More Computer Magazine Lore: A 1983 Nastygram from Wayne Green

Consider this post a piece of bonus material for David Bunnell’s book proposal about his career in tech publishing up to the early 1990s, which I posted yesterday.

Another computer magazine tycoon, Wayne Green (1922-2013), makes several cameos in David’s manuscript. When discussing IDG’s proposal that Apple fund the creation of Macworld, Steve Jobs brings up IDG having acquired Green’s magazines and says they look like “yesterday’s leftover oatmeal.” Later in the negotiations, Jobs talks about the unnerving possibility of Macworld‘s founders dying and IDG bringing in Green to run the publication. And when David attends the Mac launch on January 24, 1984, he runs into Green, who is toting two Radio Shack Model 100 laptops.

Wayne was a fabulous character and a preternaturally gifted huckster, and I’m afraid his perfunctory Wikipedia entry doesn’t capture that at all or even just cover his long career in adequate detail. He published 73, a long-running magazine for ham radio enthusiasts, which—like his later publications—featured his endless editorials on any topic that came into his head. Along with his ex-wife Virginia, he was involved with the founding of Byte magazine, though the exact nature of his contribution became a bone of contention after the magazine was sold—by Virginia and editor Carl Helmers, not Wayne—to McGraw-Hill. His other magazines covered topics as diverse as Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computers, cold fusion, stuff to do in New Hampshire, and compact discs. He started a software company, Instant Software, and acquired a chain of software retail stores, Softwaire (sic) Centre. He boasted of having cofounded Mensa, the organization for high-IQ people. He ran as an candidate for vice president (yes, of the U.S.) in 1988, sans running mate for the top job. A gleeful conspiracy theorist, he didn’t believe NASA landed on the moon and claimed to know what really happened to Amelia Earhart. His books included a guide to healthy living that came with a money-back guarantee if you followed its advice and didn’t live to at least 100. (Wayne himself came closer than most of us, making it to 91.)

That’s a mighty long paragraph, and barely begins to cover the things that Wayne did, or at least said he did. For a more comprehensive accounting, I will refer you to the lengthy list of personal accomplishments he published on his website. (Did you know that he visited Kathmandu, tried LSD in 1960, founded the country’s largest manufacturer of loudspeakers, and performed in Gilbert & Sullivan musicals?)

Anyhow, back to Wayne and his relationship with David Bunnell. In March 1983, PC World was brand new and held a huge bash at San Francisco’s St. Francis hotel to celebrate itself. Wayne was on the list of folks who got a copy of the premiere issue and (I assume) an invite to the party. The letter he wrote back was in a folder of correspondence that David hung onto for the rest of his life.

Letter from Wayne Green to David Bunnell about PC World launch

Hey, did you know that Wayne jogged three or four miles a day, skied vigorously at every opportunity, and was an avid horseman and skin diver?

I don’t have the letter Wayne received, so I’m not sure whether it really did mock anyone who didn’t like rock music, or if he was just being a bit touchy. As for his harsh take on the first issue of PC World: It should be read with the understanding that the new magazine was competition for his own publications.

Wayne’s lineup, listed at the top of the letter, included platform-specific magazines on Radio Shack’s TRS-80 and Color Computer machines and the Apple II, along with the more general-interest Microcomputing (née Kilobaud), which he founded as a revenge project after losing out on Byte‘s success. Though his magazines were quite popular, the 8-bit computers they supported were quickly being rendered irrelevant by the IBM PC and its clones. Which is why 80 Micro folded in 1988 and PC World, in digital form, is still with us.

I imagine that this inexorable dynamic would have been apparent to Wayne at the time. Given that, he might well have been sensitive about receiving a copy of PC World and an invitation to its launch party.

Just two months after Wayne dashed off his snide missive, he sold his mini-empire to IDG. The deal turned his magazines into sister publications of PC World. It’s in that context that he keeps coming up in David’s account of launching Macworld.

In David’s book proposal, Steve Jobs berates IDG chairman Pat McGovern for paying $6 million for Wayne’s company. That leads us to yet another bizarre Wayne Green factoid:  His run for the 1988 Republican vice-presidential nomination inspired a book trashing him, See Wayne Run. Run, Wayne, Run: An Assessment of a Candidacy. Stranger still, it was written by his ex-wife Virginia’s new husband, Gordon Williamson, who declared that “a worse national leader [than Wayne] would be hard to concoct.”

I’m pretty sure that Wayne wouldn’t have made it to the White House even if the book—75 pages of his exaggerations and prevarications—had never been published. But I’m grateful that it exists, and it sure makes for entertaining reading. Williamson quotes Wayne as saying IDG paid $60 million for his magazines, not the $6 million cited by Jobs in David’s manuscript. In reality, according to Williamson, Wayne only got $5,000 up front and a 10-year promissory note for $1 million. What Jobs would have made of that deal, I’m not sure.

