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Compiled and written by Steven Weyhrich (C) Copyright 1992, Zonker Software

(PART 20 – MAGAZINES) [v1.0 :: 14 Sep 92]


   From the earliest days that AppleII user groups have sprung up, there have been newsletters shared within (and often between) these groups, providing hints and tips on how to make the best use of this computer.  Some of these user groups eventually turned their newsletters into nationally distributed publications, sharing the information on even a wider scale.  Nationally distributed magazines that dealt with computers began to run regular columns and special articles that dealt with the AppleII, while other magazines began with the purpose of serving the AppleII community exclusively.  This segment of the History will take a look at some of the publications that have grown (and sometimes failed) during the age of the AppleII.  I will be concentrating on those that were either exclusive to the AppleII or that dealt heavily with it.

Micro (1977-1985)

   Micro began with the October/November 1977 issue, and covered the 6502 microprocessor (and later the 6809) in all the various computers that used it, including the KIM-1, the AIM-65, the C1P, Commodore's PET, the Ohio Scientific, the Atari 800, and, of course, the AppleII.  It was an excellent source for machine level code for the 6502, eventually including more and more articles that applied specifically to the AppleII.  Many general-purpose machine language articles appeared in its pages, such as "Improved nth Precision" (code optimization for the 6502), "Precision Programming", and "Computer Assisted Translation Of Programs From 6502 to 6809".  They also carried do-it-yourself hardware articles, such as "C1P To Epson MX-80 Printer Interface", "PET/CBM IEEE 448 To Parallel Printer Interface", and "AppleII Digital Storage Oscilloscope".  
   Micro tended to use each issue for a particular theme, starting out with articles that concentrated on a particular brand of computer per issue, and later expanding to topics that applied to several computers (such as printers, games, and languages).  The articles presented were usually technical in nature and could be very useful for the advanced Apple programmer.<1>
   One feature that was unique to this magazine was the "Micro 6502 Bibliography", which presented a reference to many different computer publications and the topics these magazines covered that were specifically important to programming the 6502.  Also, the magazine's cover was unique, giving the impression of looking out from the inside of a computer monitor, over the keyboard to the room beyond.  Graphics on the screen would be reversed, since it was supposed to be a reverse view.

Call-A.P.P.L.E. (1978-1989)

