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eti The Birth, Rise a ELECTRONICS 40 years ago this month, a brash new electronics magazine burst onto the scene in Australia: Electronics Today – later called Electronics Today International or simply ETI. It really caused a stir and provided stiff competition to the long-established “bible”, Electronics Australia. Here is the story of how it began, as told by ETI’s founding editor, Collyn Rivers. A ROUND JUNE 1970, newspaper adverts, for months, sought someone ‘experienced in public relations and with a sound practical and theoretical understanding of electronics’. I ignored it for a time, as that’s like seeking a priest with a plumber’s license (also because I’d sooner be in jail than work in PR) but I eventually advised I could write reasonably well and knew a fair bit about electronics. I also asked what the job really was. One interviewer, Colin Ryrie, was clearly a businessman, another was Colin’s son and then a young schoolboy – Kim Ryrie – electronics enthusiast and later of Fairlight Synthesiser fame. I worked out fast that a kid in short pants had to be there for a very good reason – so attended mostly to him. Kim asked what I thought of Electronics Australia, revealing that he had read it from way 22 Silicon Chip back (as indeed had I). He fortunately shared my view that while technically excellent, it read like Edwardian editions of Ecclesiastic Monthly (even reviewing religious gramophone records). In essence it was instructive – but boring as ET Vol1, No1 – deliberately released on April Fool’s Day, 1971. It had a bright, fresh approach – just compare it to the venerable April 1971 issue of “Electronics Australia” at left! siliconchip.com.au and Fall of TODAY INTERNATIONAL sorting batshit. It seemed as if an ultraconservative staff were unaware (or did not care) that most of its readers were 12-25 year-old dudes. I was asked if I could produce something more readable. And if so just why I thought I could. My background My background is a bit unusual. I left school (and also most else) of my own choosing when I was 10 and never went back to any part of it. I vaguely coped until 13 or so and then spent my days building bicycle wheels rather better than most during the day, and reading anything I could get hold off at night. Existing as I did, in WW2 London, there was also the inconvenience of things that went bang being tossed down from above. But I more or less coped. And had read my way through most of the major classics by 16. At 17, I joined the RAF and to my genuine surprise was immediately picked and packed off to learn (ground) radar technology. By the age of 19 I was one of only some twelve or so RAF staff running the UK’s Gee (radar based) military and civilian air navigation system. After that I did development work on guided missiles – until it sunk home that the bit up front went bang (and I’d had enough of that as a kid) – and moved to Vauxhall/Bedford’s then research There was great rivalry between the two magazines, the newcomer, Electronics Today and Electronics Australia (which had been publishing in various formats since 1922). “Sherlock” Rivers and “Holmes” Willams (then publisher and editor respectively) were immortalised in this cartoon by then EA artist, Gary Lightfoot. laboratory. From there I engineered myself into driving a big 4WD Bedford twice the length and breadth of Africa (studying road surface conditions). Great fun mostly – except persuading the French to let me drive (twice) through their bloody war in Algeria. I eventually found my way to Australia – and that interview. No experience, got the job! What I basically said was that I had never edited anything before in my life but probably knew enough about About the Author Collyn is a primarily self-educated research engineer (following a spell as a ground radar engineer in the RAF, he worked with de Havilland Propellors on early guided missile power supplies, and then with Vauxhall/Bedford Research in the UK). In 1970 he switched careers to become a technical writer and publisher. Following the ETI days he subsequently founded Vernon siliconchip.com.au Rivers & Associates, undertaking specialised projects for companies including IBM, Wand, Hewlett Packard etc. From 1982-1990 he was technology editor of The Bulletin and Australian Business, and later founded Caravan & Motorhome Books (www.caravanandmotorhomebooks.com) some of whose products are stocked and sold by SILICON CHIP. April 2011 23 Distortion in amplifiers might be a hard concept to get across . . . but not for ETI. The front cover of the December 1975 simply distorted the amplifier itself! (about 35,000) were way behind EA but advertising poured in. The UK issue did not work well initially, but I sent Brian over there to seek a new editor and publisher – Halvor Moorshead, who insisted (in retrospect correctly), that it had substantial local content. A French edition failed – following editorial relations becoming so toxic that I told them to %$#<at>&^ well run it themselves – and set up in Germany and Holland instead. Meanwhile I founded Sonics (primarily electronics/music), CB Australia, Hi-Fi Review plus a few more. In 1976 the Australian edition (to our delight and total surprise) was acclaimed ‘the best electronics magazine in the world’ (by the Union Presse Radio Electronique Internationale). There was also a Canadian edition and an Indonesian language edition a year later. And also an (initially pirated) Indian edition that I agreed ‘not to know about’ as they needed the magazine but had Buckley’s