During my years in tech journalism, I’ve known quite a few people who worked for Wayne, and I never tire of hearing their stories. The closest I came to meeting him myself was when I attended a talk he gave at a 1979 meeting of the Boston Computer Society. The topic was making money from software, and my memories of Wayne explaining how we could become rich by writing programs for him remain vivid. So I will end this post by sharing the BCS newsletter’s recap of the meeting (which seems to have been the victim of a pre-desktop publishing paste-up mishap).

Boston Computer Society newsletter article on Wayne Green

Put yourself in my shoes as a 1970s junior high school student and see if you don’t get excited by the prospect of making $24,000 in royalties—$100,000 in 2024 dollars—from just one successful game. And then consider this: See Wayne Run quotes Wayne discussing scenarios under which an Instant Software author could make anywhere from $20,000 a month to $3.3 million a day. Sign me up.

11 comments

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  1. Erik Magnuson January 21, 2024 at 11:57 pm #

    I probably should have kept my mouth shut with respect to Wayne Green (W2NSD/1 SK)… OTOH, anyone who could really piss off Steve Jobs can’t be all bad. I did look through a copy of “See Wayne Run”, though my (perhaps faulty) recollection was that he was running to become the VP candidate for the Democrat Party and not the Republican Party.

    One of Wayne’s positive contributions for the PC industry was getting agreement on the “Kansas City standard” for cassette tape mass storage when 5.25″ floppy drives were going for $1k each and 8″ drives going for $3k each. The encoding standard was presumably inspired by Wayne’s experience with radio teletype (RTTY), which used frequency shift keying.

    The first name for his magazine was Kilobyte, with a cartoon character Kilt-O-Byte appearing inside.

    My first intro to Wayne was through his columns in Electronics Illustrated where he was berating the ARRL and last thing I heard about him was a former boss saying his nephew had married Wayne’s daughter and that nephew describing Wayne as “Kind of a weird bird”.

  2. Harry McCracken January 22, 2024 at 12:08 am #

    Wayne definitely ran as a Republican (I just checked). My understanding is that when he announced Kilobyte, Byte rushed a comic with that name into production to foil his plans.

    A boss of mine who, like Wayne, was a resident of Peterborough said that after Virginia sold Byte, he got a new vanity plate for his car: FUVA.

  3. Lee Felsenstein January 22, 2024 at 4:59 am #

    The KC cassette standard spec was directly derived from Don Lancaster’ idea for making the carrier frequency 16 times the baud rate and driving the UART receive clock directly from it, thereby creating a _synchronous_ tape channel, thus completely eliminating tape speed variation as a factor. I was, with Harold Mauch, a co-author of the spec and had worked as a junior engineer at Ampex for four years – encountering some horrific data detection programs along the way.

    Way e can only be credited suth convening the meeting that decided the standard – several proposals were put forward there but Lacaster’s won the day based on elegance.

    • Harry McCracken January 22, 2024 at 9:12 am #

      Thank you, Lee. We need the definitive article on Don Lancaster, whom I regarded with some awe in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I didn’t realize he died in 2023.

      • John C Dvorak January 27, 2024 at 2:56 pm #

        Some years back I wrote a column in PC Magazine crediting Don Lancaster as the true father of the desktop computer. I only got positive feedback with every pioneer I know agreeing. He was a great guy who was ahead of his time in many ways.

        I ran into Green a lot and the last time I saw him his skin had turned a pretty silver color from his use of colloidal silver nutritional supplements. My funny story about him (and there are plenty) was that I heard from a friend who was talking to him that same day, that he told them that one of his big business mistakes was “letting Dvorak get away.” It was an odd thing to say since I never worked at any of his companies.

  4. lseltzer January 22, 2024 at 12:15 pm #

    The Byte (magazine) Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byte_(magazine)) says that his wife incorporated Green Publishing Inc to launch Byte, and they held it until they sold it to McGraw-Hill in 1979. It was based in Petersborough, NH for the longest time, and the place isn’t exactly Santa Clara.

    • Harry McCracken January 22, 2024 at 3:01 pm #

      The degree to which Wayne was involved in starting Byte is a more complicated question than conveyed by Wikipedia’s recap (although there’s some interesting stuff in the discussion thread for that article). The first issue contains an editorial by Wayne explaining how he came up with the idea. But when the dispute resulted in two courtroom battles, Virginia won both of them.

  5. Thomas Shim January 22, 2024 at 4:46 pm #

    What a weirdo. Thank goodness he must have felt InCider was beneath his maniacal ravings, fortunately.

    • Harry McCracken January 23, 2024 at 7:29 am #

      He did write editorials for InCider, or at least the earliest issue I easily found online had one. It was relatively short, though. And perhaps he stopped by the time you were reading it, when it might have been an IDG publication (which eventually merged with Ziff’s A+).

  6. Marcel van der Gragt January 29, 2024 at 4:51 am #

    Hi Harry, do you have anything on another classic magazine : dr Dobbs ?

    • Harry McCracken February 2, 2024 at 7:28 pm #

      I admire it, but don’t know a whole lot about it.

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