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?
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".
created by Chuck and Terry Mencke
Last Modified: October 22, 2000