   This magazine began in February 1978 as a newsletter for a newly formed AppleII user group in Seattle, Washington.  This group, which called itself the Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange (A.P.P.L.E.) was begun by several early AppleII owners in the area.  They began a newsletter, Call-A.P.P.L.E., and under the leadership of its founder and editor, Val J. Golding, it grew to become a full magazine by 1979, and its boundaries spread well beyond the Seattle area.  As pioneers in the era of AppleII exploration and expansion, the group's members and magazine subscribers discovered and published many hints, tips, and programming techniques necessary to the early AppleII community.  Their major thrust, as with user groups today, came from assisting members in getting their systems to work.  This covered anything from establishing communication between a computer and the newest low-cost printer, to the nuts and bolts of adding memory chips to get a full 48K.  Call-A.P.P.L.E. also informed its readers with reviews of new software and programming languages, and entertained them with short Integer BASIC and Applesoft programs that did strange or unexpected things (in a recurring feature entitled, "So What Did You Expect?")  They also served their members by scheduling guest speakers for the group meetings, and printing a summary of the meeting in the magazine.  Their early speakers included notables such as Mike Scott (president of Apple Computer), Randy Wigginton, and Steve Wozniak.
   By 1980, Call-A.P.P.L.E. had become a full magazine published on slick paper, and it carried advertising by some of the new software and hardware companies.  Their articles became more complex, dealing with topics such as "Moving DOS 3.3 To The Language Card", and "Applesoft Internal Structure", as well as various hardware or construction articles.
   The year 1984 saw many changes for Call-A.P.P.L.E.  The front cover had previously been white, with the title logo at the top, followed by a list of major articles.  Beginning with the January issue, the cover was now graced with color artwork, and a subtitle was included under the logo: "The World's Largest Apple User Group".  In April, Val Golding stepped down as editor, handing that position over to Kathryn Halgrimson Suther.  She had been working with him on production of the magazine since he hired her back in 1980, and was best qualified for the position.  And finally, in September 1984 the membership voted to change their organization to a co-operative, officially named A.P.P.L.E. Co-op, to help improve their efficiency and allow them, under Washington state law, to continue expanding services in as inexpensive a manner as possible.  Previously selling software written primarily by members, they now began to carry outside software and hardware items considered useful to their members.
   A.P.P.L.E. also advanced the cause of providing useful technical information to AppleII (and Lisa and Macintosh) programmers by helping with the formation of APDA (Apple Programmers And Developers Association) in September of 1987.  Through a membership in this Apple-sponsored group, a programmer could obtain up-to-date tech notes and preliminary material directly from Apple, to aid in the refinement of his project.  (Apple later took APDA back under its own control in December 1988).
   Another change for the magazine occurred beginning in June 1988.  The cover artwork was toned down, and the thrust of Call-A.P.P.L.E. changed as it become more of a technical journal than the "hint and tip" magazine it had originally been.  Again the cover listed the major features for that issue, but in a smaller typeface than in the old days.  Articles were now much more complex, consistent with the increase in complexity found in the new AppleIIGS.  This was also reflected in the subtitle now found under the logo on the front cover: "The Magazine For The Advanced AppleIIGS And AppleII User".  Topics covered included a series by Mike Westerfield about "Programming On The GS With APW" (he was the author of the ORCA/M assembler used in the official Apple Programmer's Workshop on the IIGS), "NDAs 101" and "NDAs 102" (Tim Swihart writing about writing New Desk Accessories), and "A Powerful Graphics And Sound Trio" (utilities to allow use of super hi-res graphics and GS sound from Applesoft BASIC).
   Even more significant in 1988 was the change in the name of the sponsoring group.  In her monthly editorial in December of that year, Kathryn Suther wrote, "Sorry, Val, but the Co-op is undergoing a name change.  Apple Computer, Inc., doesn't seem to appreciate the word Apple in our name with or without the periods.  Rather than having to license the name back from them, we opted to change the name of the co-op to TechAlliance, a computer cooperative."<2>  (Fortunately, they were not apparently required by Apple to change the title of the magazine).  The members felt that this name more accurately reflected what the organization was doing; support, technical journals, and access to products and information.  They also laid plans for a journal aimed at Macintosh programmers, called "MacTech Quarterly".  
   With declining AppleII sales in the late 1980's, it was becoming harder for TechAlliance to put out the type of magazine they wanted as a monthly publication.  Part way through 1989, the decision was made to switch to a quarterly printing schedule to allow it to stay in print.  However, with the ninth issue of that year they had to announce that they were ceasing publication.  With the passing of Call-A.P.P.L.E. came the passing of an era.  Val Golding wrote to A2-Central's Tom Weishaar about it:  "The 12-year illumination of Call-A.P.P.L.E.'s guiding light is about to be extinguished.  The next issue will be the last.  'Call' was my baby and I loved it very much, even these last several years when I didn't play a direct role.  It is, after all, like a death in the family."  He went on to mention that he believed that their research into Applesoft internals and the use of its ampersand command made it possible for the appearance of more advanced programs earlier than would have been possible otherwise.  He included a copy of his guest editorial from that final issue, reprinted in the pages of A2-Central in January 1990:

The Editor Bytes Back Val J. Golding, editor emeritus Full Circle

   Perhaps I've lived in a private dream world all this time, where visions of ampersand faeries were real and 16K of RAM sufficed.  My 1978 world where, still wrapped in swaddling clothes, the infant Call-A.P.P.L.E., with wise men guiding, exploded upon the technological night sky--its contagious fountain of knowledge spreading like a Washington wildfire, a depth and rugged determination to share never before and never again to be seen.
   Volume 12, number Nine; there will be no Volume 13.  Words I thought would never be written blur my vision and scar the moist paper with ugly burn marks.  "Our last issue".  A doorway to another dimension has closed after 12 years.
   It would take pages to list our accomplishments and firsts, more still for our failures.  But we stood proud while others perished.  And so it will be in the future, the Alliance remains to serve its members.
   None of it would have been possible without those brilliant pioneering researchers and authors, far too numerous to even consider thanking individually.  Virtually every Apple author writing today appeared first in these pages.  It isn't fair, however, to leave without at least expressing my gratitude to and admiration for Kathryn Halgrimson Suther, without whom we would not have survived thus far.  I love you, Ms. K.
   Still everything is O.K.  I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  "The moving finger, having writ, moves on..."<2>

