your home as the press room, the world's best editors and reporters on your staff, is available today to anyone in the United States possessing an ordinary radio receiving set. No thundering press will deafen you while your newspaper is being printed; instead, equipment contained in a small attractive box will silently print your "latest edition" while you sleep, completing it in time for reading at breakfast.

The name of this service now available is facsimile, first cousin of television since it shares with it some of the same basic principles. Unlike its more glamorous and well publicized relation, facsimile steps into broadcasting from other communication fields in which it already has proved its capabilities in a quiet but exceedingly effective manner. Facsimile has been in daily commercial use for several years, speeding newsphotographs back and forth across the country via the telephone circuits and across the Atlantic by short waves.

In spite of the rapid development and use of every-day wire and radio facsimile service, many are unaware of its greater capabilities as a mass communications medium in the broadcasting field. This is largely because facsimile transmissions have been employed almost entirely to handle press photos for subsequent newspaper reproduction; in the average layman's mind this is the limitation of the method. Many also confuse television with facsimile and ask why television ultimately will not perform the same duty.

Facsimile, in its electrical communications sense, involves the conversion of illustrations or other copy, such as printed matter, photographs, line drawings, sketches, and so on, into electrical signals which can be sent over radio or telephone circuits. At the receiver, the signal is automatically converted back into visible form, appearing as a recorded rep.lica of the original copy. The received copy is permanent and, like a printed page, can be handled, observed, or read whenever desired.

Television also involves the conversion of visible aspects of subjects into electrical signals which can be scnt to distant points. However, the frequencies required for this conversion are such that ordinary telephone circuits or conventional sound broadcasting equipment cannot handle the signal. Costly coaxial cables with associated high frequency signalling apparatus or ultrahigh frequency radio transmitters and receivers are therefore required.

In addition, there is as much difference in the technique of the two mediums of communication as there is between making a newspaper and a motion picture. Where facsimile is concerned with the transmission and subsequent recording of copies of still snbjects such as pictures and printed pages, television deals with moving objects or persons. The image on the screen of a television receiver has the basic qualities of a motion picture . .The image moves, it is transitional, and when the show is over the screen is blank. Since nothing has been recorded, the images will not be seen unless someone watches the screen when they are to be received.

Facsimile and television thns perform widely different functions. Each will fit into the communications picture as separate services, having fundamental distinctions as widely divergent as those of the public press and the motion picture.

The Finch facsimile transmitter now employed by many broadcasters (see listing) in their experimental service, uses a scanning machine in which the copy to be sent over the air is inserted in what is termed the "copy head." This holds and advances the copy in front of the "scanning head," consisting of a small electric bulb, lens system, and photo-cell. Light from the bulb is focused as a small spot on the surface of the paper carrying the copy; the reflected light is picked up by the photo-cell. The scanning head is moved from side to side by an electric motor so that the spot of light traces a series of parallel paths across the copy which is moved upward through a distance equal to the diameter of the light spot at the end of each scanning stroke. In this manner, the entire surface of the paper is scanned, line by line; the black, halftone, and white areas reflect to the photo-cell varying amounts of light ranging from minimum to maximum. These variations in reflected light effect a change in the amount of current flowing through the photo-cell. This current is fed to the radio transmitter in the same manner as sound broadcast signals are handled. Any conventional receiver tuned to the frequency of the transmitter will then pick up the signals which may be rendered audible by a loudspeaker, or used to operate a "home" facsimile recorder.

The recorders now in use are self-synchronizing. This is an important advantage; the recorder may be located in one state and the transmitter in another-the system does not depend upon local power lines for synchronization. Recorders are available for A.C. or D.C. operation, or for battery supply for farm use.

The recording machine is similar in many ways to the scanning instrument. What is termed a "receiving copy head" holds the dry processed recording paper, which is fed as a continuous strip two newspaper columns wide from a roll carried in the lower part of the machine. A recording stylus is moved by a small electric motor from side to side across the surface of the paper, forming marks on the paper corresponding in position and shade to the elements of the copy at the transmitter. When the incoming signal is strongest the line traced by the passage of current is darkest; when it is weakest no mark is made. At the end- of each of these recording strokes the paper is moved up by an amount equal to the width of each line element. By means of extremely short low-tone signal impulses sent out by the transmitter just before the start of each recording stroke, and by the use of a small motor turning over at a predetermined speed, the recording stylus moves across the paper in step with the scanning head of the transmitter, recording copy in its proper position. In this manner the recorded copy is built up line by line to appear as a duplicate of the original. One hundred lines will build an inch of reproduced copy; at the operating speed of the present machine, a two column newspaper will be "printed" at the rate of five feet per hour. It is not impractical to hope for a newspaper of five columns in the near future-tabloid size.

