Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Story of StarText: 1985 - Part Five

"1985: A Year to Remember."

That was the big headline from the November edition of StarText INK, which also marked the one-year anniversay of our monthly printed newsletter.

By just about every measure, it had been "a special year," as StarText Director Joe Donth wrote in his December column, "Joe's Place."

"The year 1985 has been a good year for StarText," Joe wrote. "We started the year with a little over 1,300 subscribers and we will finish with over 1,900 of you actively participating in our little family."

Close to a 50 percent increase. That was definitely cause for celebration.

There were also all the new product launches and announcements, which included one more in October: American Airlines flight schedules. Subscribers could access information on all arriving and departing American flights at DFW International Airport. StarText now had flight info for both American and Delta Airlines (Delta schedules had been available for over a year).

HomeBanking, announced in June, was undergoing final testing in advance of its public debut in January. There were more than 150 individual screens that had to be checked and re-checked, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes processes and programs that made it work. It was like launching a whole new StarText in terms of complexity.

Staff-wise, we added a programmer, Larry Groebe, which meant we had seven full-time employees: Office manager Karen Bynum, news editor Christine Russell, copy editors Andy Kesling and Mike Holland, weekend editor Christy Jones and myself. Joe served as both StarText Director and IT Director for the Star-Telegram.

For the third year in a row, we celebrated the holidays by kicking off another Christmas Card Contest, but this time added a new wrinkle: An online Santa Claus feature. We gave Santa his own email address so subscribers could expedite their wish lists directly to his PC at the North Pole.

In the years ahead, our "online Santa" would evolve into one of our most endearing features through the efforts of a retired subscriber who agreed to play the role of Santa and answer the "Santa mail" from subscribers. Both young and old shared their wishes and dreams; many were heart-warming -- some were heart-breaking. But just like the loveable St. Nick of "Miracle on 34th Street," our Santa always seemed to have just the right answer.

We never revealed who Santa was but for the record, his name was Paul Conant. When I paid Paul a visit, I discovered he even looked the part with a kindly smile and white beard. Mrs. Santa --er, Mrs. Conant, even had a plate of warm cookies to greet us.

As the year drew to a close, Joe floated a new marketing idea: The $4.95 subscription. Our existing "Free Trial Password" program was popular (prospective customers could request a password that would give them five free StarText sessions to try us out). But the free trial didn't include features like E-mail and you might burn two or three sessions just setting up your communications program.

For $4.95, you could have seven days of service to use as much as like. Would-be subscribers could sample the full range of our basic offerings and the seven days didn't start until your you activated the account. Response was positive and creating the "Seven Days of StarText" program would be one of my next assignments.

Prolific columnist Ed Jackson, winner of our first Short Story Contest with "Rad Fourteen," graced us with a fascinating sequel, "Alias Rad Fifteen," which appeared in the December issue of INK. Much more about Mr. Jackson to come in future postings.

In that same issue, Joe summed up things nicely:

"As I said, 1985 has been a good year. Your contributions have made that possible. I look forward to 1986 with confidence and an unbridled enthusiasm that we, together, will continue to grow in subscribers, content, features and new services. More importantly, we will continue to grow as each of us add our support and commitment to making StarText not only better than the rest, but so special we continue to be in a class by ourselves. Merry Christmas and God Bless."