ST Update – 30 Years After  PART TWO

By Jonathan Beales and Stuart Williams
A prophetic heading from the cover of the 'pilot' issue of ST Update
A prophetic heading from the cover of the ‘pilot’ issue of ST Update

Last week, Retro Computing News began our exclusive celebration of the 30th birthday of ST Update magazine, which was first published for Atari ST computer fans in March 1987, but which has since then become largely (and unfairly) forgotten, at least on the internet.  We published the first part of a two-part article by our editor Stuart Williams (who first wrote for ST Update in 1987) and Jonathan Beales, who was one of the founding managers of the Sunshine Publications magazine and whose hard work managing advertising was an essential part of its initial success. We also provided a full download of the first ‘Spring 1987’ pilot issue of the magazine.

Today we conclude with this, the second part of the article, focusing on the continuation of an exclusive piece of oral history kindly recounted to Retro Computing News by Jonathan, and for which we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to publish and set the record straight about what was a great, pioneering British magazine of the 16-bit era.

If you have not already read part 1, we highly recommend you do so first before continuing with Jon’s narrative below.

Part the second

Over to Jon Beales:

Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986
Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986

“And, Database Publications (Europress) based up in Stockport, in Macclesfield, they again were looking at doing an Atari magazine.  Their editorial skills weren’t that great, well, they were good, but they didn’t quite have that kind of polish.  Future weren’t doing anything, EMAP weren’t doing anything, and I just thought yeah, we’re gonna push on this and we’re gonna get this [ST Update] together, so I worked on the first issue, did very well. I think I sold £17,000 worth of advertising – and all I had was an A4 flyer, a telephone, some contacts and just self-belief, in this magazine.  And, everybody loved it!

Advertising - Jon Beales

“And people came on board, and I’m not sure what the sales figures were on the first one, the print run was quite low, I think the print run was only about 20-25,000 because the numbers on the installed [Atari ST] base thirty years ago in March 1987 were very, very low.  I mean, I don’t think there were probably more than about, combined 16-bit audience, ST and Amiga, wouldn’t have been upwards of 20,000.  Because it wasn’t stocked [the ST], there were very few Atari ST and Amiga games, they weren’t really on the High Street, the independents sold them but the chains, which were W.H. Smiths and Boots, they were nowhere near them, because you did not have the user base.  Back then, it was the old thing – software sells hardware.  And because there weren’t many games, there wasn’t enough software to sell the hardware, and the hardware was too expensive. 

What a game
Leader Board (Access, 1986)
Leader Board (Access, 1986)

“One of the reasons why I think Peter Worlock [the managing and launch editor] loved the ST so much, one of the reasons why he saw it as the away ahead was because in the summer of ’86 the Popular Computing Weekly editorial team loved the game Leader Board. Leader Board arrived on import on the Atari ST, and it was great.  It was one of these really brilliant, well-executed first ST games around.  And it was really, really good – everybody loved it.  You know, you had tournaments between the Popular Computing Weekly team, the editorial staff, and everybody loved it because it was, I say ‘next-gen graphics’, slightly upgraded graphics compared to what a Commodore 64 could do, but it offered next-gen gaming.  The first time that we’d really seen next-gen ahead of 8-bit. 

Leader Board - birdie time (Access, 1986)
Leader Board – birdie time (Access, 1986)

But then, going back to 1986, in the UK there was no Nintendo, there was certainly no PlayStation, there was certainly no Xbox. There were no consoles. That is all you had.  Leaderboard on the ST, on import, it wasn’t even actually released [in the UK] on the ST until 1987, about a year later, because all their stuff went through US Gold.  So, we had next-gen gaming in the Popular Computing Weekly office via Leaderboard, which was a very playable and good game.  I didn’t really like it myself, because I’m not really into golf games, but it was great and I think Peter [Worlock] saw that, and the editorial team saw it, and they thought yeah, this is going to be the way ahead.  Which was very good. 

Early days at ST Update
A mix of ads, right from the start (ST Update pilot issue)
A mix of ads, right from the start (ST Update pilot issue)

“So, ST Update came out, and sales were very encouraging.  There wasn’t a lot of marketing on it, we put a half-page advert in Personal Computer World (PCW), I think that was about £500, I did the media buying on that because I was really into it.  And yeah it was great.  It was very, very good and for me, that was going to be the next big thing.  And, eventually it was.  But at first, we had no competition; Database arrived with their Atari ST User magazine in about April, I spoke to one of the guys there, a guy called John Snowdon, very nice guy “Snowy’, a bit of friendly banter, I was a lot more competitive than he was, he was quite a laid-back Manchester guy, very nice guy, and I was pretty ferocious, bit of a Rottweiler.  Jack Tramiel’s famous quote was “Business is war”, and I was very much along the same lines, ‘cause at the end of the day, if you don’t have any self-belief you’re not going to get anything done, and you have to go up, because if you’re not going to get the deal, somebody else will.  And you’ll lose out.

The machine of the future...
The machine of the future…

“But it was fun.  And I think we published it [ST Update] monthly from about April or May time.  I worked on it myself pretty much, we had Chris Jenkins who was the editor, Chris had come across from Popular Computing Weekly, Chris’s bag was very much music, he loved Atari ST music because Steinberg had released a software package on the Atari ST, which he was well into, and he loved his kind of MIDI stuff on the ST.  And the Atari ST as we know went on to bigger things and the 1040 model came out, and it did well because they got the price down on that.  So, Chris worked on that and he got us a few freelancers in, Kenn Garroch was hired from his work on Popular Computing Weekly for his peek and poke stuff, the programming side of things.  A few other freelancers from Popular Computing Weekly, Duncan Evans came on board just to get the games out, but on the games side, there just really weren’t the games, you had a Microsoft Flight Simulator, you had the Harrier game on the ST from Mirrorsoft, these were reasonable games but they were very early in the cycle of the generation.  And so, you really hadn’t seen much stuff. Continue reading ST Update – 30 Years After  PART TWO