The actual home recording machine, which, it is claimed, can be made to sell for less than $50 in mass production, is small enough to be housed as a complete unit in a cabinet approximately a foot square. It may be connected without auxiliary amplifying equipment to the output circuit of any broadcast receiver having a power rating of three watts or more. In operation the broadcasting station from which facsimile signals are sent is tuned in with a receiver as would be the case if regular sound programs were to be received. The loudspeaker is switched off and the facsimile recorder is switched on; the volume control of the receiver is turned to the point where copy has the desired contrast. The resulting recording operation is wholly automatic and requires no attention. Paper costs will be about 15 cents per week.

Until the development of an automatic machine and inexpensive dry recording paper of wide latitude which requires no liquids for moistening or smudgy carbon transfers for printing, the adaptation of facsimile recording methods to home service seemed rather remote. Concentration on the automatic recording problem has resulted in the present-day home facsimile machine which safely operates without attention throughout long facsimile broadcasting periods.

During the present experimental period-and probably thereafter-facsimile broadcasts take place between midnight and 6 A.M. when sound broadcasting facilities are ordinarily idle. Time clocks will turn the radio receiver and recording motor on and off at specified hours. "Printing" of illustrated world events, bulletins with latest news flashes, photographs, market reports, weather maps, cartoons, recipes, and illustrated advertisements of all sorts, will thus be effected in homes while their occupants sleep, the machine being practically silent and entirely automatic in its operation.

This, to some who are not familiar with facsimile develepments, may sound like one of H. G. Wells' prophecies. That it is not, is attested by the fact that at the present many of the leading major broadcasting stations in the country. already have been granted FCC permits and have inaugurated such a service using regular broadcasting frequencies and full power in experimental transmissions to determine public reaction and to obtain basic engineering data for home facsimile services. In addition, other important stations have applied to the FCC and are considering the possibilities of facsimile service.

WLW Cincinnati, Ohio
WOR . . .. Newark, New Jersey
WGN.. Chicago, Illinois
WSM Nashville, Tennessee
WHO Des Moines, Iowa
WSAL Cincinnati, Ohio
WW J.. . Detroit, Michigan
WHK Cleveland, Ohio
KSTP .St. Paul, Minnesota
WCLE Cleveland, Ohio
WGH Newport News, Virginia
W8XAL. ..Cincinnati, Ohio
W8XNU.. .. Cincinnati, Ohio

With today's newsprint going for around $600 a ton, you have to wonder how that compares with consumers supplying their own paper at an estimated "15 cents a week" in 1938 money? Widespread adoption would have had a chilling effect on Hollywood as well. Somehow newsboys shouting those "tabloid headlines" that were a major element in movies from the 40s and 50s just wouldn't have the same effect on home FAX machines.

Monday, May 18, 2009

StarText Subscriber Columnists

Throughout the posts published here the term "StarText subscriber columnist" has surfaced on several occasions.

Like many other things, the idea of subscribers authoring their own columns was never in the original blueprint for StarText. It just sort of happened.

As much as anything, it was a by-product of the "two-way" nature of our medium. Thanks to the fact our "newspaper" was delivered over a telephone line, our customers could "talk back" to us in the form of emails, comments, forums and the like. Talk about a game changer! The traditional "one to many" form of media distribution (radio, television, newspapers) could now be "one to one" as well.

(This would have far-reaching implications which would be fully realized with the advent of the Internet. Now, thanks to the Web, readers are fully empowered to zig zag across the globe. picking and choosing what media they will consume at any given moment. The local newspaper is but one of millions of potential destinations. Today's customer truly is King.)

But in 1983 the idea of an editor and a reader engaging in a conversation via email was pretty mind-blowing.

Anyway, one result of these early email conversations was the realization that many of our readers needed help. Personal computing was in its infancy and people were having a devil of a time trying to learn how to operate the danged things. One day it occurred to us: Why not publish those pleas for help online? Somebody out in StarText-Land might have the answer.

Guess what? They did.

Not only did readers offer answers, but much to our surprise, a handful stepped forward and volunteered to actually write columns dedicated to helping those new owners of Apples, Commodores, Timex-Sinclairs, IBMs and a dozen more that have been relegated to history. What an interesting and unexpected development: Non-journalists willing to write columns for no money. Didn't see that coming!

After much discussion and debate, it was decided. "This is new media, right? Boldly going where no journalist has gone before, right? Let's do it."

But we did set up some rules:

1. Aspiring columnists had to submit a sample column of what they had in mind.

2. If they made that cut, columns were assigned a system keyword. For example, a column on Apple computers was APPLECHAT.

3. New columns were featured in a "Guest Columnists" area. This is where they got a "test drive" with our readers. Subscribers could comment on their content and the staff could see how serious the writer was on updating it.

4. Once a column was updated three times, it could officially become a new column on StarText.

While columns on computers dominated, eventually there were columns on all kinds of topics.:

  • A psychologist answered questions and helped persons with their personal issues. (yes, every column had the standard legal disclaimer.)

  • One column was on the origin of words.

