This year marks a significant milestone in the history of Australian Hi-Fi Magazine... and, indeed, in the history of audio publishing, because it's the magazine's fiftieth year of publication. (So far my publisher hasn't sent me a ruby-encrusted blue pencil to commemorate the occasion, but I live in hope...)
Not too many specialist hi-fi magazines have been around for as long as Australian Hi-Fi — indeed the only one I can think of off-hand that pre-dates it is the UK's Hi-Fi News & Record Review which, having first been published in 1956, is the world's longest-running audio title.
To commemorate our 50th anniversary we asked Gary Cutler who, with the late David Paul, founded the magazine back in 1969, to jot down a few memories of the earliest days of the magazine... many years before I joined the magazine as an assistant editor (to Richard Morgan) and many, many years before I was appointed as editor.
The reasons for the success of Australian Hi-Fi Magazine are many and varied, but one was that Gary and David had the foresight to invest in new technologies and the ability to deliver a very high-quality product whilst also keeping costs down.
One example of how they managed this is that Australian Hi-Fi Magazine was the first small specialist publication in Australia to do its own typesetting in-house, using a typesetter that all the staff called ‘Bertha' because of the chugging sound it made whilst it was operating.
By today's standards it was primitive, but back then it was state-of-the-art. It had no memory and created the type by shining a light through a piece of film to form letters (one letter at a time) onto photographic paper, which then had to be developed in exactly the same way as conventional photographic paper prints.
When 'Bertha' was upgraded to a typesetter with an internal memory, the magazine then became the first in Australia where the journalists were able to connect their portable NEC computers (IBM PCs were too expensive) directly to the typesetter, which sped up production enormously.
Gary and David also created a separate company — Australian Hi-Fi Test Laboratories — to conduct the electronic tests that accompanied the equipment reviews that were published in the magazine, and invested in expensive test equipment from Bruel & Kjaer, Hewlett-Packard, Sound Technology and Wavetek to outfit it. They also had the laboratory accredited by the National Association of Test Authorities (NATA), which meant all the test equipment had to be regularly calibrated by a NATA laboratory and the lab's test procedures audited on a yearly basis by NATA engineers.
While the initial outlay to establish the laboratory was huge, the cost-per-test was significantly lower than they'd been paying for tests from an external test laboratory (Louis Challis & Associates), so the lab eventually paid for itself.
Photography costs are another expense that can cripple small magazines, so Gary and David built a small photographic studio and did all their photography in-house (except for the odd front cover shot), including film processing and printing. They also saved on modelling fees by using their own wives and children (as well as those of their employees... but that's another story!) as photographic models for front covers, feature stories and even advertisements.
I would like to use this 50th birthday editorial page to send out a huge ‘thank you' to Gary and David for affording me the opportunity to work for Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, and an even bigger 'thank you' to all those who have worked for, advertised in, and read the magazine over the years — and most especially those long-time readers who have stuck with us through thick and thin — because without you, none of it would have been possible.
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