Softside (1978-unknown)

   Softside was a magazine about software that began in October 1978.  Edited by Mark Pelczarski, who was also an AppleII game author and publisher, it had a format similar to the early issues of "Nibble", but was not limited to the AppleII computer.  It had articles and program listings to enter and try out.  One problem readers had was with the listings; they were a copy of the printout from a dot matrix printer.  The dot matrix printers of the time were not as legible as they are now and by the time it was photographed and put into the magazine, it had become a bit illegible.  One reader commented, "After a short while of typing, you felt like you needed some of the 'coke bottle bottom' eye glasses!"<3>

Apple Assembly Line (1980-1988)

   This was something more than a newsletter, but not quite a magazine.  It was edited and printed by Bob Sander-Cederlof, author of the SC-Assembler, and was written initially for support of that product.  It included information about how to write assembly language routines for various projects, and one of Sander-Cederlof's favorite pastimes was finding ways to squeeze the most code into the fewest bytes possible.  Often he would take sections of code from Apple's system software, disassemble it, and point out how it could have been coded more tightly or efficiently.  He also included various products that he or others had written that were useful for other programmers, including a package of extensions for Applesoft that allowed 18 digit precision math functions.

Nibble (1980-1992)

   Begun in his living room in January 1980 by Mike Harvey, Nibble survived longer than most AppleII magazines.  His original advertisement for the magazine stated:

NIBBLE is an unusual Newsletter for AppleII owners. Each Issue will follow a major theme…such as:

  • etc.

Significant programs will be in each issue, surrounded by articles which show how to USE the programming ideas in your OWN programs.

Examples of Upcoming Articles…

  • Building A Numeric Keypad
  • Home Credit Card Management
  • LORES Shape Writing
  • Designing Games That Last
  • Arcade Shooting Gallery
  • Random #'s in Assy. Lang.
  • HIRES Weaving Design

And many many more. NIBBLE will literally "Nibble Away" at the mysteries of the AppleII to help Beginning and Advanced Programmers, Small Businessmen, and the Whole Family enjoy and USE the Apple MORE!

It costs a paltry $15.00 for 8 Issues! It will invite and publish user ideas and programs. DON'T WAIT! Send your check or money order right now, to receive the January issue! Mail to:

   P.O. Box  [number missing]
   Lincoln, Mass. 01773

Software Publishing And Research Co.<4>

   Mike worked carefully to make sure that he was not under the pressure of banks or investors, and so worked out of his own savings, running the company on a "pay as you go" basis.  He printed enough of the first issue, 42 pages long in black and white, to mail to the few who responded to his ad, and the rest were sent free of charge to Apple dealers to make them aware of Nibble's existence.  Their initial schedule was for eight issues per year, which was what he could afford to put out.  By mid 1981 the magazine had grown to the point where Harvey could quit his regular job (president of a subsidiary of Exxon Enterprises) and work full-time as publisher of Nibble.<4>,<5>  His editorials over the years covered many topics that were helpful for small businesses, giving advice that would help them survive in good times and bad.  He certainly took his own advice; although Nibble expanded to the point where it went to a monthly schedule (around 1984) and was printed as a square-bound magazine, it had to reduce by 1990 back to a center-stapled format with fewer pages.  Eventually its newsstand distribution also had to be curtailed, and in the end it was available only by subscription.
   Nibble's articles covered a wide array of topics, from simple Applesoft and Integer BASIC programs, to complex assembly language applications, BASIC extensions, and games.  In its prime it also included a popular series called "Disassembly Lines", by contributing editor Sandy Mossberg, M.D.  In his series, Mossberg taught some of the tricks and techniques of assembly language by taking parts of DOS 3.3, and later BASIC.SYSTEM and PRODOS, and "disassembling" them into readable assembly source code.  This provided some insight into reasons why Apple's system programs worked the way they did, and made it possible to either modify them to fix bugs, or to incorporate the  programming techniques in other projects.  Mossberg later went on to delve into the AppleIIGS toolbox (built-in ROM routines).
   Nibble was a good place to learn how to write programs.  Their published listings were well commented, and the tricks used by the programmers who wrote their articles were available for all to see and learn.  Along with the various utilities they published were games (some that were very complicated, with long tables of hex bytes to enter).  They also included in later issues reviews of various commercial software products, and always made available disks containing all of the programs from a single issue of the magazine, for those who didn't want to enter by hand the programs.
   In April 1985 a section was added to the magazine called "Nibble Mac", to cover topics of interest to Macintosh users.  Later in 1985 this was split out and a separate publication (short-lived) with the same title was printed to concentrate on the Macintosh users.  Nibble also helped establish the concept of copyright protection on program listings printed in magazines.  This was important to Nibble, as they sold disks of their old programs to save readers the trouble of typing in by hand the long listings.
   With decreasing sales, a decision was made in 1991 to no longer supply Nibble to newsstand vendors and continue the magazine on a subscription-only basis.  The market for AppleII programming-oriented magazines continued to decline, and the July 1992 issue announced itself as the last one.  The balance of subscriptions were filled out through A2-Central.

Peelings II (1980-unknown)

   Started around August 1980, this magazine was devoted entirely to AppleII software reviews.<6>

Softalk (1980-1984)