  • The Forum was the where subscribers could debate the topics of the day. And it got pretty heated sometimes.

  • There were columns on pets, insurance, auto repair ... our subscribers were "experts" in many fields.

At its peak, there were just under 80 community columnists writing for StarText. You could say they were the early forerunners of today's blogs.

One thing many of our columnists found out quickly: Writing a column can be hard work. The constant updating, answering emails, the grind of finding something new to write about. Take it from someone who made his living doing that once upon a time ... it has its own challenges.

But overall they were amazing in their dedication, particularly given the pay. In that regard I have to single out the subscriber who early on volunteered to write a column for IBM PC owners, Carrington Dixon. Carrington faithfully updated his column every week for 10 years! If you are out there somewhere on the Internet Carrington, step forward and be recognized.

Correction: I did in fact locate Carrington and found out to my surprise his tenure as a StarText columnist was actually over 16 years! He has promsied to share his memories of that with us -- coming soon!

Why did they do it?

There were probably as many reasons as there were columnists. But I think one of our columnists said it best. This is taken from "Cruisin' With StarText," by subscribers Chuck and Terry Mencke. It was a column that appeared after StarText had made the leap to the Internet. Described as "Your Guide to Cyberspace and Beyond," this is excerpted from Vol. 2 Number 12, July 12, 1996:

Be A Subscriber Columnist!

Do you have a passion in life? Is there something that you are really interested in and would like to share with other individuals other than your immediate family? Have you always had the hankering to be a writer? Do you like to get email and help people with their problems? Do you like to be looked up to by your friends? Well, if you answered any one of those questions with a "yes," you are a candidate to become a subscriber columnists on StarText.

I look forward to each and every issue of Cruisin'. Normally it takes me around 8 to 10 hours to put together a column. This includes time for researching , formatting, writing and of course the final edit by Terry. Towards the end of the process it gets exciting to see the finished column appear in it's final form that can be enjoyed by all. I used to update Cruisin' once a week but it just got too hard to handle and the column suffered. Many of the columnists on StarText write a monthly column. In fact that is how my previous column, "StarTips," got started. I moved gradually to a twice a month update and then to once a week for a while. If you do decide to write a column, don't push yourself, enjoy the process. Update it when you can or when you have something new to share with your readers.

Don't ever feel that you are out there alone with no support. There is all sorts of help available from the columnists and staff alike. I'm sure any of the regular StarText columnists would be willing to give you a pointer or two. Speaking for myself and probably for Jim (WOW) [Boughton] as well, we'd both be glad to help anyone with the HTML coding and uploading. After you get the hang of it, it is really no big deal. In fact there are quite a few really good editors out there that will help you learn HTML.

So what are you going to write about? Do some brainstorming and I'm sure you'll come up with several ideas. Kick them around, bounce them off other columnists and friends and nail down the concept for the column. Just about anything goes that is within the realms of good taste. You can always drop [the editor] an email. She is the subscriber columnist editor on StarText and has always been very helpful. Bounce some ideas off of her, she'd love to hear from you. StarText is always encouraging subscribers to start their own columns. The subscriber columnists have been described as the "heart and soul" of StarText. Subscriber- written columns have been one of the main reasons I've stayed on StarText as long as I have.

Well I hope I've done a pretty good job of convincing you to at least consider becoming a StarText subscriber columnist. Be among the few, the proud, the elite. Still need some more convincing? Visit several of the columns that are now online. See what they are writing about. You could be doing the very same thing and have a great time making all sorts of new friends. Give it a try, you won't be sorry.

Terry, you said it beautifully.

There was another tradition connected with the subscriber columns -- the "StarColumnist of the Quarter Award." Since we couldn't pay them, we nonetheless wanted to honor their hard work. So every quarter the staff voted on the columnist who had gone above and beyond during that three-month period. The honoree received a nice plaque and three free months of service.

For me, the emergence of the subscriber columnists was always a big part of the "magic" of StarText. Empowering everyday people and giving them a voice -- providing a venue to showcase their talent and knowledge. Information Revolution and computers aside, it all came down to one of the oldest and most lasting of all human pursuits:

It was people helping people.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Pong Game of Online News

The only certainty about choosing new media as a career path in the early 80s was the uncertainty of it all. You could never be sure where that road was going to lead. For example, in 1983 I never imagined it would lead me to a classroom at Texas Christian University teaching electronic publishing as an upper-level journalism course.

TCU was well known for its communications programs and there was no more striking evidence of that than the just-opened J.M. Moudy Building for Visual Arts and Communications, a modernistic glass-and-steel structure that housed art, broadcast and journalism. So maybe it shouldn't have been surprising they would be among the first universities in the country to offer a course in electronic publishing.

When they asked me to teach it as an adjunct professor, I was both flattered and somewhat concerned. One, I had no prior experience as a teacher and two, between running StarText and fatherhood, my time was somewhat at a premium. But once again the lure of pioneering something new won out.

