The final issue of Ryan Suenaga’s newsletter, A2 News and Notes appeared in December 2006. His Apple II online services “dirt sheet” The Lamp! survived longer, finally disappearing after the August 2007 issue. In my view, the demise of these scions of computing publishing marked the end of a lineage of publications dedicated to chronicling Apple II history, stretching all the way back to the forums of GEnie, CompuServe, The Source and so many other online outlets. These were places where users so like myself dialed-up, reached out and found a wide world of like-minded people who shared an intense and occasionally unreasonable love of the products of Woz’s imagination. Places to go to find technical help with that bug you just couldn’t solve at 3 AM, or share a joke and a laugh over a moment in a door game, or complain about Apple’s treatment of the II to people who understood exactly what you meant. The cancellation of The Lamp was the end of a certain tradition of timely news updates, reviews and information about my favorite computing platform and the people who used it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Juiced.GS. In fact, I love it so much, I’ve written a dozen or so articles for it, and spent the better part of my free time one month converting original proofs of the first few years of its publication to a digital form, to ensure their preservation and availability to future generations of hobbyists and digital historians. The rest of that free time was dedicated to building a spreadsheet to index the articles in those early tomes. A web-based descendant of that catalog can now be perused here. But Juiced.GS is a quarterly publication, which means that it can’t maintain an effective focus on up-to-the-minute Apple II news. Sure, notable items found a place in the “DumpinGS” column, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to print the many minor happenings and time-sensitive stories that still mark just how vibrant and exciting our little corner of the vintage computing hobby still is, months after they happened.
“Wait!” you cry, “Blogs like A2Central and Call-A.P.P.L.E. do exactly that!” I agree. Believe me, there’s nothing more exciting than to see a post announcing a new run of CFFAs or Uthernet cards and rushing over to their respective digital stores to throw my dollars at them before they sell out. But blogs are oriented to giving you the here and now, the current, the new and shiny and don’t always do a good job of making easily available a record of events as they slip further into our past. Blogs go away, sometimes without notice, taking their histories with them into the nothing. Databases become corrupt and entries are lost, or don’t survive a CMS upgrade. Sites get hacked. Sysops ragequit and delete everything. And sometimes, their search engines just plain suck. The information is as good as lost if it’s inaccessible. Who has time to spend these days, clicking through page after page of blog entries trying to find something that may have happened in late 2007, or early 2008… or was it 2009?
Ryan’s newsletters were an immensely useful resource at the time of their publication, and remain so as an easily accessible, searchable historical record of that era. And in September 2007, they were done.
It was with these thoughts that I registered open-apple.net, intending to find a collaborator and relaunch some sort of Apple II news service to provide timely information in a format that met my requirements. I hadn’t thought much beyond this – who, how, where to get the information without just cribbing usenet posts and entries on A2Central – but I felt it needed to be done. And if no one else was interested, I’d at least have my own record that I could reference, because as my wife will tell you, my memory is terrible.
One thought that I kept coming back to was that a podcast might fit my designs nicely and would carry on the torch of Apple II journalism in a relatively new and interesting format. Instead of just text, I could incorporate music, interviews, soundbites – things Apple II fans could get into and enjoy.
But here’s the thing. I’m not very interesting. I don’t have much personality and my voice is sort of nasal and pinched. There was no way I could do by myself what amounted to an internet radio program that anyone would want to listen to. And so I pushed all this to the back of my mind to percolate for a while.
And that’s about when Ken reached out to me as he was compiling his list of Apple II-related domains. We started brainstorming how an Apple II news service would be defined, and as we did, it became clear that podcasting was the future of my dream. Details started to emerge in the flow of conversation. Neither of us had the time to do a weekly show and back then, we were …. well, okay, I was inexperienced at the painstaking time-suck that is editing audio, so it took much longer than it does these days. We weren’t always the lean, mean podcasting machine we are today. The streamlined, efficient Apple II media empire that is the Open Apple podcast did indeed have humble beginnings. We wanted a structured format because so many podcasts that go the route of open-ended conversation lose focus and listener interest. We wanted a rotating guest chair as our third host because that’s automatically at least a few minutes of fresh material each show. (I’m lazy and I work hard to minimize the amount of creative effort I have to put into a project.) Not all of those big ideas worked out, though. I recall that we wanted to keep it under an hour or so. You can see how well that worked out.
And from there, we started to assemble the pieces. Ken recorded a Rockhurst student reading a variety of scripts and samples (to often-hilarious effect) and we had our voice-overs. He conscripted Peter Neubauer to handle our artwork. He found us some great music we could cut up for bumpers between segments. He got started building the website… Hm. Come to mention it, I don’t remember doing all that much.
Ken had been collaborating with Andy Molloy on a number of Apple II projects over the years and so it seemed a natural choice to have him join us for our first recording. That first session was difficult and uncomfortable and after we wrapped on that cold January afternoon, I discovered that my audio track was corrupt. And so we did it all again. There were problems with my audio. None of us really sounded like we were having fun. I remember being particularly nervous, a thing you can probably detect in the way my voice gets high and I talk faster than normal. I don’t honestly know how I sound though. I haven’t listened to those first shows since they were published. Frankly, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t either but they’re still out there, if you must.
The funny thing though is despite how rough that first episode sounds, the response from the community was very positive. So much so that we decided to do another. And another. And…
And that was three years ago this month. Our little show has continued to grow and mature and improve over the 36 months we’ve done it, right in step with the life of the community we chronicle.
This podcast has given me so many things.
The hardware geniuses continue to blow us away with new stuff that takes the Apple II to places we’d never dreamed, and they come on the show to share that with us.
Software wizards like Sheppy and the guys at Brutal Deluxe still dazzle with their creativity and we get to report on it.
When Steve Jobs died, Open Apple was “on the air” hours after I first heard the news on the radio as I was driving home from work, and we shared some very real emotional moments.
Closer to home we were able to process our common grief when a respected member of our community died an untimely death.
An attempt to get Woz to join us for an episode of Open Apple lead directly to his surprise appearance at KansasFest last year. I got to hang out with Woz!
The past three years have been filled with so many moments like these that I’d not have been able to otherwise experience, and I will always cherish them.
Through Open Apple, I’ve made new friends and strengthened my bond with others.
There were times when my frustration and anger got the best of me and all I wanted to do was quit the hobby and push my Apple II’s off a roof top. My commitment to Open Apple kept me coming back and allowed me to move past those dark moments.
I’ve been honored to be a part of all this and despite some behind-the-scenes tantrums and wavering by a certain host who lives in Denver, I can’t wait to see what the next three years hold for the Apple II, for its amazing community of users, hobbyists and fans, and for Open Apple.
You can find Ken’s better-written, shorter story about the rest of the story here. (Maybe I should have opened with that… Good on you if you’ve read this far.)