chance of paying for it back then. Working hours? What were they? By 1975 we had our own selfcontained premises in Rushcutters Bay and was told to ‘run it as you like’. I took this possibly further than the MD had in mind and, with a mixture of staff agreement/trepidation, abandoned all formal working hours. I enabled each of the (by then) seven local publications to work in whatever way seemed best for them. Which for one magazine consisted of 72-hour virtually non-stop days and nights. I preferred not to ask how they stayed awake. electronics, and that I was intrigued but frankly more interested (and still am) in literature. I stressed however, as the RAF selection process had revealed, that I thought conceptually. Also that I cared not a jot about how almost anything ‘was meant to be done’. In essence I was mad enough to do what Kim had in mind, and marginally sane enough to make it work. And that I sought almost total freedom on how I did it. In retrospect it was a sort of Goon Show meets Electronics 101. Astonishingly, they said ‘Fine’ – even to my wanting to start it also in Britain a year later – which is why initial issues were Electronics Today, but my concept was Electronics Today International from the start. Ex-NASA tracking station engineer Brian Chapman was assistant editor, and ex-Natronics’ Barry Wilkinson designed and developed the essential constructional projects. Doing our own typesetting was initially union-blocked but fixed by my seeking a 40-page Fourier transform to be typeset overnight – error-free. April Fool’s Day, 1971 The first issue was published deliberately on 1st April 971. The initial sales 24 Silicon Chip Collyn Rivers and Neville Williams regularly came across each other at press functions, product launches, etc. The significance of this picture from the 1970s is that Collyn got the girl while Neville nursed his orange juice . The other person in this photo is well-known hifi writer, Dennis Lingane. siliconchip.com.au At one time I found they had secreted the then out-of-funds Radio Birdman’s drummer Ron Keely on the floor above - so I made him a music editor I instituted a routine Friday evening party – for all staff and ‘selected’ industry contacts. Part owner Kerry Packer paid for it all but I do not think he knew that: we somehow forgot to tell him. A staff artist had two huge Irish wolfhounds that slept all day across the main entry. One day Packer arrived on one of his ultra rare visits – and fell over them. Both Kerry Packer and the hounds vented their respective wrath, with Kerry storming off in a steaming rage. But a few hours later an ACP courier arrived with two huge cartons of dog food. I employed many senior female editorial and technical staff - mostly at editor and assistant editor level: simply because I’d found they were often better at doing the job – and I had long insisted on equal pay for equal work. Several were ex NASA. We (in Australia) often covered controversial issues. I whistle-blew what North West Cape was really about (ie, an ultra low frequency system for communicating with submerged nuclear submarines). The article even included a pic of one – complete with a launching missile. It was classified material in Australia back then – but all we needed was there for the asking in the USA. We just wrote and asked for it! That article resulted in a visit from two overly neat Americans claiming to ‘ensure truth in journalism’ but when asked admitted they were CIA. They seemed not overly bright as they demanded the name This cover, from February 1975, came about as a result of a bet . . . that Collyn Rivers couldn’t get The Pope onto a cover of ETI. The bet didn’t specify which pope... so Gregory got the gong and Collyn pocketed the ten bucks! siliconchip.com.au of the author which was on the article anyway! He was a well known New Zealand academic – and even more improbably right wing than they. Les Bell, originally with ETI in the UK and then Canada, introduced ‘synergistic beer drinking’ sessions – where readers were invited to share a schooner or three with the staff. This provided quite invaluable feedback – as long as Les and Roger Harrison remembered to write it all down sufficiently early in the evening. I’m not sure what EA thought about all of this (maybe Leo will reveal all) but there was an immense difference in our respective cultures: we invited them across once, and my lot were virtually dumbstruck when they arrived – all in white jackets, shorts and long white socks – whilst our lot were in jeans. Some of the more feisty female staff had for a week or two been engaged on seeing who could wear the least at work without getting fired (as if I would!) – but not on that day – we did not wish to freak the EA crew altogether. Oddly enough I got on well with EA’s then editor – the late Neville Williams – but suspect he prayed at night for my soul. Some staff were tossed by my virtual lack of rules - except getting a really good paper out on time but despite what must have seemed chaotic (and sometimes was) those for whom Remember these? Some ETI projects were real groundbreakers; others memorable for perhaps not-so-kind reasons! • The ETI-480 50/100 W amp module produced by Barry Wilkinson; it was in the kit catalogs for at least 20 years. • The ETI-466 300 W amp module produced by Barry Wilkinson. Believed to be the first of its kind worldwide. Pipped EA at the post. I think this was the one for which Maree Breen bent up aluminium sheets for the heatsink and sprayed them a bunch of different colours. • The low-TID 60 W amp module ETI470 This module