It helped I had great support from the faculty, including Dr. Jerry Grotta, a seasoned researcher, a former reporter and editor (even a linotype operator -- Jerry did it all) who helped a newbie teacher get his bearings. Now mostly retired from teaching, he maintains his research business and reflected recently on those times:

"Yes, I think about StarText often. Students and faculty members standing outside the windows of what was our first stab at a computer lab, reading StarText on that television screen as the words slowly marched across the [display]. And when I told the people about it at an API seminar I conducted, they were very interested in StarText and had never seen anything like it.

"And of course our focus groups evaluating StarText. I consider it the Pong game of online news. Still fascinating in retrospect. Twenty-seven years or twenty-seven million years in cyberspace time. Wow, what a strange trip this has been!"

Strange indeed. I continued teaching electronic publishing for the next three years until the demands of my day job became too much. If you can find it, there was a journalism textbook authored at TCU during that time that included several pages on StarText with screen shots.

Almost from the beginning StarText was no stranger to the classroom. How StarText found its way into over 200 Metroplex schools ... that's another story.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A 27-Year Head Start. What Happened?

The Internet is nothing if not full of surprises. You just never know what's going to pop-up in a search engine. For example, the following post from a now inactive blog titled "West and Clear" in Fort Worth, Texas.

Co-authored by five individuals who focused on telling the story of "their piece of the Trinity River" (the river that runs through Fort Worth), one post by Steve Smith centered on StarText. It included a short video clip about an early online effort by a San Francisco newspaper.

Wiht Steve's permission I have excerpted his entry below, including the video clip which I think you'll find entertaining.

Feb. 2, 2009

"This nostalgic view of the Birth of the Death of Newspapers in San Francisco in 1981 has been making the rounds on the Internet over the past few days ... But what some people may not remember is that the Star-Telegram was actually at the forefront of online newspapers, too. The S-T launched its own effort, dubbed StarText, on May 3, 1982.

"Now look at that — does that look like something that could destroy your business model? Six months after launch, the service only had 50 customers because many computers then on the market could not connect to StarText. Ultimately, it managed to build a subscriber base of 3,000. The Startlegram pulled the plug on StarText in 1997.

"You’d think that with a 27-year head start, the Star-Telegram would have figured out the whole online thing. And that’s why many people have about as much sympathy for newspapers as they do the auto industry — both knew what the future held, but they didn’t do anything to stop it. So here’s to remembering StarText, and what might have been for the Star-Telegram."

--Steve Smith

Steve, you have certainly asked the $64,000 Question. Although in reality, the answer deserves quite a few more zeros. And just for the record, at its height, StarText was close to 5,000 subscribers. For two years in a row in the mid-Eighties, StarText generated a profit, and a six-figure profit at that. To the best of our knowledge, achieving profitability was another industry first as it relates to a local online business.

So what did happen? How did StarText race ahead of much bigger and better-financed competition only to become spectators, like the rest of our industry, to the ascent of EBay, Craigslist, Yahoo and Google? It's a question that haunts all of us who hoped t0 lead our print brethren into a digital future.

Looking back, there were multiple reasons we lost that early advantage. In my opinion, they include:

-- The Size of the Business. As noted, at its height StarText had something close to 5,000 subscribers paying $10 a month for service. We got to profitability in less than four years. We even managed to sell the software to the St Louis Post-Dispatch (something for another topic). But in truth, growth had gotten much harder. It was obvious getting the next 5,000 would require a substanially larger investment in marketing and resources. At the time, newspaper margins were north of 25%; subscribers numbered in the hundreds of thousands; profits in the millions. You're the publisher. The Internet is not here yet. No other local online service has emerged, much yet threatened. Are you going to throw a lot more money into the StarText budget?

-- The Nature of the Business. You frequently hear the phrase, "core competency." That means doing what you do best. Newspapers are great at news. They are great at circulating news. They are great at selling news. They are not as great building and managing technology-intensive businesses, like EBay and Google. It's just not our thing. A company like Yahoo employs 5,000 engineers. A large newspaper may have a fraction of that number in an IT Dept. strained to keep 20-year-old legacy systems working. Success on the Internet is a high-stakes, winner-take-all, no holds barred affair. Not for the timid or those steeped in two hundreds of years of "this is the way we've always done it."

-- The Pace of the Business. We all know about "dog years." Now we hear about change measured in "Internet years." As an editor, I frequently participated and helped manage changes in the look, feel and content of the newspaper. It was a lengthy and convoluted process. Typically it started with a brainstorming session to develop ideas. Those ideas eventually turned into prototypes. The prototypes went through a rigorous reveiw process up and down the chain of command, changing multiple times along the way. At some point the revised prototypes were presented to focus groups. The results were analyzed and more changes made. More review process. Some day it might actually get to the launch phase. I have seen this take anywhere from six months to two years. The combined amount of angst and effort over a change in type font, launching a new section, altering the white space in the masthead, was immense. And more often than not, readers never notice what changed. Try using that as a model for the Internet, where mighty Google labels everything "Beta." No wonder we have tire tracks on our backs when it comes to online.

