35 Years and Just Getting Started: The J. Gordon Holt Interview Page 2
Holt: That was in 1954, just after I finished college. I took a cartooning course in New York City on how to draw, present your work to editors, make contacts---that sort of thing---and began selling cartoons to magazines. I did it for about a year, just before I went on staff with High Fidelity.
Stone: Did you still make recordings after joining High Fidelity?
Holt: Yeah, except that there weren't any orchestras in Great Barrington. I did weird-type recordings because I didn't have anything else to do---like putting a microphone out in the field in the summer and recording crickets and crows and airplanes going overhead and stuff like that. Somewhere along that time I met a folk singer named Richard Dyer Bennett who was looking for someone to make recordings for him for commercial release. I did his second recording, and all the others until he quit recording---I think the last one he put out was number 13 or 14.
During that time I switched from an Ampex 601, which I had bought shortly after it came out in 1955, to the stereo version, the Ampex 601-2. It was a big thing in a dark red Samsonite suitcase. Also about that time I traded in my Telefunken microphone---a great big clunker that people still revere and which I still think sounds like crap---for a pair of Sony C-37 cardioids. They were a lot smoother. I used those things until the late '80s. Then I bought an AKG C-34, which was a stereo mike.
Stone: What did you do at High Fidelity?
Holt: I reviewed equipment. In those days they wanted descriptive articles. I was having constant problems with the publisher, who kept insisting I couldn't hear the things that I kept reporting that I was hearing. I was a troublemaker. The publisher had to keep riding herd on me to make sure that I didn't tell the truth about some of this equipment, because on a few occasions the manufacturers had wet their pants when I did.
Stone: What was one of the worst pieces of equipment you reviewed?
Holt: There was an amplifier made by Sherwood. I think it was mono. The first one we got blew a tube right out of the box. We replaced the tube and it blew that tube. The second one we got caught fire. The third one wouldn't turn on at all---no trouble with the fuse, it just wouldn't work. The fourth one worked. So I reported all this in the review. The publisher apparently missed it; I think he used to just go through and read the end of the review. The manufacturer pulled his advertising, and of course I got all of the blame. After a while I just got fed up and frustrated.
One weekend in 1960 I drove down to Barrington, New Jersey, met with Paul Weathers of Weathers Industries who made phono cartridges, and we went out for dinner. I looked at their equipment and all that kind of thing, and he hired me on the spot. I went back to Great Barrington and was two hours late getting to work. When I came in the front door, the publisher was waiting for me. He stopped me in the hall and said, "I want to see you in my office. Right now." So I went in and sat down. He came in, slammed the door, sat down, and before he could open his mouth, I said, "I quit." He was taken aback for a moment, then he said, "When are you leaving?" I think he was delighted to see me go.
Stone: What did you do at Weathers?
Holt: I was their Technical Information Person. I was there for, oh, two years, responsible for writing and distributing technical service bulletins and upgrade notices to dealers. I started putting in some recommended recordings that dealers could use for demonstration purposes. Then we noticed after a while that we were distributing more than three times as many of the things as we had dealers. Seems they were handing them out to their customers. We were distributing something like 300-and-some to about 80 dealers. I figured maybe I was on to something. I decided then that I was going to launch Stereophile. Paul Weathers and I parted amicably, and I started the magazine in 1962.
Stone: Was anyone else on staff at that time?
Holt: No. Just me. At that time I was living in my mother's home in Pennsylvania. Then I started getting all this equipment in. I started getting fat. [laughter] So we---Stereophile and I---moved into my own apartment. The magazine was almost the same size it is now, 8½" by 11". The issues ran between 32 and 64 pages. It was intended to be a quarterly...I would guess I got out about three issues in the first year.
Stone: How did you get subscribers?
Holt: I don't know. Direct mail, word of mouth. I rented mailing lists. I spent $5000 for some of these lists. Second-class postage was really cheap then, so I put 5000 names into a trial mailing. I was using several different messages, so I kept a tally on which ones got the best response. Then I'd use as much of a list as I could afford. The response gave me enough money to publish another issue and do a couple more mailings.
From 1962 to 1978, just before I left Pennsylvania, there were just two people on the staff---me, and my wife Polly helping with circulation. Then we got somebody in to handle all the typing and routine phone calls and stuff like that.
Stone: What made you move to New Mexico?
Holt: I didn't like what was happening to the area where we lived. When we moved there it was rural. Then we learned that some developer was going to come in and build a high-density housing tract in the large field right across from our house. His intention was to use cesspools for his housing development---and we pumped our own water. That idea somehow didn't appeal.
We came to Santa Fe for a visit. When we arrived, we had a dinner discussion---we didn't know anyone. Who would best be able to show us around? Ah! A real estate agent. So we got out the Yellow Pages, eenie-meenie-minie-mo, and we called this outfit. This woman said she'd be delighted to show us around if we would let her show us some houses. Why not? We fell in love with one of the ones she showed us. We said, "We'll take it." On the way back on the train we looked at each other and said, "Oh my god! What have we done?"
Stone: By this time, you had some other writers other than you and your wife.
Holt: Oh, gosh. For a long time I resisted getting other reviewers out of stubbornness. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't handle it all. First I brought on William Marsh as music editor, then Walter Key as contributing editor, then Allen Edelstein. We still talk on the phone every four or five months.
At that point I made contact with someone a friend of mine had recommended, who lived in Santa Fe. He ran a service agency for high-performance, high-status cars. I looked him up and we hit it off. He was also an ardent audiophile. He started working for the magazine. Shortly thereafter I ran the thing into the ground because I am a lousy business person, and at the end of 1981 he bought it. That was Larry Archibald.
After Larry took over, the dates on the magazines started to mean something. Prior to that they didn't mean anything. In fact, I even published one issue in which it listed all the dates on the various issues of the magazine translated into the actual dates they were published.