was the foundation of the Series 4000 stereo amp produced by Phil Waite. • The Series 5000 stereo components (ETI-477 power amp and ETI-478 preamp) by David Tilbrook. • The ETI-488 60 W amp module featuring two nested differential feedback loops, designed by Prof. Cherry from Melbourne. • The Series 4000 4-way and 3-way speakers based in Philips drivers, by David Tilbrook. • The various ETI Synthesiser modules Apart from those perennials, the following projects created a bit of a stir: • ETI-595 aquarium light timer (and plant growth lamp timer . . . he, he). A Jonathan Scott project. • ETI-644 direct-dial modem (featured on the front cover with a red dial-type phone). A total breach of the Telecommunications Act at the time (and consequently a breach of the Crimes Act). It started something. Basic design from the same guy who did the synthesiser. • ETI-1500 Discriminating Metal Detector. Could genuinely discriminate between gold, copper and ferrous metals (in the right hands). Design from the UK, developed here by Phil Waite. Then there were the “no use to man or beast” projects, such as: • ETI-1501 experimental negative ion generator. • ETI-576 electromyogram (. . . promoted as useful for biofeedback . . .). • ETI-1545 Galvanic Skin Response biofeedback meter. • ETI-587 UFO detector (. . . “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!”) April 2011 25 ETI from the competitor’s view – what we thought at EA Collyn Rivers and his staff used to wonder how their competition, Electronics Australia, viewed them. As a staff member of EA from 1967 to 1987, I can now tell him: In the early days, we hated it! We hated virtually everything about it. We hated the staff, the magazine, the projects and the generally insouciant nature of the whole operation. We thought, “It can’t succeed”. Well, of course, we weren’t really being objective, were we? Obviously, it succeeded brilliantly. With hindsight. its overall style and presentation was light years ahead of Electronics Australia and we were stuck in some sort of virtual world and certainly not the real world populated by a vast number of readers who literally gulped down anything new in the world of technology and this was where ETI was “seen to be”. ETI was far ahead of EA in presenting stories on the latest technology, be it electret it worked seemingly thrived. By the end of 1980, ETI had become (with a total plus 195,000 peak circulation) by far the world’s largest circulation electronics monthly, but the international side of the operation fell apart shortly after – when Kim Ryrie sold off the overseas editions, each to a separate buyer. I tried for a year or two to run it as before, but then concentrated on 26 Silicon Chip microphones, anti-skid braking in cars, Professor Ed Cherry’s world famous amplifier with nested feedback loops or whatever. We also used to sneer at many of the projects and some of them were definitely dodgy. But others were very good and we wished we had been able to feature them. The ETI Synthesiser was world-class. In later years, there was grudging acknowledgement that ETI was a fine magazine and that they had many features which our conservative editorial direction (I won’t go into details here) did not permit. Louis Challis’ comprehensive and authoritative reviews of audio products were a notable feature and that irreverent back page, “Dregs”, sending up anything and everything was obviously a hallmark of the ETI approach. Synergistic beer drinking indeed! How dare they! Leo Simpson expanding associated business activities – including a successful book sales division. I also managed many of the company’s other magazines. But the international magic had gone. I stayed with the magazines until 1981, when the-then owners’ disastrously produced Sydney City Monthly (with Aaah, the Dregs – who can forget this irreverent “last page” which adorned every issue of ETI from the early days. It was right up there with “Synergistic Beer Drinking” and demonstrates the flavour of the magazine. (Beer flavour?) a print run of some 50,000 and sales of about 3000) virtually bankrupted the company. My group was sold to Federal Publishing, who ran magazines competently but ultra-formally. I stayed for 91 days, but accepting my staying could not possibly work for either party, left to start my own publishing company. ETI (in Australia) was wound up a few years later. Then, and just prior to its 70th birthday, was EA. Leo Simpson bought the rights to both – after he founded SILICON CHIP. He now, I suspect, successfully combines some of the rigour of EA with the some of the liveliness of ETI. Some of the editions live on. ETI UK, for example is now Everyday Practical Electronics. A now massively-successful Indian edition (now by far the largest in the world) had its roots in that pirate edition. Along the way many ex-ETI associates and staff prospered: Kim Ryrie followed up the ETI Synthesizer project by developing into the world famous Fairlight unit. Projects engineer, Phil Waite founded VitalCall, one of Australia’s most successful security equipment companies. ETI assistant editor Jane McKenzie became Editor of Choice magazine. And there are many many more. I thank Leo for providing this opportunity to celebrate what would have been the latter’s 40th birthday. Also a thank you to Dick Smith (who started Dick Smith Electronics at much the same time I set up ETI), Gary Johnston of Jaycar, and Jack O’Donnell of Altronic Distributors. All assisted hugely with the constructional projects that were such a major part of the magazines. SC siliconchip.com.au