-- The Willingness to Experiment -- and Fail. Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, the originator of StarText, heard it first hand from his boss in NY: "We don't experiment." We plowed ahead anyway. But newspapers are not known for their R&D departments. I can't verify its accuracy, but I did read somewhere that as an industry (at least in the Eighties) newspapers "spend less than one half of one percent on R&D." Makers of video games plow back 20% and more. No one likes to fail. But "new media" is just that -- "new." Everything we try isn't going to succeed. Don't forget "Share-A-Plane" from my earlier post. The mantra at Google is it's okay to fail, just "fail quickly." Generally failure has not been recognized as a good career path in newspapers.

Other reasons StarText faded? A round of management changes at the Star-Telegram in the late Eighties and early Nineties; our slowness in recognizing the opportunity that become the World Wide Web. Like the gradual demise of newspapers themselves over the last decade, it wasn't like the single fireball that killed the dinosaurs but the proverbial "death from a thousand cuts."

But we have to note for the record the final chapters are yet to be written. StarText may be relegated to history but the fight goes on. Newspapers are down but not out. They are investing in online and getting return from those investments. They are even innovating despite the budget challenges. And yes, I'm still in the fight and proud to be with my fellow troops on the front lines of change.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mail Bag

Call me old-fashioned but I still like communicating via good old E-mail.

You can find me on LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook. You can even find me on Twitter. Of the four I have used LinkedIn the longest and find it the most useful for professional networking. MySpace I enjoy on occasion just for fun. It definitely beats Facebook for all the creative options it offers, IMHO. Facebook is probably the best if you want to locate long lost friends or colleagues. It's becoming the world's White Pages.

But Twitter? I checked it out and sorry, just don't get it on a personal level. I do see plenty of utility for marketeers, advertisers, organizations, individuals with lots of time on their hands. The use of it in Iran during the news blackout was amazing. But all the crazy competition to collect "followers" and inundate the cyberways with "guess what I'm doing right now" just seems a little too naracissistic for my taste.

So please don't follow me on Twitter. I haven't "tweeted" in months and don't think I will again any time soon.

But I am addicted to email and getting an iPhone hasn't helped that. It just made it worse.

My StarText posts brought in a batch of new emails as word got around via search engines, Facebook and LinkedIn. Who knows what I might have gotten if I tweeted the news. (Gosh, I'm having a flashback to a Saturday morning cartoon ... "I thought I saw a puddy tat." Is that you, Tweety?)


A few selected emails from the past week:

From: Judith L Sylvester
Manship School of Mass Communication
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA

"I didn't get through it all (21 papers still to grade after grading a midterm exam), but you really knocked me back to the early 80s when I took a computer class at Stephens College (a perk for being a staff member) in Columbia, MO. The first keyboard I touched was a Radio Shack Tandy.

"Fast forward a few years and a computer specialist at the University of Missouri (who was trying to help me figure out a new PC version of SPSS) introduced me to the Internet. As I recall the conversation, he thought there was a scientist in Sweden who could impart some wisdom to me, so he set me up with an email address and the rest is history.

"I spent more than one night in the University of Missouri's news room (I was an editor back then) waiting for the new FAX machine to bring in the copy from our student reporters covering the capital about 35 miles away. It whirred and groaned for about 30 minutes to produce a 12-inch story. My job was to type it into the Aztec system that the J-School had and make sure it was in the right queue for copy editing.

"By 1985 I had my first home computer and learned to use a LISTSERV for one of my classes. I also thought I had it made when a remote editing system was developed so I could edit my students' stories at home and then eventually grade papers from my writing class.

"When I returned to MU to set up and run the Media Research Bureau in 1984, I learned about CATI systems, and the J-School got a huge grant from IBM to set up a new operating system -- OS2 -- and had the joy of getting a Cobalt Cati Program to run on OS2. But, that's another story...."

Judith: It's just almost impossible to separate journalism and technology, at least in the last few decades. Along with learning the "Five W's" J-students need to master the finer points of HTML and video editing. Thanks for taking time to read the blog and commenting. Try and stay cool down there in Tiger country.

From: Alan Melson
News producer at

"Gerry - Thanks so much for posting this - I've been reading ever since I saw the link. My school had a StarText subscription on an Apple IIe with a 300-baud modem in the mid-80s, and I remember the teacher letting me log on after school to read Rich Casey's columns and other content (and I remember thinking how incredibly cool it was that I could read more news right off the wire). Reading your histories brought back pleasant memories of an online experience that piqued my interest, and ultimately led to the career I have now. Oh, and thanks again for hiring me. :)"

Alan: What's funny is I'm not sure that when I interviewed you that your prior experience with StarText came up. Not that that would have made any difference, of course! How StarText became a mainstay in hundreds of Fort Worth-Dallas schools will definitely be a topic of a future post. Thanks for the email and please give my regards to my former colleagues in Dallas.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Have Anything StarText?