   Softalk... ah, this one was special.  Of all the magazines that have dealt with the AppleII since its release in 1977, none have been quite like Softalk.  Their first issue in September 1980 was 32 pages, including the cover which featured Darth Vader with the title, "Apple Helps The Empire Strike Back".  This first issue opened with the following introductory remark.  I reproduce it in its entirety here, because it highlights what I feel is the ideal in a computer magazine, and because the last two paragraphs are still very applicable today:
   Welcome to Softalk.  Whether you're a hobbyist or a businessperson, a programmer or a nonprogrammer, Softalk is designed for you, because each of you has chosen Apple for your computer; and so did we.
   Softalk is a feature magazine, intended to pique the curiosity and intrigue the intellect of everyone who owns an Apple.  In Softalk, you'll find articles about people who own and use Apples, some of them famous, some merely ingenious.  You'll find articles about issues--those most pertinent within the microcomputer industry, such as piracy, and those the microcomputer is helping to solve, such as unemployment among the handicapped.
   Softalk's regular columns will strive to keep you up with what's new in software and hardware and what's new in the companies that make software and hardware.  We'll also try to keep you informed of how the computer is making news, both in the United States and abroad, both seriously and lightly.
   Softalk is not a programming magazine.  Beginning in October, our programming columns will be intended as tutorials, offering running courses on how to program.  Although we believe that those of you who are seriously involved in programming will enjoy Softalk, for your programming applications we recommend that you seek out the excellent programming articles and tips in such magazines as Apple Orchard, Micro, Call-A.P.P.L.E., Creative Computing, and the many other fine magazines that address themselves to this aspect of computing.
   Fun is another feature of Softalk.  There will be puzzles, games, contests.  The prizes won't be huge, but they will be fun.  This month, you'll find a contest on page 2; later in the magazine lurks another puzzler.
   We encourage you to patronize our advertisers.  Those advertisers make it possible for you to receive Softalk.  And, further, we hope you'll support your local computer store.  A healthy retail sector is crucial to our industry on every level; it is to all our benefits to help our retailers prosper.
   I hope you share my enthusiasm for Apple and for the remarkable microcomputer industry, because, when you share it, you'll find yourself looking forward to the fast-coming future with excitement and optimistic anticipation.  If Softalk serves only to instill such a positive enthusiasm in you, it will be well worthwhile.<7>
   Oddly enough, Softalk owed its beginning to a television game show.  Margot Tommervik was a contestant on "Password", and with part of her winnings she purchased an AppleII computer.  She was fascinated with the machine and what it allowed her to do.  When a local computer store offered a prize for the first person to solve On-Line's Mystery House adventure, she dove into it headlong and had it solved in twenty-four hours.  Later that year, she came across a publishing house that was trying to produce a magazine about software and wanted a partner.  With the rest of her "Password" winnings, Margot and her husband Al agreed to do the magazine if they were allowed to determine its course and retain management control.  It would be as much a magazine for AppleII enthusiasts to enjoy as a platform for software publishers to display their wares.  Although it had the modest beginning of only 32 pages printed on newsprint stock, within a year there were over one hundred advertising pages in each issue.  It was an ideal arrangement:  The readers got a magazine that was specifically about their computer, and the software and hardware companies got a magazine with widespread distribution that could showcase their products to those readers.<8>
   Part of the uniqueness of Softalk was due to the way it did business.  Although it was a magazine that was available by mail or in computer stores (as were other computer magazines of the day), this one offered every AppleII owner a free six month subscription as a trial!  One only had to provide the serial number on the bottom of the computer, and you were in the club.  And it felt like a club, almost a family, of fellow AppleII (and later, AppleIII, Lisa, and Macintosh) enthusiasts.  This unusual method of providing a magazine lasted even until the final issue.
   Softalk carved its niche among the other AppleII magazines of the time by providing a variety of articles not available anywhere else.  Whereas Nibble was best known for its games and utilities, Call-A.P.P.L.E. for its technical information, and Apple Orchard for its focus on beginners and Apple user groups, Softalk concentrated on the Apple computer industry.  This included information about Apple Computer, Inc., as well as the many companies that provided software or hardware for the AppleII.  A monthly series called "Exec" (taken after the DOS 3.3 disk command), profiled a company that made hardware or software for the AppleII, and gave some of the background about its products.  They carried reviews of many new releases each month, and provided news on a continuing basis about the companies making those products.  They also developed a monthly best-seller list for AppleII and III software, and used not the sales figures provided by the companies who marketed the programs, but rather the actual sales figures from the software and computer stores that sold them.  Their reason for doing it this way was to get a more accurate picture of what was selling, not just what was shipping.
   As time went by, Softalk expanded its coverage to include columns that dealt with specific programming areas on the AppleII, but chose to do so in a tutorial fashion, as they promised in their introduction article.  Roger Wagner started in October 1980 with a column called "Assembly Lines" that taught 6502 assembly language (he says that what he knew about 6502 assembly was only about one month ahead of what the readers were learning<9>); Doug Carlston instructed users in the art of BASIC programming in "All About Applesoft"; Mark Pelczarski expounded on hi-res graphics techniques in "Graphically Speaking"; Taylor Pohlman (an Apple employee) wrote about the AppleIII in "The Third Basic"; Jim Merritt (who also worked for Apple) championed Pascal in "The Pascal Path"; Greg Tibbetts delved into Apple CP/M in "Softcard Symposium"; and Bert Kersey and Tom Weishaar deciphered DOS 3.3 and ProDOS in "DOSTalk".  Other regular features included "Fastalk" (an annotated listing and description of current and classic software), "Marketalk News" (product release announcements) and "Marketalk Reviews" (detailed product reviews), "Tradetalk" (Apple industry news), "Hardtalk" (hardware projects or information), "Storytalk" (fiction, primarily computer related), and eventually a column called "Backtalk", which was a look back at older issues of Softalk itself (this began on the third anniversary of the magazine).  One unusual column, called "Open Discussion", was quite similar to the interaction on today's online information services.  They printed letters from readers that ranged from comments on previous articles to questions such as "How do I get Apple Writer to work with my printer?"  Rather than directly answering each question, Softalk often left it to readers to send in replies with help.  In its last year, Softalk did begin a column called "If Then Maybe", which actually took some of those technical questions and used some of its consulting writers (the "Softalk Sages") to answer them.
   Each month there was a new contest, usually involving a puzzle of some sort that might or might not require the use of a computer to help solve it.  The winners of the previous month's contests were awarded a credit towards $100 worth of products advertised in Softalk.  The puzzles were creative and unique.  One issue asked to have various shapes in a later part of the magazine identified (some that were obvious, such as a computer monitor, some less so, such as a hand phasor from Star Trek).  Another contest consisted of only lists of five character scrambled words; no clues, no instructions, no direction.  One month had a crossword puzzle with very obtuse clues.  One November issue featured tiny little "hi-res" turkeys scattered throughout the magazine; the goal was to correctly count all of them.  Some of the contests even allowed those entering to be creative; one asked entrants to write a short paragraph that might illustrate the use of an Apple computer by a fictional or non-fictional historical figure (an example being Emperor Nero playing an adventure game in which he is trying to figure out the correct commands to get it to allow him to burn down Rome).  In the case of multiple entries with correct answers, the winner of the monthly contests was selected with a random-number generator.  Even if you didn't enter the contests, they were fun to read and ponder, and some of the winning entries (when creative writing was involved) were great.
   Softalk suddenly disappeared after the August 1984 issue was mailed.  There was no announcement, nothing that had indicated that this was going to happen, and with its disappearance the "Golden Age" of the Apple also passed.  (By this time Softalk Publishing also had two other magazines, "Softalk For The IBM PC" and "St. Mac", for the Macintosh).  This ending could have been predicted by the way in which the magazine had gotten smaller and smaller in size over the previous few months, but its ending was still somewhat of a shock to the readers.  One reader was reported to have said that if he had known that they were having financial problems he would have taken up a collection!  
   What led to the demise of Softalk?  Several factors likely played a role.  One was the explosion in the number of magazines for and about computers between 1981 and 1983.  Each new magazine that appeared was yet another place where a vendor needed to consider putting advertising dollars, and for some small companies it was simply not affordable to put ads in all of them.  Another factor that figured in was the introduction of the IBM PC, and the sudden need for companies to produce versions of their programs that would run on that computer.  When the recession of 1982-84 arrived, the computer market began to loose steam, and small single-product companies either had to associate with larger ones or go out of business.  Lower consumer spending on computer hardware and software hurt the market further, and the necessary advertising dollars were simply not available, and Softalk became, unfortunately, one of the casualties.<10>  Perhaps the major factor that contributed to this was that Softalk did not have any large publishing company backing it up; it was owned and operated by the Tommerviks, and they didn't have the cash cushion that would allow them to pay expenses during time of slow advertising revenue.<11>  Perhaps if a major publisher had taken an interest, Softalk would still be around today.
   In its prime (December 1983), Softalk was over 400 pages long, but by its final issue in August 1984 it had shrunk down to only 128 pages.  Although a next issue was in the works (according to the "previews" section in the table of contents), it never made it to the printer.  Remaining subscriptions were filled out by inCider magazine, but sadly, the magic was gone.


