By Stuart Williams and Jonathan Beales
The past few years have seen many notable 30th anniversary celebrations in the retro computing/gaming community. This month it’s the turn of the once-popular, but now largely forgotten (at least on the internet) dedicated British Atari ST magazine, ST Update, which was first published in spring 1987. And here at Retro Computing News [RCN], we’re doing our best to celebrate that birthday, with this, the first of a two-part article focusing on an exclusive piece of oral history given to RCN, plus a very special download for our readers, for those involved with the magazine, and for the Atari ST community at large.
Having recently spotted the rapidly approaching anniversary of the birth of ST Update, and finding almost nothing about it online, our editor Stuart Williams decided that it really deserved more of a remembrance than to fall between the cracks of Wikipedia and the various online archivers of old computer magazines, which at the time of writing still hold nothing of significance about the magazine. ST Update was also the first commercial magazine to publish Stuart’s own work, again in 1987.
Sunshine on a rainy day
March 1987, thirty years ago to this month, saw the birth of ST Update, then a Sunshine Publications magazine, out of the same stable as the also much-missed Popular Computing Weekly.
ST Update was an excellent magazine that, unfairly, has until now gone mostly unrepresented online. Based in Little Newport Street, London, this new kid on the Atari block was dedicated to all aspects of Atari’s finest range of computers, the ‘Atari ST’ (representing Sixteen/Thirty-two, after the Motorola 68000 CPU at its heart). As you will read below, the magazine came out at what was becoming a gloomy time for the home computer market and computer publishing in the UK, with the 8-bit market heading towards the end of an era.
Slow, slow, quick quick slow
Launched in June 1985, the American-designed Atari 520ST and its successors were, after a relatively slow start, set to become increasingly popular and affordable competitors, especially in Europe, to the somewhat similar but much more expensive Apple Macintosh, and the audio-visually more powerful Commodore Amiga, although the new 16-bit micros perhaps sat uneasily, not quite sure of their market, between their cheaper, better-supported 8-bit predecessors and what was to be the eventual wave of the future – the rise of the next generation Apple Mac and the IBM PC and clones. It would take a while for the new, more expensive market to mature, at least on the UK games front, which was inevitably where home computers stood or fell at the time. But for approximately a decade, the 16-bit next generation still held out the prospect of ‘power without the price’.
Competition on paper
To put things into a publishing context, of which you’ll again read more below, Atari ST User, published by Europress, had been around since March 1986, and even before that when it had started life as a pull-out section in Atari User magazine. Although Atari ST User did review games and carry demos, far more of the magazine was concerned with ‘serious’ issues such as hardware, programming, and music than its later rivals ST Action (launched in April 1998 by Gollner Publishing Ltd., the first dedicated games magazine for the 16-bit Atari) and ST Format. The latter launched August 1989 when its predecessor, the short-lived (June 1988-July 1989) dual coverage ST/Amiga Format magazine was split into two separate publications by Future Publishing.
So, ST Update was launched into a new world of sixteen-bit publishing, while the market was still forming, and as it turns out, the story of the magazine is also the story of that market.
At the suggestion of Darren Doyle, admin of the Green Meditations /|\ Atari ST group on Facebook, and the man behind http://www.atarigamer.co.uk/ and http://www.retrovideogamer.co.uk/, RCN and Stuart Williams reached out to the former advertising manager and co-founder of the magazine, Jonathan Beales, now a sports broadcaster and documentary producer, who kindly spoke to Stuart at some length about ST Update, its ethos, the market it was launched into and how it got going all those years ago.
The following remarks are from the first half of what Jon told Stuart about how ST Update came into being, as he saw it back in the day – and with the benefit of his modern perspective. We’re splitting up Jon’s contribution over two pieces so we can do justice to this, over the next week or so. Please stick with us on this, it’s a fascinating story to mark the 30th birthday of ST Update! Continue reading ST Update – 30 Years After