If you have any StarText-related materials, like photos from events, copies of StarText INK, marketing items -- such as the 7 Days of StarText product -- newspaper ads, etc. I would appreciate hearing from you or sending them via email to:

They will find a good home right here!

Thanks in advance for your help -


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Shout Out to Pegasus

For those who call the Metroplex home (Dallas/Fort Worth don't you know), you may be familiar with the "online newspaper" called Pegasus News (

In their "About" statement they describe themselves as:

"Pegasus News is a local news and information service dedicated to bringing you everything -- and we mean everything -- you could possibly want to know about the things that most interest you about the place where you live. We start with the idea that what happens in your neighborhood -- to your family and in your niche areas of interest -- is more important to you than things happening on the other side of town, and certainly far more important than what's happening elsewhere. For that reason, we customize content and advertising for each individual user, in a mechanism we call The Daily You™."

I have to give founder and president Mike Orren props for calling attention to this little endeavor in his blog, "Square Pegs" under the heading, "The StarText Story":

Truth be told, Pegasus News and StarText share a lot in common. Both were (are) local, grass roots efforts to connect readers in an intensely personal way. I am reminded of my favorite marketing tagline once used by the online edition of The Wall Street Journal: "The first newspaper for a circulation of one."

In its own way, Pegasus is keeping the StarText flame burning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Big Modem Giveaway

To join the Information Revolution and subscribe to StarText you needed more than $9.95 a month. You also needed 1) a computer or communications terminal 2) a telephone line or connection 3) communications software and last but not least, 4) a modem -- that gizmo that acomplished the "handshake" between you and the computer with all the information you desired.

Modems came in several varieties. Early on it was the acoustic coupler, where you actually set the telephone receiver into a pair of rubber cups. Simply walking around the room could disrupt the connection. Not great. They evolved eventually into cards that fit into the slots inside the computer or slid into a port on the side. The one pictured above, courtesy of Jim Boughton, was the "StarText 1200-baud direct connect modem" that you could handily plug into your com port and presto! -- your personal on-ramp to the Information Superhighway.

What, you ask, was that about? Did StarText branch into manufacturing modems? Thereby hangs a tale.

One year, when 1200 baud (1200 characters a second) was the standard for personal computers (1984 going into 1985), we hatched a marketing idea which we were certain would explode our numbers. What if we bundled a three-month subscription with a free, 1200-baud modem? Even Ries and Trout would surely bless that one.

The trick was finding a source for reliable, low-cost, easy-to-use modems. And eventually we did. Of course, "low cost" is relative. What might seem low cost for many marketing budgets became the most money we ever spent on a single promotion. But coupled with the three-month, nonrefundable subscription, we would make it up on volume. And regardless, it was an idea that got the whole staff pretty jazzed. So much so we ordered hundreds of them to meet the anticipated demand.

We cranked up a marketing campaign that included ads in the StarTelegram, flyers for schools and libraries, speeches at meetings -- it was the proverbial full court press.

The results? Yes, we did definitely gain new subscribers, but it ultimately fell woefully short of our expectations. Alas, like computer makers whose products were almost obsolete by the time they hit the shelves, modems moved quickly to 2400 baud, then 9600 baud and ... well, you get the idea. The modem parade had passed us by.

So we were left with dozens of boxes of 1200 baud modems which we decided were best relegated to a dark corner of a storage closet. Who knows? They could still be there today, somewhere in the recesses of the Star-Telegram.

And as the late Paul Harvey would say ... now you know the rest of the story.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Shoutout to Dave

The Star-Telegram unveiled the latest redesign of their web site this week and Dave Lieber, longtime S-T columnist, friend of StarText and leader of the "Watchdog Nation," noted the occasion by linking to this blog on his Facebook page. I think he wanted everyone to know the roots of that web site run deep -- certainly deeper than just about any other newspaper site out there.

Thanks for the mention Dave, and for keeping watch over the nation. Lord knows we need that, too.

Dave will be sharing more about his interactions with StarText and the Virtual Texan over the years. I'll just leave you with two words ... "Yankee Cowboy."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gerry Interview - 1997