NEXT INSTALLMENT: Magazines, Cont.



   <1> Peterson, Craig.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Mar 1992, Category 2, Topic 16.
   <2> Suther, Kathryn Halgrimson.  "The Inside Track", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Oct 1984, p. 34.
   <3> Vanderpool, Tom.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Oct 1991, Category 2, Topic 16.
   <4> Harvey, Mike.  "Nibble At Seven Years...Roots And Blooms", Nibble, Jan 1987, p. 5.
   <5> Harvey, Mike.  "Time Flies When You're Havin' Fun!", Nibble, Jan 1985, p. 5.
   <6> Golding, Val J.  "Call-A.P.P.L.E. Book Review", PEEKing At Call-A.P.P.L.E., Vol 3, 1980, p. 249.
   <7> Tommervik, Margot Comstock.  "Straightalk", Softalk, Sep 1980, p. 3.
   <8> Levy, Steven.  Dell Publishing Co., Inc, Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution, New York, 1984, pp. 308-310.
   <9> Bird, Alan, & Weishaar, Tom.  "Old Timers: Two Survivors", 1991 A2-Central Summer Conference (tapes), July 1992.
   <10> Golding, Val J.  "The Magazine That Dared To Sing", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Oct 1984, p. 34.
   <11> Statt, Paul, & Weishaar, Tom.  "Old Timers: Apple II Magazines", 1991 A2-Central Summer Conference (tapes), July 1992.
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