An Interview With Gerry Barker
July 18, 1997
When you talk about Gerry Barker and StarText, it is hard to separate the two of them because both are so intertwined. Gerry has worn many hats over the years at StarText. He is currently the "Manager of InterActive Content." He calls himself our "cruise director." Gerry gets us all together for parties, picnics and all sorts of neat social events where all of the StarTexans can meet each other.
For those of you who are new to StarText, let me give you a little background on Gerry and StarText. As I mentioned, it is hard to talk about one without talking about the other, so let's take a look at a condensed history of StarText. Trust me, StarText wasn't always what you see today. Let's take a look back at StarText's rich history (Click on the link for a more in-depth look into the history of StarText.)
Back in the early 1980's there were a number of media companies that were investigating and trying to capitalize on the emerging technologies of: videotex, teletext, low power television, direct broadcast satellites as well as interactive cable. Many of these technologies were fueled by the public's increasing appetite for information to be delivered directly into their homes.
The Star Telegram, teaming up with Tandy, created an information partnership. Tandy would provide the technology and the Star Telegram would provide the editorial content. Gerry accepted the challenge of the new technology and coined the name, StarText. The new service would be a text based service of the Star Telegram. The first day of service was May 3, 1982. At that time, $5.00 was the flat rate cost for the service . Subscribers got news stories that were updated from 5 a.m. to Midnight, about 50 total choices. And what was StarText running on way back when? Gerry asked that question one day and got the answer, a Tandy Model II. In February of 1984, StarText had 1000 subscribers. In January of 1986, StarText reached another milestone, 2000 subscribers. You can see that we come from an interesting past. While most of the ISPs today count their anniversaries in months, we count ours in years.
Skipping ahead to 1994, there was something new on the horizon, the Internet. Subscribers wanted more than just a text-based system. They wanted colors, graphics, sounds, faster access speeds, the World Wide Web and email. Before jumping to the Net, StarText had a few logistical issues to settle; like how to turn this text-based system into an Internet ISP and how to convert over a decade's worth of information into a format readable by the Net.
By the fall of 1995, StarText's website had been developed and the call went out for "beta-testers." A courageous bunch of "exterminators" who's job it was to "de-bug" the new StarText system answered that call. Finally, in May 1996, 14 years to the month of StarText's anniversary, StarText.Net was launched to the general public. And the rest is history.
So where does Gerry fit into all of this? Let look at a little bit of Gerry's history at StarText. As we mentioned earlier, Gerry coined the name StarText. He has been employed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram for most of his professional life and has served in many capacities. Listed below are some of the positions he has held at the Star Telegram and StarText.
1970-74: Copy editor and local copy chief.
1974-79: Music critic, entertainment writer, editorial columnist.
1979-81: Features production editor, overseeing content and layout for lifestyle, travel, weekend entertainment guide, TV guide, home and garden. Also developed new prototype sections.
1982: In Gerry's own words:"...Joined fledging videotex operations named StarText. In partnership with Tandy, our goal was to deliver a local news product to owners of personal computers. As one of the founding members I was charged with creating and maintaining the content."
1982-84 StarText Editor. Developed news product, subscriber content and partnership with local/national content providers, including American Airlines' SABRE, Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia and a local home banking product.
1984-88 StarText Manager, responsible for staffing and overall operation.
1988-94 StarText Marketing Director, responsible for marketing/promotions.
1994 - present StarText Manager for InterActive Content, responsible for developing community links, local newsgroups and forums, subscriber functions and interactive participation. As part of our launch on the World Wide Web, created and produced over 200 websites and forums, including almost 100 websites for community nonprofit organizations.
On a personal note, Gerry is married and has one son and a very "healthy" cat. His interests include: travel, writing, antiques, movies and cooking. He and Pam are always looking for that little out of the way restaurant or shop. His dream would be to have a cottage overlooking Trunk Bay in St. John that is stocked full of books, fine wine, a PC and a satellite dish. (Who wouldn't want that!)
Gerry's latest project on StarText is Virtual Texan, which we'll be talking about in the next section. I'd like to now share with you a short interview I had with Gerry concerning the Virtual Texan site.
How did you originally come up with the idea for Virtual Texan?
Actually, it was the brainstorm of Paul Harral, who oversees our editorial operation. Paul had reserved the name and had the idea it would make a good website someday. The idea was basically to offer a place where both Texans and non-Texans would get a flavor for all the state has to offer. Our inspirations were the hundreds of emails we get from expatriate Texans hungry for hometown news.
Who came up with the name?
Paul Harral.
How do you see the Virtual Texan site impacting "non-Texans" and their perception of Texas?
My hope is that it will give them an appreciation for our rich heritage, traditions and culture, and maybe show them something they didn't know about us. Hopefully, they will learn we have pine trees and seashores in addition to the wide open spaces.
How do you see the Virtual Texan site impacting "Texans" and their perception of Texas?
In the short time I have been putting Virtual Texan together, I learn something new everyday. I hope the site will make Texans proud of who they are and where they live, and give them a sense of how deep our roots really go.
How do you feel Virtual Texan will impact the rest of the Star Telegrams' Online Services?
The biggest effect will hopefully be to drive more traffic to our site. If we can generate greater awareness for all our products, it will be a win-win for everyone.
Much has been said and written about the "Texas State of Mind." What do you feel it is?
For me, it's the notion that anything is possible. If you can dream it or think it, Texas is the place you can do it. I want that same feeling to translate to the website.
Do you have a personal favorite section of Virtual Texas?
I am glad you asked that—over time, it might be the Virtual Museum, which has some fascinating potential as we collect personal bits of Texana for "display". Right now, it's the Reading Room, where we are amassing a growing number of books, articles and columns about Texas. I really believe over time Virtual Texan will be one of the most important resources for Texas-related topics on the Internet. And that makes me pretty proud.
Thank you Gerry for all of your years of service to StarText and for the many hours you have spent on Virtual Texan. Click on the right arrow below and we'll go explore Virtual Texan together. We'll see you around the corner "pardner".

Cruisin' Home
created by Chuck and Terry Mencke
Last Modified: October 22, 2000

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"2020 - The Wait Never Ends!"

My first encounter with Gary Arlen was not long after StarText launched.

Gary (spelled the right way) headed up Arlen Communications. Inc., a Bethesda, Maryland, research and consulting firm which, according to his web site, is "known for its insights into the converging and sometimes conflicting worlds of interactive media, telecommunications and program content. For 20 years, Gary has accurately analyzed the emergence of new media and technologies, forecasting the evolution of customer-controlled video and data services."

In the Eighties, Arlen published the "Videotext and Teletext Report," a "must read" for anyone in the telecommunications arena. As StarText added more services and subscribers, Gary gave us coverage right alongside Gateway, Viewtron and other heavy hitters of the day. We even were listed in the "Box Score" section that listed online subscriber totals. We weren't DowJones or CompuServe, but we were on the list.

One thing I always appreciated about Gary was his sense of humor. With all the $millions being poured into those early efforts (don't count StarText in that group), making a business out of online fell into "it's the future and always will be" camp. So much so that a pundit at a 1983 Kelsey Conference proclaimed, "In 1990 videotext will be a $30 billion industry. We don't know if that's revenue or expenses."

That being the case, Gary started rolling out his famous lapel pins, beginning with "1990 I Can't Wait."

Quoting from Gary's "Lapel Button User Manual:"

"In the early 1980s, business prognosticators conjured impressive forecasts about the success of new media services by the then far-off year of 1990. Their upbeat predictions prompted us to create a lapel pin expressing our eager anticipation: 1990 I Can't Wait.

"By 1990 their forecasts proved to be irrationally exhuberant and just plain wrong. Undeterred, they issued 20-year predicitons, again envisioning vast revenues and huge penetration for whatever new technology they were touting. We were ready for our 2010 I Can't Wait buttons. Of course, those forecasts were off base."

And now we have the debut of "2020 I Can't Wait" or as Gary says, "Keeping the Wait Alive!"

Again quoting from the User Manual:

"Here is the 3rd generation version of the famous 'I Can't Wait' button, letting you show off your enthusiasm about the uncertain future. . .So now, with clear vision, the predictions are appearing for the great business a decade away in 2020. Yes, there will be vast revenues and impressive penetration and expansive profits from the next technology coming to market. The predictions are so rosy that we're excited again.

"You can demonstrate your belief with a 2020 I Can't Wait lapel button. It's green and expected to remain meaningful through the promised year of 2020. The future is always out there, ready to fulfill technology dreams if you have a clear vision."

Do your part to keep the wait alive by ordering your 2020 lapel pin today -- available for $1 each plus 50 cents postage, or 12 for $5 and a buck for postage. The web site is and the address is ArlenCom, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 805E, Bethesda, MD 20814.

While I am the proud owner of all three pins, I also treasure one of Gary's other collectibles from the Eighties, the computer-shaped eraser for the end of your pencil. It carried this simple message:

"Videotext: You Can't Rub It Out."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wooden Nickels and Groucho

My "2020" Guy, Gary Arlen, followed up my latest post with this email:


Thanks for the plug for the 2020 pins. I'll get you a complete set of the old ones.. there was NOTHING for 2000 .. it seemed toooooo millenial and I was looking for a 20-year span when I made the 2010 pins for the 1990 New Year's Eve party.

Funny you should remember the terminal shaped erasers (I always thought they looked a bit like Minitels.
[Reader Note: The Minitel was a joint effort by British and French companies to distribute millions of free videotext terminals. It launched in 1982.] It's interesting what people remember from those smarmy days. Some people favored the Videotex wooden nickels ("Videotex: As valuable as ever."). Others liked the anonymity kit ("Groucho" glasses and nose/moustache mounted on a card that said "Proud to be a Videotex Pioneer."). And there was more.

And to round out our reminisces: I've been in NYC the last 2 days. As I headed home tonight, at NY Penn Station, the young man on the escalator behind me was carrying a well-worn VIEWTRON gym bag. I said, "That's a real collector's item." He said, "It's old school. My dad worked there." And before I could followup, he and his companion headed toward the Long Island RR trains, and I wonder if I knew his old school dad back in the VIEWTRON days.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lapel Pin Trifecta

Now, for the first time, all THREE of Gary Arlen's Lapel Pins appear together. In only 11 years, what will pin number 4 predict? The wait goes on!